Thursday, May 16, 2013

Splendor in the glass

May is Preservation Month, intended to raise awareness of the power historic preservation has both to protect the fabric of and enhance the present and future of places like Chariton. So it was really appropriate Monday that Doug Jones' Underground Railroad program, sponsored by the Lucas County genealogical and historical societies, was hosted by First Presbyterian Church --- one of our architectural treasures.

The Presbyterians recently completed a major conservation effort in their grand 1908 building, installing a new furnace, rewiring the building, replacing the roof and redecorating its "jewel box" sanctuary. The pipe organ also has been repaired recently and restored to its place in worship.

The stained glass dome over the sanctuary (above) just amazes me every time I see it. It is by far the most dramatic feature of the interior, but the glass that forms it is in perfect harmony with the stained glass in all of the tall windows the light the sanctuary from three sides and works with those windows to create a remarkably harmonious whole.

As part of the conservation effort, the dome was relighted --- a project that included stripping paint off the brass sconces within the dome that were part of its original equipment.

Although its not evident from either inside or outside now, this glass confection originally was covered by a large exterior dome that for reasons that must have seened good at the time was removed many years ago. That was a major loss and severely diminished the overall presence of the building, but there's little point in crying over that spilled milk now. The glass dome and its support structure now are covered by a much smaller shed-like structure atop the roof, concealed by the building's parapets.

First Presbyterian probably was designed by Chariton architect O.A. Hougland, although that never has been documented. Several other churches in the south of Iowa that can be linked to Hougland bear striking resemblance to the Chariton building.

The early evening light in the sanctuary was beautiful Monday evening when we gathered for the program as sunlight was streaming through the big west windows.

These windows are not overly fussy, just magnificent examples of stained glass art at the time they were installed more than a century ago.

The interior of First Presbyterian never has been substantially altered, although the wing north of the sanctuary has been adapted for contemporary needs --- church office and social hall.  But woodwork never has been painted and all of the tall windows are intact. The congregation gathers now for coffee in the large room connected to the sanctuary by three openings with doors that slide up and down, as in a roll-top desk. These are original equipment. Rooms like this were inended originally to do double duty. Sunday school classes were held here when the doors were lowered; the area provided overflow seating, when raised.

Part of the Lucas County Preservation Commission's Preservation Month initiative is to take photos of historic buildings that feature both people who appreciate them and a sign, "This Place Matters." So I rounded up several of those who arrived early for Monday's meeting and we went outside to take the photo below. Included in it are (from left) Ilene Church, Bill and Carol Marner, Ev Brightman, Sarah Palmer (retired First Presbyterian pastor), Doug Jones and Dru Thorne. Ev, who is Presbyterian, arranged for Monday's meeting to be held in this wonderful building that really does matter.

You can read a little more about First Presbyterian Church here. Economic development within the context of historic preservation is the core mission of the Chariton Area Chamber/Main Street. If you're interested in helping out, feel free to contact the Chamber/Main Street office at (641) 774-4059.

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