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Northport church seeks donors for bell tower project

Church historian Al Vitters, left, and caretaker David

Church historian Al Vitters, left, and caretaker David Giacone, in the bell tower of St. Paul's United Methodist Church on Sept. 14, 2017. The Northport church has launched a campaign to repair its tower. Photo Credit: James Carbone

St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Northport is launching a campaign to raise money to repair and restore its aging bell tower.

The historic steeple and its 1,228-pound bronze bell have been a part of the church since it was built in 1873, but the aging structure has begun to sag and leak — and church officials say using buckets and tarps isn’t enough anymore.

“I’ve seen the problem progress over the years by the number of buckets I’ve had to put up in the attic,” church caretaker David Giacone said.

“It became really clear last fall,” Pastor Kristina Hansen said about the disrepair at the Main Street church, which has 125 members in its congregation.

The bell and steeple are an integral part of the church’s spirit, Hansen said. Each year, when youth in the church are confirmed in their faith, they scrawl their names and the date — some as far back as 1904 — in the narrow, steep enclosure that houses the bell.

“All those dates in our tower remind us how long people have claimed this space, and it’s beautiful,” she said.

The church, Hansen said, is in the earliest stages of launching a capital campaign to raise as much as $150,000 to repair the steeple. Kevin O’Neill and Richard T. Dolce, who own the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport — just down the street from the church — started off the fundraising effort in late July with a $25,000 pledge.

“The church buildings on Main Street are part of the very fabric of what makes this town what it is,” O’Neill said.

The steeple once had four spires around its copper dome, and archive photos show a railing around the edge of the top tier. Church historian Al Vitters said it’s unknown exactly when the steeple’s appearance was changed, but officials believe it was in the early 1980s.

Depending on how much is raised, Vitters said officials would like to bring back the bell tower’s original, more ornate appearance.

The steeple “does have this historical significance,” he said. “A lot of people have told us that it dominates the skyline. . . . Our tower really stands out.”

Vitters said he and other officials are just beginning to review old church records to uncover more details on the history of the building and the steeple.

The information will be used to educate the public as the church seeks out donors for the restoration.

“It’s our turn, our responsibility,” Hansen said, explaining the effort. “The people from the 1800s did their part. They built this for us and the generations over time proudly took care of this place. It’s our turn to make sure that it is still here.”

St. Paul’s church bell

  • Weighs 1,228 pounds
  • Cast in 1872
  • Rings in A-flat
  • Engraved with the words: “Make a joyful noise”

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