Cutting timbers and balancing tension while sawing is “a very complicated dance” high above ground, to secure the tall steeple of the historic Trinity Episcopal Church in Abbeville.
Mike Bedenbaugh, Preservation South Carolina executive director, said phase one, the securing of Trinity Episcopal’s steeple, is getting a big, temporary boost beginning early today.
“It’s a very precise thing experts are having to do, so that the steeple doesn’t ‘jump up’ when it’s detached Wednesday,” Bedenbaugh said. “It will be a dramatic thing.”
Bedenbaugh has been in Abbeville almost daily this week, getting ready for this steeple work, which is being overseen by Midwest Maintenance of Augusta, Georgia and MoreSun Timber Frames of Long Creek.
Additionally, matching funds to help with the historic church’s restoration are getting an injection from National Park Service supplemental assistance grant funds, available to historic buildings damaged by Hurricane Irma in September 2017, Bedenbaugh said.
“We were able to prove shingles that came off the steeple did so when Irma came by,” Bedenbaugh said. “We have photographic evidence of the shingles on the steeple beforehand and photographic evidence of them off, afterwards.”
Bedenbaugh said the NPS grant awarded is for $220,000. It covers replacing shingles, installing scaffolding and a lightning rod system, and installing copper flashing.
“Now, because of this grant and other funding, we have received half of our match requirement,” Bedenbaugh told the Index-Journal on Tuesday. “We have $250,000 left to raise. Once we raise that amount, we will be able to lower the steeple back down 12 inches and permanently restore and finish the steeple. The moment the dollar amount is in, we can get started.”
In 2019, it was announced Trinity Episcopal was being awarded $250,000 through the National Fund for Sacred Places, part of a grant-making program of Partners for Sacred Spaces, in collaboration with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
However, that national preservation grant is tied to matching funds the Trinity restoration project must raise to receive the full amount. Some $500,000 total in matching funds are needed to complete the project.
“In the spirit of bringing this sacred space back and having it open permanently, we need people to help us with that final financial push, as soon as they can,” Bedenbaugh said.
Using a large 280-foot tall crane, steel beams and a wooden support system are being anchored around the frame of the existing 125-foot tall steeple, Bedenbaugh said.
Today, the steeple will be hooked to the crane and detached from its original 160-year-old foundation timbers. The steeple will be lifted 12 inches using the crane and tied in and anchored so that it will not fall or topple. With no weather delays, Bedenbaugh anticipates this to be completed by Friday.
Watch it stream on a Facebook Live at the charitable organization’s Preservation South Carolina’s Facebook page, starting sometime this morning. A Preservation South Carolina YouTube video will follow later.
“This is not a permanent fix,” Bedenbaugh explained. “But, that’s how the steeple will be, until we raise the final $250,000 to do phase two and finish the work, and lower the steeple back down...Restoration of the steeple is being done in two parts...We started planning this three months ago, but we didn’t know COVID-19 was going to hit...The church will be ready to be re-opened once people are allowed again to gather for worship.”
Trinity Episcopal has been closed to the public and its congregation for two and a half years now because the steeple was deemed unstable and in danger of collapse. Preservation South Carolina is working with Friends of Trinity Abbeville and others to restore the church.
“Preservation South Carolina has rarely worked with a community as responsive and effective as the City of Abbeville has been,” Bedenbaugh said. “When we’ve encountered challenges of needing wires moved and streets closed, the City of Abbeville has been right there, supporting us.”