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The old steeple is taken down Nov. 15 and replaced with a new one. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Setauket United Methodist Church at the corner of Main Street and Route 25A sits as a beacon and a guide to the historic community around it known as Chicken Hill. This is a place that had its roots in mid-19th century industrial America with first the Nunns & Clark piano factory and its primarily German workforce, followed in the same five-story brick factory by the Long Island Rubber Company which initially hired Irish and African American workers. Later Russian Jews and Eastern European Catholic immigrants flooding into New York City were hired for a workforce that, at its peak, totaled more than 500.

Setauket United Methodist Church steeple being painted in 1925 by Clinton West, left, Herman Aldrich, right, and Ray Tyler, at top. Photo from Beverly C. Tyler

Three Village Historical Society president, Steve Healy, said he was approached by the church’s pastor, the Rev. Steven Kim, who knew about the society’s exhibit, Chicken Hill: A Community Lost to Time. Kim asked if the society would be interested in the church’s steeple as it was to be taken down and replaced by a new one.

“I thought it would be nice to include a portion of the steeple, with the cross on top, in the exhibit, to show that this church was a focal point of Chicken Hill, right in the middle of these working-class immigrants,” Healy said.

The steeple, weighing about 700 pounds, consisted of the aluminum skin and the interior framing. The exterior skin was separated from the inside structure and moved by trailer to the historical society’s headquarters on North Country Road.

“We decided to take all 32 feet and later decide what will be used in the exhibit,” Healy said. “It’s a historical artifact that people can touch and a fascinating addition to our exhibit in the history center.”

One of the goals of the historical society is to bring the history of the local community to life and to excite and engage people. The society also wants visitors to its exhibits to discover what they want to remember and what they need to remember. The artifacts and documents in the Chicken Hill exhibit illustrate the cooperative community that existed at Chicken Hill as well as the societal problems that existed in and around that area. Bringing people of diverse ethnicity, race and religion here to live and work together provides a wealth of stories.

The Chicken Hill exhibit tells the stories of harmony and conflict together with individual stories of pride, compassion and humor. The addition of the church steeple will help to bring the storytelling full circle.

Beverly C. Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

From left, Kathryn Curran, executive director of the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation; Peg Breen, president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy; and Rev. Bette Sohm, pastor of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church with the $35,000 check. Photo from St. Paul's United Methodist Church

A Northport congregation’s prayers for help to save its historic steeple have not fallen on deaf ears.

St. Paul’s United Methodist Church received a $35,000 grant from New York Landmark Conservancy’s Sacred Sites program Dec. 4. The funds from the nonprofit organization, whose mission is to preserve and revitalize architecturally significant buildings, will be used to help restore the church’s historic steeple that towers over Northport village.

St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Northport. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“We’re absolutely thrilled to hear that we’ve earned this to fund the steeple work,” said Greg Polli, chairman of St. Paul’s board of trustees.

St. Paul’s church, originally built in 1873, is a red-brick late Greek Revival-style church designed by local architect and builder B.T. Robbins. Rising from the building is the iconic, white-painted wooden shutter board steeple capped with a copper dome.

“Long Island’s long history is reflected in its religious architecture,” said Peg Breen, president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy. “The conservancy is pleased to be able to help this remarkable building continue to serve [its] congregations and communities.”

The Conservancy’s Sacred Sites grants are supported by the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, a Hampton Bays nonprofit that supports the study of New York State history.

The bell tower’s issues date back more than a decade. Parishioner Alex Edwards-Bourdrez, a member of the church for 26 years, said churchgoers noticed rainwater was leaking into the sanctuary, but determining the source of the issue took a lot of guess work. For nearly a decade, St. Paul’s churchgoers used a system of pots and pans to catch the water and even went as far as to replace the building’s roof without solving the issue.

A stained glass window in the church’s sanctuary. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“That’s when we realized the real problem was the steeple,” said Pastor Kristina Hansen, former religious leader of St. Paul’s. “The steeple was the culprit all along.”

The leak gradually limited the church’s activities, according to Edwards-Bourdrez, restricting use of the balcony for seating and preventing performances of its bell choir during inclement weather. St. Paul’s launched a successful capital campaign in October 2017 that exceeded its original goal of raising $300,000, according to Polli, to make much-needed structural repairs that included the steeple, securing its aging stained-glass windows and upgrading its bathrooms to be handicapped accessible.

“Before we began the formal capital campaign, we communicated to our congregation what we wanted to do, asked what they wanted to do and what our priorities should be,” he said. “The steeple was the top priority.”

Polli said the church has received a preliminary estimate of $150,000 to repair the structure and hopes to start work in the early spring of 2019. Some interior projects, like the renovations of the womens bathroom, have already been completed.

St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Northport. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

A Northport congregation is now turning to the public for one last needed push, or “Hail Mary,” to restore and modernize a local landmark.

St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, located at 270 Main St., has launched the second phase of its capital campaign in hopes of raising $300,000 to restore and make structural repairs to its steeple and facilities. With more than $200,000 pledged, it’s now in the final race to fully fund these projects by June 30.

“We’re somewhere around 70 percent of the way there, but the last 30 percent is always the hardest,” said Charlie MacLeod, the campaign’s chairman and a member of the church for 30 years. “We’re working very hard to obtain the last 30 percent.”

We’re somewhere around 70 percent of the way there, but the last 30 percent is always the hardest.”
– Charlie MacLeod

The church’s original steeple, built in 1873, began leaking rainwater into the church’s sanctuary more than a decade ago, according to Pastor Kristina Hansen. While churchgoers have dealt creatively with the problem using pots and pans, the damage has become progressively worse over time and needs to be addressed.

