Frankfort pastor spearheads steeple restoration project

By Fran Gonzalez | Jan 11, 2019
Photo by: Fran Gonzalez Frankfort Congregational Church, shown here Jan. 4, needs restoration work to its spire, clock tower and belfry.

Frankfort — When traveling north on Route 1A following the Marsh River up from Prospect and through the center of town, it is hard to miss the white church with elegant columns, a clock tower and a soaring steeple situated in the middle of Frankfort.

The 169-year-old structure is a classic Greek-Revival style church, popular at the time of construction and common to many small rural towns in Maine. The clock, a gift to the church and to the community by the town of Frankfort, was installed in 1873.

Jacob Gran has been pastor of Frankfort Congregational Church since July 2017.  According to Gran, it became clear early on that work was needed to repair a leak when water stains became visible on the balcony ceiling.

"We could see water marks and it seemed to get worse and worse," Gran said. After investigating further, the leak was determined to be coming from the spire above.

The church hired Mid-Maine Restoration, professional steeplejacks out of Boothbay, who specialize in the reconstruction and replication of historic church and meeting house steeples, to do the repair work. Construction was set to commence in the fall of 2019.

"Many churches have endowments or specific accounts with hundreds of dollars in the bank," set aside to deal with such improvements, Gran said.

"Our budget is $30,000 to $36,000 a year," he said. "There is not a lot of money left over to do these kinds of things."

Tim Hall, a prior pastor at Frankfort Congregational who now serves a church in Castine, recently managed construction on its steeple through a specialized grant, Gran said, and "he let me know about this (resource)."

The Maine Steeples Fund, a collaborative effort of Maine Preservation, Maine Community Foundation and a donor-advised fund at the foundation, supports local efforts to restore church steeples of historic, cultural and community significance.The program will match funds raised locally to both assess and restore steeples.

As with most grants, various applications are required to qualify and one of the larger tasks involves hiring an assessor to complete an eligibility assessment.

In 2016, the architectural and engineering firm of Ames Associates of Bangor gave the church a $16,000 assessment for roof repair and waterproofing the spire roof and transitional roofs.

More recently, complications were found in the upper apron roof, which increased the total cost of the project to $30,000. According to Gran, board members at Maine Community Foundation were "very surprised."

"You think someone would have caught that before now," Gran said. "Hopefully it will all go fine, but we'll see."

He remains hopeful the church can raise a portion of the extra costs, while an administrator with Maine Community Foundation has requested clarification on the updated costs.

The Maine Community Foundation will grant half of the costs up to $40,000, Gran said. "We had raised half of the $16,000 through fundraising and donations." Now the church will need to raise an additional $7,000 for a total of $15,000.

"Right now we have about $9,000 in the steeple fund," he said.

This is a sizable accomplishment for a church with a congregation of about 30 people. "We've been making progress. We were on the decline; for the past six years we've seen a loss," Gran said.

"Many older churches have the choice of whether to stay relevant or fade with the past," he said. "This is the choice we are facing now. If  we move forward, there is still work to be done and our congregation is receptive to this.

"It's been a long process, two to three years to just get things started, but we've been very fortunate," Gran said. "Some churches have spent $100,000 easily" on construction or replacement of their steeples.

To make a tax-deductible donation to the restoration project, send contributions to Frankfort Congregational Church, Attention: Steeple Coordinator, P.O. Box 146, Frankfort, ME  04438.

Pastor Jacob Gran in the light-filled sanctuary at Frankfort Congregational Church Jan. 4. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
Pastor Jacob Gran looks at water stains on the balcony ceiling from a leaking spire at Frankfort Congregational Church Jan. 4. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
The gear mechanism that works the c. 1873 clock is housed in a small room above the balcony, reached by a rustic captain's ladder. Pastor Jacob Gran says it needs to be wound once a month. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
(Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
Looking out from the gear room below the clock in the tower at Frankfort Congregational Church Jan. 4. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
The Frankfort Congregational Church steeple rises above the banks of Marsh Stream. The white building beside the church houses the Frankfort Town Office, where Pastor Jacob Gran works as deputy clerk. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
(Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
Pastor Jacob Gran explains how the Frankfort Congregational Church has a real bell in the tower which is rung by the use of a rope and mechanical timer Jan. 4. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
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