MITCHELL — Easter is the time when Christians around the world celebrate resurrection and renewal. It happens when the cold of winter is finally pushed back by the increasing warmth of spring, bringing new life to once frozen ground.
In addition to the spiritual renewal that accompanies the holiday, a Mitchell congregation experiences literal physical renewal. Mitchell’s First Presbyterian Church is currently undertaking an extensive restoration project of its stone exterior, work that is expected to improve both the aesthetic and structural integrity of the building.
“This is a project we’ve been trying to work on for 40 years,” said Martin Christensen, an elder at the church. “It’s been passed down from generation to generation.”
The church is home to Mitchell’s oldest religious organization, according to the church’s website, having been founded in 1879. Later in its history, the congregation acquired land at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Rowley Street and in May 1882 dedicated a new church for the congregation to dwell in.
The current church building, located at 500 E. Fifth Ave. in Mitchell, was built in May 1952 and has since served as a place of worship for its members and guests.
The church is particularly notable for its striking stone exterior, which is central to the ongoing restoration. Christensen said the main work being done is pointing, a process used to aesthetically enhance the appearance of stonework. This involves removing some of the deteriorated mortar, filling the joints with new mortar, then applying a thin line of contrasting color sealant down the center of the joint.
The building has been in need of work for some time, Christensen said. While the appearance of the joints between the stone blocks has deteriorated over the years, the structural integrity of the stones themselves has weakened. Christensen said some of the stone blocks could be moved by hand with enough effort.
Restoration work should help solve this problem, he said.
“The process is to cut between all the bricks and replace (the old cement) with modern cement that expands. They also do caulking and they seal it with a polymer and make that process take longer,” Christensen said. “This is something that should have been done years ago. There are places where you might slide the stone back and forth.
It may have taken longer than expected, but the congregation rallied together to finally get the job done, Christensen said. The cost of the project is around $55,000 and the church has organized various fundraisers. Church members have been dedicated and generous with their time and donations, he said. Raffles, group dinners and memorial donations have all been part of efforts to raise the necessary funds.
“We have organized several fundraisers since last fall to make this happen. And people donated. We raised nearly $28,000,” Christensen said. “We had a raffle with County Fair and we also had a fall spaghetti dinner at the church and people came out and donated.”
The work is done by Mid-Continental Restoration, a company headquartered in Fort Scott, Kansas, which has a branch office in Parkston. The company has specialized in the preservation and revitalization of building exteriors across the United States for 75 years. The Parkston branch covers the company’s work in South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa.
Travis Leischner, project manager and estimator for Mid-Continental Restoration, said the exterior of the church is made at least partially of limestone, some of which is likely a specific type of limestone known as Kasota limestone. , which is mined in southern Minnesota. Notable buildings that used Kasota limestone in their construction include the Minnesota State Capitol, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and PNC Park, where the Pittsburgh Pirates play their home games.
Site workers are now replacing mortar joints that have weakened after decades of exposure to the South Dakota elements.
“We grind out mortar joints that are bad and fold them back,” Leischner said. “We are going to pressure wash the whole building and then seal the stones around the windows with sealant. We will then apply a water repellent product when it is finished.
The project is one of many the company projects in its working year, which runs from March to around Thanksgiving and accounts for $4 million in revenue annually. Work is progressing well, and Leischner said he expects the job to be finished within a few weeks, assuming the weather cooperates.
This is good news for Christensen and the approximately 75 members of the First Prebysterian Church. The congregation has just over half the cost of the project raised, and he expects that process to continue as the project moves forward.
This work is primarily focused on the exterior of the building, but some additional work will eventually also be carried out, including landscaping and upgrading the grounds sprinkler system.
But for now, as Easter approaches, the congregation can take comfort in knowing that the work they are doing today will help the church building serve its members for decades to come. The spiritual renewal brought about by the feast now extends to the physical renewal of the church itself.
This too is an important part of the congregational experience, and it was time to breathe new life into the historic building.
“It’s a project that had to be done,” Christensen said.