Facing serious structural problems after nearly 175 years of use, the Irvine Presbyterian Church is pulling together to remain in service, literally.
According to congregates Keith and Joanne Oviatt, who provided historical information on the church and surrounding area, congregates first noticed something was amiss with what is known locally as the "old stone church" in late 2011 when minor cracks first began getting noticeably longer and creeping farther down the walls.
Erie contractor Fiske and Sons was called to investigate the cause of the cracks and, by drilling two holes in the roof to access the space between the roof and the ceiling, discovered the roof was sagging due to lack of a continuous roof beam. Further engineering reports on the problem found 1960s-era rafter additions, along with the presence of a chimney which has been out of service since the addition of more modern heating, were creating a load too heavy for the walls to bear.
Photo by Jacob Perryman
The 175-year-old Irvine Presbyterian church is in need of major structure repairs. Parishers are in the process of raising funds to save the church.
The walls actually consist of two walls, a 21-inch stone exterior wall and an interior stone wall with a space between. Without a load bearing roof beam and supports the outer wall shoulders the full weight of the roof and ceiling themselves. This weight, along with age and rot of mortar and wooden structural elements, has caused the church's walls to slowly bow outward.
The warping has finally become so severe as to be noticeable, first as spreading cracks in the plaster applied directly to the interior wall and ceiling, and upon examination in the shape of interior finish elements and along the vertical line of the outside wall. The warping is so severe as to create a 2-inch distortion on a level placed along a 4-foot section of wall. Severe enough to deem the structure unsafe.
To keep the wall from bowing further during expected snowfall over the coarse of the 2011-12 winter, screw jacks were set along the center isle to support the rafters while steel cables with turnbuckles were applied to the tops of the walls to prevent slippage. The temporary measure has cost the church approximately $450 per month. A more permanent solution is being planned.
The engineer and contractor have decided the best course of action to repair the church is to lift the roof 3' to 4' above the walls, thereby protecting the interior from the elements. Meanwhile, the stone walls will be disassembled down to the tops of the windows and the space between the interior and exterior walls will be filled to improve load bearing strength. The stones will be numbered for reconstruction.
Once the walls are strengthened, the roof will be replaced one half at a time. To re-create the existing vault ceiling and add additional strength, scissor trusses will be utilized in the process.
Finally the building will be restored to it's original look inside and out. The finish will include refinished doors and replacement of original pews, altar and other furniture.
Built in 1838 by Dr. William Irvine as a wedding gift for his wife, the church originally cost $900 to build, or just over $18,000 in today's money, and is on the National Registry of Historic Places. It's 34-foot by 26-foot interior boasts a congregation of more than 80 members and regularly seats 60 or more worshipers for services.
Total costs for the upcoming project will be approximately $120,000 and the church congregation is utilizing a number of funding methods to obtain the sum.
The church is borrowing $60,000, half of which is from the area presbytery at an interest rate of 2 percent.
The congregation is working with Boy Scout Troop 22, which charters through the church, to raise some additional funds. The group is currently selling subs with proceeds to be split between the troop and church. A spaghetti dinner is also planned on March 10 at the Youngsville Fire Hall.
The church is also exploring additional borrowing sources, available grants and community aid.
To provide aid or suggestions, call 814-563-4323.