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Steeple of Congregational Church Needs Urgent Repair

Congregation will look to community for help in restoration


By Wiley Wood

From the vantage of one of the wooded ridgetops around town, there is often no indication of where Norfolk lies other than the spire of the Congregational Church, a white shaft rising out of the trees to mark the village green.

But the landmark, which has towered over Norfolk since the church was built in 1813, is now in jeopardy.

David Torrey examines some of the rotten wood on the steeple of the Congregational Church.

While working on refurbishing the bells in the clock tower, Dan Green made an important discovery. “Take a look at this,” Green said to David Torrey, a church member, as he sunk his screwdriver into the rotten wood of a chestnut beam.

That was in the fall of 2015. Since then, the church leadership has called in consultants and commissioned an engineering firm to conduct a study. The upshot is that the damage to the steeple will need to be addressed within the next year.

The 12-inch horizontal beams supporting the entire superstructure above the organ loft require replacement, along with the 12 vertical chestnut posts that support the bells of the carillon and the spire above it.

One plan, according to Torrey, who leads the church’s Gifts and Finance Team, is to cut the tower off at the bell deck, identifiable from below by its railing, and lower the top section to the ground by means of a crane. The rotted beams and posts, in many cases undisturbed since the original construction 200 years ago, would be replaced. The lantern or top portion of the steeple would meanwhile undergo repair on the ground. In a final step, the two elements would be reunited.

The cost of a full replacement and repair, says Torrey, is estimated at $750,000.

An alternative approach would be to remove the lantern, repair the lower portion of the clock tower and leave it at that, with the church sound but truncated.

Or, says Torrey, the church might decide to invest $10,000 to $15,000 to stabilize the structure for the next three to five years until a feasible plan of action can be worked out.

Decisions are made by a vote of the full congregation, which numbers between 70 and 100 contributing members.

“There is no predetermined course,” says the church’s pastor, Erick Olsen. “What will the community do? Will they support a campaign to restore the steeple?”

Torrey plans to form a finance committee, drawing on community members both inside and outside the church, to put together the financing needed to remedy the situation. A page on the Congregational Church website, http://norfolkctucc.org/ucc/steeple/, will give updated information on the steeple and accept pledges toward its restoration.

The church was designed by noted church architect David Hoadley and, according to historian Ann Havemeyer, “was known from its early years for the grace of its steeple, rising in graduated stages.”

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