A member of steeplejack Robert Morgan's crew approaches the spire of the Sheepscott Community Church the morning of July 10. The spire, which stands about 85-90 feet high, now rests on the ground next to the church, where it will stay while the church raises money to rebuild the steeple. (Photo courtesy Allen Milligan)
By J.W. Oliver
The spire of the Sheepscott Community Church on Sheepscot Road in Newcastle is on the ground and the base of the steeple has been demolished.
Littleton, N.H. steeplejack Robert Morgan and J.R. Williams Crane Service Inc. of Woolwich removed the steeple in segments and Morgan demolished the base July 10 and 11.
The remains of the base of the steeple filled two commercial dumpsters.
Morgan and his crew are going to patch the church roof to allow the congregation to use the building while it raises money to rebuild the steeple.
The church began planning to remove the steeple of the 188-year-old church after an inspection last year revealed severe rot.
The rot was worse than expected and powderpost beetles, a type of woodboring insect, were present in many of the timbers, Morgan said.
Morgan, a fourth-generation steeplejack, has been in the business since he was 14 years old.
"This is a small job for me," Morgan said. He and his crew work on steeples 300 to 400 feet high. The Sheepscott Community Church steeple was about 85 to 90 feet up, he said.
"We used to do water tanks, radio towers, flagpoles, but now it's just church steeples," Morgan said. He and his crew travel around seven states and usually have 7 to 8 months of work ahead of them.
Sheepscott Community Church member and steeple project manager Allen Milligan said the spire could stay on the ground for more than two years.
Boothbay Harbor engineer Peter Lincoln of Lincoln/Haney Engineering Associates Inc. will start work on an engineering study next week, Milligan said. The study will help the church estimate how much money it needs to raise to rebuild the steeple.
Milligan, who was a general contractor on Long Island, N.Y. before retiring to Sheepscot, said he believes the church will raise the necessary money regardless of how daunting the task might appear.
"I think, because of the historic significance, they really want to see it put back together," he said.
Sheepscot feels strongly for its two churches, Milligan said. "That's why people work pretty hard to get the funds to try and keep two churches going, even though it might seem like an excessive extravagance for a little community," he said.
The church is spending $17,500 to remove the steeple.
Sheepscott Community Church members refer to the building on Sheepscot Road as the "hill church" to distinguish it from their "valley church" on The King's Highway.
The congregation traditionally gathers in the hill church in summer and the valley church in winter because the valley church has heat and indoor plumbing.
The congregation remains at the valley church this summer because the hill church was not safe with the rotting steeple in place. The congregation will probably migrate to the hill church next month, Milligan said.
The hill church was built in 1825 as the First Congregational Church.
The First Congregational Church began sharing a pastor and services with the Civil War-era Methodist church on The King's Highway in 1943.
The churches formally merged in summer 2012. The membership still includes Congregationalists and Methodists, as well as people who do not belong to either denomination.
The damage to the steeple was discovered during a 2012 inspection prompted by the transfer of the hill church from the Congregationalist organization to Sheepscott Community Church, Milligan said.