By THOMAS P. CALDWELL, LACONIA DAILY SUN
MEREDITH — The weathered steeple of the Meredith Center Free Will Baptist Church needs more than the simple painting job the congregation was expecting. In preparing for the work, they found rot that extended to the timbers inside.
“We originally wanted to paint the spire,” said Senior Deacon Don Kimball, “but when we climbed up and found snow inside the steeple, we knew it was more serious.”
After inviting several companies to look at the steeple, the church hired Limerick Steeplejacks of Maine to “replace what needed to be replaced” and install new rubberized roofing, Kimball said.
The estimated cost of the work is $30,000, but Limerick owner Doug Sanborn said the cost could be higher, based on what they find inside.
To help cover the cost, the church has initiated a fundraising campaign, and already has reached about the halfway mark. It is continuing to seek donations and plans to hold a fundraising dinner at the Wicwas Lake Grange on Oct. 21.
Meanwhile, the work crew arrived on Thursday to begin pulling off the trim of the steeple and seeing what lies beneath. They found a significant amount of rotten wood, which Kimball was hoping would not extend to the rafters or bell supports.
He noted that some congregations have arrived at church to find that their steeple bell had given way and plunged all the way into the basement.
“We stopped using our bell a couple of months ago, as a precaution,” he said.
The steeple, which reaches about 90 feet into the air and is topped by a finial that once may have held a weathervane, was erected in 1859, when the church building had been standing for 28 years. Damaged by heavy winds in 1948, the steeple underwent some repairs, with the base being rebuilt in 1980. But, as with most church steeples, it was largely ignored.
“It’s not unusual for people to look up and admire a steeple without ever going up to inspect it,” said Sanborn, whose company repairs steeples throughout New England. Limerick Steeplejacks recently did work at the South Baptist Church in Laconia, as well as working on cupolas on Laconia’s mills.
For Sanborn, it is a family affair. His father formed the business in 1974 after having worked for the Boston Chimney and Tower Company for many years. His daughter, Sarah, was accompanying him on Thursday, along with other company workers, John, Richard, and Duane.
Kimball said Limerick has a history of working with the church, leading to their selection for the present job.
The church, originally known as the Second Freewill Baptist of Christ, has a congregation of about 35, according to Kimball, who said the population has risen and fallen over the years. It had declined to about half that number, but is on the rise again, thanks in part to Rev. Jeff Laliberte, who recently took over as pastor, and his wife, Roberta.
The church remains open during the steeple repairs, with services on Sundays at 10 a.m. and Wednesdays at 7 p.m.
Don Kimball holds a sign appealing for donations to support repairs to the 158-year-old steeple of the Meredith Center Free Will Baptist Church. (Tom Caldwell/Laconia Daily Sun)
The steeple of the Meredith Center Free Will Baptist Church is in need of significant repairs, and the congregation is conducting fundraising activities to help pay for the work. (Tom Caldwell/Laconia Daily Sun)