‘It’s Been Here for 160 Years’: Hartland Church Steeple to Be Renovated

By Jon Wolper, Valley News Staff Writer
Published in print: Thursday, April 25, 2013, used with permission.

ason Norris, who works for contractor Jan Lewandoski, measures the outside of the steeple of the Hartland Unitarian Church in Hartland Four Corners yesterday. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Jason Norris, who works for contractor Jan Lewandoski, measures the outside of the steeple of the Hartland Unitarian Church in Hartland Four Corners yesterday. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Hartland - Since the mid-1850s, a white steeple has sat atop the First Universalist Society of Hartland’s white, wood-paneled house of worship building.

Yesterday, for the first time, it was taken down.

The move, accomplished by crane, is the first of several aesthetic and foundational restorations that church leaders plan to do to the steeple and building itself.

The renovations, which will include work on the church’s exterior and parking lot, began with a capital campaign launched in September, said Paul Sawyer, the church’s minister. At the time, he and others had one chief concern:

“Can we raise $100,000 in this little congregation?” he said.

Since the campaign kicked off, the congregation has raised $93,000. Recently, it was awarded a $20,000 grant from the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, as well as a $5,000 grant from the Jack and Dorothy Byrne Foundation.

Jason Norris climbs down from inside the steeple after it was removed. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Jason Norris climbs down from inside the steeple after it was removed. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

The rest, though, has come from the church’s 103 members, as well as other supporters, Sawyer said.

“The community has been wonderful,” said Sue Taylor, who applied for the grants. “They’ve really supported this.”

The project, which will include restoration by Jan Lewandoski, who specializes in historical restorations, will cost about $50,000, Sawyer said.

The rest of the money will go to parking lot and exterior renovations, as well as other structural and foundational work, such as improving drainage.

“It’s really working on the bones of the building,” he said. “It’s been here for 160 years.”

At about 9:15 a.m., about 45 minutes after the 88-foot, 3,000-pound structure had been removed, a small group of church members gathered on the building’s lawn at Hartland Four Corners. In front of them, in a rare close-up, stood the steeple, its white paint heavily peeled and its highest point broken.

The jagged wood at the top of the steeple used to hold its cast iron weather vane, which was knocked off its perch during a storm a year ago. Church President John Osborne said it “shattered into a gazillion pieces.”

Yesterday, while the steeple was being taken down, a handful of small shards of wood, each with splotches of cracked, time-worn paint, broke off the structure. Osborne found one in the parking lot, and showed it to Taylor. He called it his “historical souvenir.”

Lewandoski said that the boarding on yesterday’s specimen had begun to rot. That wasn’t an issue, though, as the boarding acts as a cover - the framing, the guts of the steeple, hadn’t been harmed.

“They caught it at the right time,” Lewandoski said.

A miniature replica of the Hartland Unitarian Church is seen adjacent to the larger, more habitable version after the steeple was removed in Hartland Four Corners yesterday. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

A miniature replica of the Hartland Unitarian Church is seen adjacent to the larger, more habitable version after the steeple was removed in Hartland Four Corners yesterday. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Previous work on the steeple had been done both 20 and 12 years ago, Sawyer said. In the 1990s workers shored up the roof underneath the bell, he said, and a dozen years ago they fixed some rotting planks.

But that work was done with the steeple still intact. A 1994 photo of the restoration shows a man scaling the structure with a rope.

This time, of course, is different.

“All the sheeting’s going to come off,” said Sawyer, standing near the towering steeple with Lewandoski. “He’s going to make it last another 150 years.”

To celebrate the project, which does not yet have a set finish date, church members will hold a “Save the Steeple Celebration” on May 31. It will begin at 6 p.m. with a dinner and ringing of the church’s bell, which was built in 1834, according to Lewandoski, and then feature a talk from the restoration specialist at 7:30.

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.

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