SACKETS HARBOR – At the corner of Main and Broad streets, work continues to restore an iconic landmark and ensure it will stand for another 120 years and be enjoyed by generations to come.
The steeple and clock tower of the United Presbyterian Church, 101 S. Broad St., stands an impressive six stories of red brick. The building was completed and rededicated in August 1900 following two fires which destroyed the old Presbyterian churches in the village. The steeple contains a set of 10 bells that were a gift from Marietta Pickering Hay, daughter of Great Lakes Captain Augustus A. Pickering, who sailed the lakes in the 1830s.
Years of harsh weather conditions have taken their toll on the tower, damaging stonework and threatening structural integrity. Restoration efforts have been underway since 2020, initiated by Sackets Harbor United Presbyterian Church, the Steward of the Community Tower and Bells.
“Our idea is that if we do this, it will last another 120 years and the village will still have its chimes and its clock,” said Richard T. Stephens, co-chairman of the restoration project.
He said the church sanctuary is about 85 percent original — “We’re very proud of it. We keep things as historical as possible.
“The main thing now is to get a solid structure so that we don’t have any problems with it,” Mr Stephens said. “We have identified people we want to talk to who can help us financially and in other ways, contact with other people and things like that. Their big question is, ‘This is part of the church, why are you coming to see me?’ And that’s where we tell them Marietta’s story.
Born in Sackets Harbor in 1831, Mrs Pickering Hay left a lasting legacy for her hometown and, after a fire in the village in 1899, ordered the current tower to be built to house a community library in addition to 10 gift chimes to the “dear little village of Sackets Harbour”.
When built, the tower housed a library, before it grew larger than the rooms in the tower could hold. Now the library has its own building next door.
The tower chimes rang every day for more than 120 years, and the clock housed in the tower told the time to the villagers. But the church and tower have endured the harsh northern weather for too long.
The west side of the tower bears the brunt of the majority of weather in the area, and the resulting crumbling brickwork is visible to passers-by. In time, although the cost of full repairs will remain a challenge, the entire facade will look like the work that has been done so far towards the top of the tower.
Prior to the start of work on the project, Lupini Construction carried out an on-site survey in 2020. Deep probes were inserted into the brickwork, sampling the walls of the old tower for material integrity. The composition of the old bricks and mortar was analyzed by a laboratory and new compatible materials were purchased to be used if necessary if the original brick could not be salvaged. If the bricks were salvageable, mason Mark S. Lyndaker of Lowville cleaned them up and reused them; otherwise, new bricks of matching color and composition were installed. The bricks that could not be saved were matched by a brick company called Bock Brick Inc., East Syracuse.
The overall tower construction objectives are to repair all deteriorating brick and mortar, replace flashings and re-caulk all windows, doors and clock faces. The granite steps leading to the front doors will be caulked and the front corner buttresses of the annex, which was once the Hay Library, will be replaced with deteriorated brick and mortar. The masonry work will progress from the upper floors downwards, depending on which has suffered the most from the weather. Additional flashing and caulking will coincide with the masonry work, to get the most out of the overhead lift.
Over the years, the bells of the tower have celebrated parties, graduations, weddings and otherwise marked the lives of residents. Many visitors to the tower have climbed the spiral staircase to get a bird’s eye view of the village. Graffitied names – some dating back around 100 years – can be found on the walls, usually accompanied by the exact date they were written. Names and dates were copied onto a roll of paper for future display.
Fundraising events are in the works to raise funds for the restoration project, which is expected to continue for years.
The church congregation funded between $140,000 and $150,000 for the initial work, secured grants and made financial commitments of an additional $100,000 for major repairs in 2021. Those involved in the restoration project make appeal to friends and neighbors for monetary contributions to the project’s fundraising campaign, which is in the process of identifying potential donors and making initial contacts.
“We hope the fundraising campaign is going well. We are seeking $300,000 from the fundraising campaign,” Stephens said. “If the fundraising campaign is successful, we can continue. There are other places around the tower that need a lot of masonry work and there are other places around the church that need work that can probably wait years so we’re not also worried about it right away.
Project partners include the Northern New York Community Foundation, the New York Landmarks Conservancy and the Presbyterian Church (USA). Corporate donors include Renzi Foodservice, BCA Architects & Engineers and Watertown Savings Bank.
Those wishing to donate to the restoration project can do so through the Northern New York Community Foundation or through the website to be launched in May: www.restoreshtower.org. The website will also contain information about the tower’s history, updates on restoration progress, and a place to request a tour or chime for a special occasion.
Once the restorations are complete, Mr Stephens said the team behind the project would like to be able to have the tower’s interior rooms redone in a way that allows for the installation of any historic exhibits.
“It’s right in the middle of the village and people have passed by and said, ‘I know that when I pass this church I can look up and see the time and know if I’m early or late for my reunion,'” Mr. Stephens said. “It’s a community landmark. It’s historic and it’s important that we protect and restore it.