St. Paul’s has had a number of construction firms come to review the damage, receiving estimates ranging from $125,000 to $150,000 to repair the iconic steeple off Main Street. That cost could increase once scaffolding is built and a closer inspection made of the two- to three-story high structure, according to Hansen.

The church is also seeking funding to preserve the sanctuary’s turn-of-the-century stained glass windows. The leading between sections of the glass has started to deteriorate, leaving the weight of the stained glass unsupported and prone to possible collapse. The estimated cost of repairing a single window can run more than $20,000, according to Hansen.

The pastor would also like the community’s support in upgrading its bathrooms to be handicapped accessible. The facilities are used frequently by residents for athletic events, artist performances and local organizations like the Boy Scouts.


Large Corporate and Charitable Contributors
– $25,000 from John W. Engemen Theater
– $25,000 Charles and Helen Reichert Family Foundation

The first donation to the church’s capital campaign came from Kevin O`Neill, owner of the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport, located down the street. It was matched by a charitable $25,000 donation from the Charles and Helen Reichert Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization created by the Fort
Salonga family that owns and operates five IGA Supermarket locations.

Proceeds from the parish’s annual golf outing held in April, which raised $25,000, will go toward construction costs. Work is slated to begin this summer.

The parish’s board of trustees is currently in the process of submitting an application for a historic preservation grant, which is pending according to MacLeod, that may provide an additional $5,000 up to $20,000.

“If we raise more, we have plenty of projects it could go toward,” he said.

Some of the campaign’s stretch goals are to make the entire church handicapped accessible and improve the kitchens.

The steeple of St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Northport has been leaking for more than a decade. Photos by Sara-Megan Walsh

A Northport congregation is praying for community help in order to save a pinnacle of the town’s history and landscape.

St. Paul’s Methodist Church has launched a capital campaign seeking to raise $300,000 to make structural repairs to the building’s historic steeple and preserve the sanctuary’s stained glass windows. The parish has found innovative ways to deal with the leaking steeple for nearly a decade, but the need for restoration has heightened as more extensive damage has occurred over time.

Pastor Kristina Hansen, religious leader of St. Paul’s, said the issue of rainwater leaking into the church’s sanctuary predates her arrival in 2010. Parishioner Alex Edwards-Bourdrez, who has been at the church for 26 years,  said determining the leak’s source took a lot of guesswork. Churchgoers used pots and pans to catch the water for years, and Hansen said the church even replaced the building’s roof “at hefty cost,” which did little to solve the problem.

“That’s when we realized the real problem was the steeple,” she said. “The steeple was the culprit all along. It’s gotten to a point we can’t ignore or make do anymore.”

The church’s original steeple, built in 1873, is iconic, made of white-painted wooden boards with a copper dome on top. It’s steeped in more than rainwater, as throughout the decade parishioners have signed their names on the walls of the bell tower as they’ve made confirmation or held a position of service in the congregation.

A stained glass window in the church’s sanctuary. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Edwards-Bourdrez said the steeple’s leak has gradually limited church activities, restricting use of the balcony for seating and preventing performance of the bell choir during inclement weather.

St. Paul’s has had a number of different construction firms come to review the damage and give estimates on the cost of repairs to preserve the historic structure, Hansen said. Initial prices range from $125,000 to $150,000, according to the pastor, but that could increase once scaffolding is built and a closer inspection is made of the two- to three-story high structure. The church has had temporary repairs done to prevent any further damage at the moment.

“Right now, for the first time in a decade, it isn’t leaking, but it’s not going to hold,” she said.

In addition to repairs to the steeple, the pastor said that the church is seeking donors to help preserve the sanctuary’s turn-of-the-century stained glass windows. The leading between sections of glass has started to deteriorate, which leaves the weight of the stained glass unsupported and prone to collapse. The estimated cost of repairing a single window can run more than $20,000, according to Hansen.

“I don’t know how much of the original work is still being done anymore,” she said. “It’s a part of the character of the sanctuary.”

The parish is hoping with the community’s support to upgrade its bathrooms, which are frequently used by residents for athletic events, artistic performances and local organizations like the Boy Scouts. This past Cow Harbor Day, churchgoers invited runners and spectators in need of a restroom inside to use the outdated facilities. The church wants to update its bathrooms and stairways to be fully handicapped accessible.

“With how many people we have in our building, we want our hospitality to be better,” Hansen said. “Any way we can make it more accessible, we want to do.”

The church’s capital campaign has already found support in the Northport community with John W. Engeman Theatre at Northport offering to donate $25,000 over the next three years. Hansen said a golf fundraiser is being held Oct. 16, with more events being planned in the upcoming weeks.

Jo Ann Katz, owner of Northport Plays, said the church has “been her home” for Northport Reader’s Theater and the Northport One-Act Play Festival over the years. It has provided a location for Long Island theater groups and actors to come together, with the yearly festival taking place on the parish’s stage in the gymnasium.

Katz will coproduce a special performance of “Ever Random,” a new play written by Long Island playwright Patrick Sherrard, to benefit St. Paul’s Nov. 5 at 3 p.m. The play is described as a touching comedy that explores a family’s struggles in the wake of a great loss. The show recently finished its September run at Manhattan Repertory Theatre.

Tickets cost $15 and reservations can be made by visiting www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3099845.

Hansen said St. Paul’s members are grateful for the community coming together to support the steeple’s repair.

“You can see the steeple from the harbor as you are coming up the street. It’s one of those iconic marks,” she said. “The fact is it’s compromising this beautiful sanctuary.”