One of Paonia's century-old churches is gaining attention lately, both from its congregation members, and from historical preservation entities that could help protect and restore the building for the next 100 years.
Thanks largely to the efforts of Paonia Christian Fellowship member Earlana "Lana" Sims, the church was placed on the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties on Feb. 24.
Currently, 27 Delta County properties and sites are on the register, including three other churches: the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Delta, the First Presbyterian Church of Eckert, and the Hotchkiss Methodist Episcopal Church.
Originally established as the First Christian Church, the building, located at the corner of Third and Box Elder, was completed in 1908 and dedicated in March of 1909. The name was changed to Paonia Christian Fellowship in 2002 following a split of the congregation.
The building is an excellent example of Romanesque-style architecture, which was primarily used in religious, civic and commercial buildings, wrote Heather Bailey, State and National Register Historian with the office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation.
The church was built with sandstone quarried from near what is now Mount Jumbo. According to Sims' church history, R.J. Decker and his son, Orange, built the road to the quarry, quarried the stone, hauled it to Paonia and laid the foundation. These sandstone blocks were also used locally in the construction of several other buildings of that period. Stones for the inside walls "were quarried north of Paonia to the east of the old Converse Mine," according to the state application. "Albert Campbell and W.T. Bross hauled much of this."
"My mom brought me to this church when I was two weeks old," said Sims, who is the longest standing congregation member, but not its oldest. Her life history can be traced through the history of the church. Her father was born in 1898, the year the congregation was established, and at one time, her mother was the oldest living member. Earlana and husband Ron were married there in 1958, and their two daughters also were married there. Ron crafted the oak cross hanging above the sanctuary. "Two of my grandmothers, their funerals were here. Yeah, we have quite a history with the church," said Earlana, who also penned the church's history, from its first congregational meeting in 1898, to the building's 100th anniversary in 2008.
But more than 100 years of use and exposure to the elements have taken their toll on the building, leaving its foundation and other features in need of repair.
Church members recently discovered several cracks and bows in the church's many signature stained glass windows, caused by more than a century of harsh weather and temperature fluctuations (plus a few well-aimed rocks and BBs). A congregation member suggested that Sims apply for selection to the state Register of Historic Properties, which would qualify the building for state preservation funding. Those funds come from a portion of the state's gaming tax revenues. The application was timely, since after this year, all of the state's preservation funds for the next three years will be earmarked for restoration of the state Capitol.
Feeling a sense of urgency, Sims also began fundraising efforts to repair the windows. Thanks to donations by community and church members, including a generous anonymous contribution, she was able to begin having the windows restored.
Despite an extensive documented history of the church and its construction, there is no record of who made the stained glass windows. "I'd like to do a little more research," said glass artist Rick Steckel of K Dahl Glass in Crawford. Steckel and his wife, Kathy, were chosen for the restoration project. "The fact that they were able to
make curves like this and make everything fit together is pretty remarkable."
The process of making stained glass windows hasn't changed much in the last 500 or so years, explained Rick while he and Kathy were busy putting the finishing touches on one of the panes at their shop near Crawford. The biggest change has probably been in the quality of the tools, and in safety. "They didn't have a lot of the fancy grinders and things, so most of the cuts they made were by hand," he said, pointing to the flowing lines of a flower.
The Steckels have identified 57 panes in need of restoration. Most of the frames are about 28 by 30 inches, and many are part of a two-frame set, a top and bottom panel that appears as one window when installed.
The brunt of the repair work lies in replacing all of the lead solder that frames each piece.
"After 100 years it gets old and crisp, especially the outside lead," which frames the entire window and gives it strength, said Rick, crumbling a strip of solder in his fingers. "There's no way that that's going to give any support to the glass at all." It's the same with almost every window they have inspected.
Moisture gets into the joints and expands and contracts with the changes in temperature, causing the pieces to shift, Rick explained. "So the entire window is moving almost all of the time." Considering that "they're very, very solid windows. They've been there for 100 years or more, and so gradually, they're going to bow and sag and that's going to cause the pieces to crack."
The company that made the original stained glass, the Paul Wissmach Glass Manufacturers of West Virginia, is still making pressed glass and was able to match the century-old colors and patterns.
Replacing glass doesn't harm the historical integrity of the pieces, since that particular glass is still being made, said Rick. If the glass were custom-made or had original art work, then priority would be set on preserving each piece of glass.
Where possible, the broken pieces will be repaired with an epoxy and will show up only as a crack in the glass.
The Steckels began the project in December, starting with the symbolic Cross and the Crown, which was bowed and needed to be straightened, but was otherwise in good shape. That window has already been re-installed on the southwest corner of the church.
Upon arrival at K Dahl, individual pieces of glass are numbered, and a "rubbing" of the window is made. This rubbing provides a pattern for where each piece of glass belongs and how tightly each should fit and still fitting back into the original frame. They also photograph each window after it is repaired. The photo, along with the rubbing, creates an archival document, said Kathy Steckel, a 35-year veteran of glass arts.
The entire frame is then bathed in water and gently scrubbed with a soft brush to reveal the true colors of the glass. (The Cross and the Crown was so dirty, they couldn't tell what colors it was, even with sunlight shining through.) This process dampens the lead solder, making it easier and safer to work with, and loosens the original grout.
To prevent future structural damage, zinc solder will be used instead of lead in key places, since it is stronger and can add more support to the window. Where necessary, structural reinforcement bars will be added to the back sides of the windows to prevent bowing and sagging. From inside the church, the bars will appear only as shadows.
The hardest pieces of glass to replace are at the centers of the frames, "where you have to dismantle to the center to get the middle piece," said Rick, describing the process as putting together a puzzle in reverse. "It would probably be less work to build a new window, but then, of course, you have a new window instead of these, and these are great."
Once the framework is complete and broken glass replaced or repaired, the joints are thoroughly grouted. The idea, said Rick, is to produce a waterproof grout that will expand and contract. The grout they mix, "kind of a cross between a slurry and a putty," helps stabilize the entire window and keeps the water out of the joints. "If you could seal the moisture out, there would be very, very little deterioration at all," said Rick.
"The whole idea here is to make it last as long as possible," said Rick. "I feel pretty confident that when these go back in, barring BBs and rocks, they're going to last another hundred years by the time we finish with them. That makes you feel pretty good."
Many of the area's churches and other historic buildings were built 100 or more years ago, and also have glass that is in need of repair. "So I see this as an ongoing process," said Kathy. "It's a satisfying thing to work on something that's 100 years old and know that you are repairing it for its next hundred years."
The Fellowship Church, which has a congregation of about 100, hopes to afford to complete repair of all of the windows, with or without state funding. Because of the law of separation of church and state, they'll have to use private donations to repair any windows with religious images, but there are only three such images, and one of them is already repaired.
In the meantime, Sims is applying for state funds to complete the restoration of the windows. Other restoration work, particularly to the sandstone foundation and the roof, also needs to be done in order to protect the structural integrity of the church. She's hoping to get some of the remaining state funding before it all shifts to the Capitol restoration, and will apply for federal funding if the church makes it to the federal register.
"This church has a great history," said Heather Bailey, "and the dedication of that congregation is readily apparent in the love and attention they show in maintaining their building."blog comments powered by Disqus