Moisture has taken a toll on the sandstone and brick face of the historic First Church in Oberlin’s Meeting House.
Now the church is seeking $25,000 from the Ohio Historic Preservation Office to help pay for tuck pointing and exterior masonry repairs.
“We’re taking the long view, thinking about what needs done to make sure this church will be here another 175 years,” said Gene Matthews, co-chair of the church facilities committee.
Over the years, water seeping into the porous Meeting House walls has frozen and thawed, crumbling mortar and displacing chunks of sandstone, he said.
Maintenance should be done every quarter century to prevent the deterioration of the walls.
State tax credits will scratch the surface of the cost of repairs. Matthews estimated the full price in the neighborhood of $75,000 and $100,000, with the bulk coming from a capital campaign.
The deadline to apply for the state cash is Feb. 6, which rushed a vote of support Tuesday by Oberlin city council.
It was unanimous. Councilwoman Sharon Soucy said First Church provides a dual role in Oberlin, both as a house of worship and as a gathering place for musical performances, forums on social issues, and candidates nights.
Laurel Price Jones, chair of the church history project, said more than 1,000 people went through the Meeting House last year as part of Oberlin Heritage Center programs.
“We believe it is a community asset and we’ll do our best to maintain it,” she said.
Ideally, preservation credits will be approved by the state in March and work can begin by April, said Matthews.
But the facade repairs are just one of the projects First Church needs to pursue, he said.
The main steps facing Rt. 58 need to be removed and reset because huge their sandstone blocks have shifted. And the cupola atop the church is in bad shape — just repainting would cost $50,000 to 75,000, according to Matthews. The cupola could potentially be replaced with one of anodized metal and composite material that wouldn’t rot.
First Church dates back to 1842. It was built through donated labor and materials from local masons, blacksmiths, carpenters, and other craftsmen.
Today, the term “Meeting House” refers to the oldest portion of the building where the sanctuary is located.
In the words of historian Robert Fletcher: “It was the center and capitol of the community, and it was the most important College building. It housed the church, but it was not the church — it was the Meeting House. It was the gathering place for all — mechanics, professors, farmers, students, housewives, merchants, all the members of a fully integrated society. It stands as a reminder of the remarkable unity of high moral purpose which once existed here.”
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Jason Hawk | Oberlin News-Tribune The First Church in Oberlin aims to restore water-damaged parts of its facade this spring. To finance the project, it is seeking $25,000 from the Ohio Historic Preservation Office.
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