NORWICH — The Broad Street United Methodist Church (BSUMC), located at 74 North Broad Street in Norwich, has been under renovation since 2019, and those involved in the project have announced phases 1A, 1B, 2A, and 2B have been completed.
Constructed in 1873, the historic structure has stood as an icon both for the City of Norwich and Chenango County for 150 years. The steeples are considered to be the tallest man-made structure in the county, at approximately 115 and 190 feet tall, respectively.
"The steeple is like a focal point of the community," said BSUMC grant writer Bernie Windsor. "People know when they drive into this town, they’re in Norwich when they see those steeples."
The restoration project is being completed by Imhoff Contractors from New Jersey and Brian Biggs Engineers of Clifton Park, New York.
"Much of the work in 2022 was centered on creating safe work access. Areas between trusses, below the walkways, had ladder-type workways constructed. Upper ends of these workways were attached to the main walkways, while the bottoms rest on the outer brick walls of the church," explained Allan Strong, BSUMC Building and Maintenance Team member and liaison between the church and contractor.
"When adequate lighting was available, it was noticed that the main roof ridge over the transept on the east end of the building was sagging. Additional walkways were built at that end of the building, on both sides, to gain access to areas where supports would have to be placed," he continued. "Some blocking between rafters has been accomplished, but the vast majority of the roof is still in need of reinforcement.”
Restoration work began in 2019, and faced a delay in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But, the church celebrated a victory on Easter Sunday in 2020 with the first ringing of the church bells in several years.
"For several years we were not able to ring the bells of the church because of the steeple work, but now the bells ring again," said Windsor. "Sometimes the children get to ring them before the Sunday service, because it's a long rope and they can grab onto it and pull and ring the bell."
Additional work completed on the church in that time included stabilization of the steeples, installing new lighting, stabilizing rafters, brick and masonry repair, and new cables put in, all to strengthen the building and increase safety.
"It's hard to find people to do this kind of work," said BSUMC Fundraising Committee Chair Sharon Fleming. Overall, she said there were only a handful of contractors in the country who would be able to complete the work needed on the church.
In total, there are six phases to the restoration project, which are expected to be completed over the course of several years.
"I know people have been waiting to see, when are we going to see them on the outside of the roof? When are we going to see activity? Well that’s not happening yet. It will," said Windsor. "In time, they will see activity on the outside. But that comes later when they’re doing new shingles on the roof and on the steeple. But still more has to be done before they get there."
Next, church officials are focusing on repairing some leaks that were discovered during the restoration work.
"When you start to get into anything contracted, you are going to find other things," said Windsor. "Some of the rafters and beams farther out have bowed. They’ve pulled down, and they have cracked the shingles in places, and therefore have caused some leaks, which we are trying to deal with right now."
Once those repairs are made, restoration efforts will continue on the historic and towering steeples. Windsor said reinforcement and strengthening efforts will continue upward into the underside of the steeple roofs.
The Broad Street United Methodist Church is asking for public support to assist in the costs of the next phase of the project. Fleming said they have two fundraisers coming up to help support the project.
On Saturday, April 22 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., the church will be hosting a Doug's Fish Fry in the church parking lot. Available meals include a fish sandwich or fish dinner, fried shrimp or a fried shrimp dinner, and scallops or a scallop dinner.
All dinners include French fries and coleslaw, and individual sides are available, including French fries, onion rings, and cole slaw.
Prices will be posted the day of the event on the Broad Street United Methodist Church Facebook page. Orders may be placed ahead of time for same-day pickup by calling 607-423-5996.
They will also be hosting a rummage and bake sale from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday, May 5 and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 6 at the church.
Windsor said so far the church restoration project has been funded entirely by an endowment from the church, local foundations, grants, donations and memorials, pledges, and fundraisers.
"Even other churches have helped us. We’ve had donations from other churches, because we have a really nice ecumenical group among the pastors and the priests and the Jewish Center and so on. There’s a wonderful ecumenical group. And there’s a feeling within the community all the way around, which is very nice," said Windsor.
"Our congregation, other churches, and the surrounding community have recognized the importance and value of this church building and its steeples. So many have been so kind and generous," she added. "We thank local grant foundations and everyone who has made a pledge to our campaign, as well as those who have given donations and memorials to this huge effort."
This year the church will ring in its 150th anniversary since the cornerstone for the structure was laid on May 28, 1873. In 1875, the completed church included a bell, two steeples, a pipe organ, and complete furnishings, and cost a total of $49,500.
"The contractor said, and the engineer said, it’s amazing how well built it was when it was originally built. By now, 150 years, we could’ve had many more problems than we have," said Windsor. "But they said really when you think of the kinds of things they didn’t have available to them, and how well it was done, and how strong so much of it is, it’s quite amazing."
She added those interested in learning more about the repair and restoration project, or in going to look at the completed work themselves, are encouraged to contact the church office at 607-334-2895.