Restoration work on the steeple at St. George’s Episcopal Church has been completed.
“We started the project about a year ago,” said David Kennison, a 55-year member of the landmark Stockade church who served as project manager. “We didn’t actually get to work until the beginning of this summer, June, so it took a little while to raise the funds. The project cost a little bit over $93,000; most of the funds were raised from the congregation.”
Kennison said the 125-foot steeple is the church’s second and was constructed in 1870.
“It hasn’t had all that much work done,” Kennison said. “It’s in remarkably good shape structurally. However, there were a number of issues with it.”
Those issues included slate and wood repairs.
“Slate that had either cracked or fallen off completely had to be replaced,” Kennison said. “Certainly, painting had to be done. There are two intermediate levels to the steeple that have a roof on them. You can’t see it from the ground, but it’s true.”
He added that the steeple consists of several layers. “It starts with the tower level at the bottom, the belfry level where the bell is, the lantern level is above that and the spire is above that, so it’s a four-tier structure,” he said.
Rusted hip flashing was replaced. Rusted galvanized roofing was repaired as necessary and painted at the spire and lantern levels. A rusted cross over the west doors was stripped, repaired and repainted with stone-textured paint.
Funds used for the project included $25,000 from the New York Landmarks Conservancy’s Robert W. Wilson Sacred Sites Challenge, which is designed to assist restorations of historic church properties.
“If we lose some of these historic churches, then they’re lost forever because modern society doesn’t put the same value on church structures as they did when they were first built,” Kennison said.
Crews from Red Hook’s Advance Construction and Steeplejack Corp. finished work Nov. 21. Workers used a bosun’s chair, a piece of equipment used to suspend a person from a rope to perform work aloft. Near the end, a mechanical aerial lift also was used.
The Rev. Paul F. Blanch, St. George’s pastor, is relieved the steeple looks like new again.
“This was one of those projects that we undertook knowing that we were dealing with a historic building, and when we got the top off we didn’t know quite what we were going to find,” Blanch said.
He said St. George’s is indebted to Advance Construction and Dave Knox, who did much of the work.
“One company wanted to do it with scaffolding for the whole steeple, which was going to add another $50,000, $60,000 onto the project,” Blanch said. “Another company wanted to do it all with a manlift like we finished it off with, and Dave Knox came along and he’s [got] 37, 38 years experience as a steeplejack and he works the old-fashioned way on a bosun’s chair — which is amazing to watch, him just hanging from this steeple.”
Blanch added, “We were pleased to find somebody in 2013 who still did steeples like they did when they were first built and employed the traditional methods of repair.”
Kennison said the top piece needed special attention.
“One of the primary parts of the restoration was the repair and restoration of the historic weather vane at the top of the steeple,” he said. “The steeple structure itself was in very good shape; the timber frame construction was in good shape. However, there was some rotted wood, primarily the support structure for this weather vane at the very top of the spire.”
The weather vane had deteriorated so badly that it could not be restored. A historically accurate replica is now in place, complete with the initials of Myndert Wemple, the blacksmith who created the original.
Kennison is glad the project has been completed before harsh winter weather moves in.
“It certainly gives all the congregation a sense of pride to know that a church which they take so much pride in historically has had the steeple completely and accurately faithfully restored,” he said.
Blanch got the chance to see the finished work up close. Last Sunday, he climbed into the aerial lift and rose above North Ferry Street to sprinkle holy water on the steeple.
“It was scary; the icy wind came and the bucket on this big manlift was kind of rocking from side to side,” he said. “When I was praying, I think I wasn’t just praying for God’s blessing on the steeple but to get down safely.”