United Church, Craftsbury Common, VT

Project Overview

We had the privilege of sub-contracting this project for Jan Lewandoski during the summer of 2006.  The church was constructed in 1816.  The steeple of the church had suffered from years of water damage.  The base of the spire had been completely destroyed by rot.  The 8×8 timbers that make up the base of the spire had been sistered with additional 8×8 timbers that had also rotten completely.  The roofing material covering the spire base had failed and allowed water to infiltrate.  Previous efforts to shore up the steeple, a few decades earlier, ultimately exacerbated the problem and accelerated the deterioration by using a rubber membrane underneath of the roofing material and around the base of the spire.  The rubber membrane actually trapped water in with devastating consequences.

We removed the spire from the church and completely dismantled it.  None of the timbers in the base were salvageable.  The feet of the spire rafters were also damaged but we were able to repair them all.  The top of the spire mast that protrudes above the rafters had been removed decades earlier and been replaced with an aluminum replica visibly attached to the exterior of the spire with long metal plates and bolts.  Using old photographs of the church we were able to determine that the details of the astragal molding on the spire and slight entasis of the mast had been lost in the previous efforts to restore the steeple.  Our good friend Michael Cotroneo scarfed on a new mast top and custom milled all of the molding to match the old photographs.

After making the new spire base and repairing all of the rafter feet we rebuilt the spire on the ground.  The spire was painted and the custom metal roof was installed.  The weather vane was reconfigured for the original mast style and installed.  Before placing the spire back atop the steeple, the post tops and braces needed to be repaired.  Most of the tenons that engaged the spire base were rotted and required repair.  The intersection of two of the plate timbers and a post top in the lower tower also required a fair amount of repair.  After scarfing in new timber to the plates and free-tenoning the post top we finally lifted the spire back into place and buttoned up the steeple.

One of the really interesting aspects of this project was the discovery that the first incarnation of the steeple had quite a different configuration.  Mortises inside of the towers indicated an octagonal arrangement of posts protruding through the bell deck.  Additional evidence of a different arrangement of the steeple was found between the lower telescoping tower and the plinth.  Clapboards and trim can be seen here with evidence of having spent many years exposed to the elements in addition to what appeared to be burn marks.  Perhaps the original steeple had been destroyed by lightening?  Historic documentation and photographs from the centennial celebration of the church gave no indication of any other configuration of the steeple.  We love a good mystery!

Project Pictures

Craftsbury, VT
The base of the spire had been destroyed.

The base of the spire had been destroyed.
The addition of a rubber membrane years ago trapped water in more than it kept it out.

The addition of a rubber membrane years ago trapped water in more than it kept it out.
The timbers that had been added to the base of the pire had been sistered with timbers of equal size when the rubber membrane was added.  The new timbers were almost as rotten as the timbers of the original spire base.

The timbers that had been added to the base of the pire had been sistered with timbers of equal size when the rubber membrane was added. The new timbers were almost as rotten as the timbers of the original spire base.
The mast top had been replaced with an aluminum replica at one point.  Our friend Michael Cotroneo scarfed a new timber to the remaining portion of the original spire mast.

The mast top had been replaced with an aluminum replica at one point. Our friend Michael Cotroneo scarfed a new timber to the remaining portion of the original spire mast.
The plate rafters at the base of the bell deck were also in need of repair.

The plate rafters at the base of the bell deck were also in need of repair.
Old photographs were used to restore the original proportions and moulding details of this spire.

Old photographs were used to restore the original proportions and moulding details of this spire.
The new spire base seen as the crane lifts it back into place.

The new spire base seen as the crane lifts it back into place.
Michael Cotroneo farbricated the new astragal mouldings by hand using old photos as his guide.

Michael Cotroneo farbricated the new astragal mouldings by hand using old photos as his guide.
The spire is safely back on the church.

The spire is safely back on the church.
 


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