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Steeple work is a tall order



Published: Sat, April 16, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The tall tip of the church is an impressive Mahoning Valley landmark.

HE TALL ORDER OF RESTORING historic First Presbyterian Church of Warren's 255-foot-tall steeple will require three months' work -- and great balance.

Starting Monday, a small crew from Inspired Heights of Rockford, Ill., will start tying off rope and swinging around the spire.

"One of the words to describe what they're going to do is 'acrobat,'" explained the pastor, the Rev. Burt McGlawn. "There will be no scaffolding up there."

On the ropes

The crew will poke a hole from the inside of the spire outward. From the inside, a rope will be tied off and fed through the hole, on down to the ground.

One man then will climb up the rope from the outside, and hook up a rigging -- basically a ring that the workers will hang their ropes from.

"Four guys for about an hour will play king of the hill," getting the feel of the building before the real work starts, the Rev. Mr. McGlawn said. "They're going to swing around that thing.

"The people of Warren probably have never seen anything like that before. We'll have picnic tables for people, if they want to watch.

"Come see what we're building on the inside, too," Mr. McGlawn urged. "We're not just doing this for the historical sake of the community; we're doing it so we can have a functional facility."

Getting to work

The work will begin in earnest on April 25. The eight to 10 men, who are Christian-based specialists in church restoration, will stay in a nearby house.

The spire has been leaking water for the past 20 years and there is some structural damage. The repair work, however, has not been planned or financed over a long period.

"We thought it was a minor problem when we started talking about it," Mr. McGlawn said. "Then the shingles started falling off." This was caused by the original nail heads breaking off.

Replacing the slate composite shingles with copper will cost $115,000, of which donations have so far covered $11,600. The copper will restore the spire's original look.

Four huge stadium lights on the corners of the steeple are being removed, and smaller unobtrusive lighting is being installed.

All of the vents are being replaced. "We're trying also to eliminate bats. We're trying to make it so bats are no longer in our belfry," Mr. McGlawn said. "They've scared a choir out of our choir loft before."

Bats love downtown Warren because of its night lights, he noted.

A smaller, second steeple also will be restored. A large net will be placed below the crew's work area.

Other costs for now are not known. Wood inside the spire will be cut out and replaced if needed, or injected with plastic to strengthen it. The church also hopes to do some exterior cleaning, to include replacing the yellowed, plastic protectant over the church's stained glass windows. This will allow their original colors to shine again, Mr. McGlawn said.

Landmark

The spire is the highest point in Warren, now that the twin smokestacks of the old Mahoningside power plant on nearby Summit Street Northwest has been demolished, Mr. McGlawn said. The copper roofing should stay clean for the next 30 years.

"Since we don't have the smokestacks anymore, there's no longer any more danger of it getting really dirty," the pastor said.

First Presbyterian is the oldest church in town and the oldest congregation in Warren, being organized in 1803, he said. The church was built in 1875 at Mahoning Avenue and High Street. It now has 350 members, down from its high of 1,200 in the 1960s.

The brick, gothic-style church offers "one of the most awe-inspiring steeples in Warren and the surrounding area," according to "An Historic Walk along Mahoning Avenue," compiled by Grace C. Allison in 1988 for the Fine Arts Council of Trumbull County.

The church's bell tower was brought here by cart in 1832 and over the years served many purposes, such as calling town meetings, announcing church services and giving fire alarms.

"The brick on the church was made on what now is the parking lot," the pastor noted. Cleaning it will require special care because of the soft clay used to make the bricks.

Mr. McGlawn, 40, has been on board since November, coming with his wife and daughter from Illinois.

His arrival in Warren and the restoration work dovetail nicely with a renewed trend of people looking for a meaningful spiritual service.

"Since 9/11, people are beginning to see the value of older, traditional churches in the heart of town," he said.




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