In 1896, when the recently organized Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association needed chairs to augment the wooden benches in its grand new Tabernacle, members turned to the Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalogue. Right there, on page 642, below the Sears tag line of the day, “Cheapest Supply House on Earth,” was a sturdy, plain wooden model, at a cost of 60 cents. They bought hundreds of them.

Benches are older than the Tabernacle itself and date to to earliest days of religious revivals. — Jeanna Shepard

Today most of those chairs are still at the historic Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs, chipped, scratched, cracked and many times repaired. So are the benches.

At annual town meetings last week, voters in four towns approved Community Preservation Act funds that will cover part of the cost of restoring the 19th century seating. The total estimated cost of restoring the benches and chairs is $237,000. CPA funds from Oak Bluffs, Edgartown, Tibsury and West Tisbury will cover about half the cost; the rest will come from fund raising and from Camp Ground residents who will pay a small assessment toward the restoration work for the next 10 years.

It would be less expensive to simply replace the chairs and benches, but that didn’t seem right to leaders at the camp meeting association.

Chairs were purchased in 1896 from the Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalogue.

“When you’ve got something that old, yes it’s more expensive to repair,” said Ron MacLaren, outgoing executive director of association. “We have a tendency when we do that to lose part of that heritage. Once you replace them all with replicas, it’s not the same. It’s a replica.”

Fred Huss, who has done extensive repair work in the Camp Ground, along with Oak Bluffs woodworker Rob Gatchell, have acted as consultants on the restoration project. Mr. Huss said he takes pride and pleasure in working on a part of history.

“I’m 71 years old,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s the oldness of it, or what it represents being a child growing up here. It wasn’t anything special in those days. Now it’s special, because it’s old.”

The benches are actually older than the Tabernacle, which was built in 1879. The benches were built in 1861 and used as seating under an enormous tents where worshippers gathered for religious services.

“The dedication of the people back in those days,” Mr. Huss said. “They worshipped like crazy and they worked like crazy.”

Made from hard yellow pine, milled at East Chop in the 19th century. — Jeanna Shepard

The original lumber was rough sawn at a mill on East Chop. It is tight-grained yellow pine, extremely durable.

“It will bend most nails we have today,” Mr. Huss said. “Everything has to be pre-drilled.”

To replicate the wood and historically accurate dimensions, the association will turn to an off-Island mill that uses yellow pine reclaimed from demolished buildings and other structures.

Some of the benches are beyond repair and will be rebuilt from scratch; others will be restored by replacing rotted or cracked wood.

Mr. Huss said he expects the project will take five years, working only in the off-season.

Restoration of the chairs will be done by a Rhode Island firm, at a cost of about $400 per chair, nearly 700 times their original cost.

Chairs were bought from the Sears catalogue in 1896 for 60 cents apiece. — Jeanna Shepard

“Historic is the way to go, but historic costs,” Mr. Huss said.

Broken spindles, legs and seats and seats will be repaired. Chairs that cannot be repaired will be used for parts to restore other chairs.

For many Islanders, the chairs are synonymous with the Tabernacle itself. For large events, they are usually placed in front of the wooden benches, near the stage. Presidents and countless other dignitaries have sat on them. Every graduating senior from the regional high school remembers fidgeting and squirming on them on the leafy day in June when they symbolically stepped out into the world.

“I graduated from the Tabernacle, and so did my siblings,” said one Oak Bluffs voter at the town meeting last week. “I think we should spend the money.”

The restoration project will include testing for lead paint, a complicated process that also adds to the cost.

Seats of history — Jeanna Shepard

“We’re always setting aside money for Tabernacle restoration out of the annual budget, but it’s a huge project,” Mr. MacLaren said.

The application for CPA funding stated the case:

“There are few items on the Island that have touched the lives of Islanders since 1846 and still exist today. The benches of the Tabernacle are one of those items. Few, if any, long-term residents of Martha’s Vineyard have not sat on those benches. Indeed, their grandparents and great grandparents have sat on those same benches at musicals, performances, graduations, community sings, national celebrations, and memorials.”