BANGOR — The skyline of Bangor will change somewhat as St. John’s Episcopal Church remodels its 100-year-old tower. The church has existed at that site on French Street since 1835 and the original church burned in the Great Fire of 1911. The top of the tower has been a maintenance issue for decades. The decision has been made to remove the top section of the tower and replace it.
“For a century, we at St. John’s Episcopal, have devoted time, engineering expertise, and an enormous amount of money to maintaining our beautiful Gothic church, “ said long-time member Bruce Mallonee. “Eventually we found ourselves unable to outrun flaws that opened the top of the tower to the ravages of winter in northern New England weather.”
The cost of rebuilding the top of tower exactly as it had been, approached a million dollars and the church’s governing board, the Vestry, decided that would not be a responsible use of resources. The Vestry appointed a working group to come up with a different solution. The group, led by parishioners Donald Lewis and Ralph Whedon, consulted several engineering firms looking for practical repairs because the tower had become unsafe and stone pieces had broken loose and were falling off. Finally, all agreed the best solution was to remove the top and replace it.
The original church was the first Gothic designed church by Richard Upjohn who led the gothic revival in the U.S. and designed a number of important churches and cathedrals. He later became the first president of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the replacement church was designed by his grandson 80 years later.
“The Bangor skyline is truly admired, especially with its wealth of churches and steeples. St. John’s has a gothic tower and if taken away, will affect what people see as they approach the city,” said Dr. Lee Souweine, another long-time member of the parish.
“This partial tower removal effort represents the necessary first step in efforts to restore our Gothic tower. But first we must take the incremental step of removing the damaged portion of the tower and consolidate the sound portion with a new roof and repairs the protect the good structure from the elements,” said Andy Hamilton, the senior warden (chair) of the Vestry.
Rector Mo. Rita Steadman noted that, “The work on the tower will act as a beacon of hope drawing one’s eyes to God in a new age.”
The top of the tower will be removed and will be replaced in stages. The first stage will be completed this year and will replace the top with a lower roof line temporarily. The project will also replace the damaged concrete embellishment around the front entrance of the church. Staging and fencing were erected around the entrance three years ago to protect people and property and this will allow that to be removed. The newly designed entrance has been designed to be more attractive and welcoming.
What is added to the new, lower top, is still being discussed but will regain at least the height as now exists but will be a newer design and look. Many ideas are being considered and the church is open to ideas from everyone whether connected to the church or not.