SACKETS HARBOR — The recently acquired and renamed Old Stone Chapel, formerly known as Christ Episcopal Church, in the village will open to the public this weekend for an open house hosted by its new owner: the Sackets Harbor Historical Society.
The church, located on East Main Street, was built in the early 1820s and is one of the oldest churches in Jefferson County, if not in the north country, said Sackets Harbor Historical Society Board President David “Dave” W. Altieri.
According to Mr. Altieri, the church is a beautiful, simple Gothic-style building, with a New England type of look on the inside.
“It’s played a really important role in the village over the years,” he said. “Ulysses S. Grant worshiped there as a young officer when he was at Madison Barracks before the Civil War in the 1840s. And there’s other sort of notable people — Frances Bible, who was a famous opera star born in Sackets Harbor, worshiped there.”
As a building important to the history of the village, the historical society wanted to preserve it as a place of history, so when the Episcopalian Diocese decided to sell it a few years ago, the society stepped forward and offered to buy it. According to Mr. Altieri, the historical society finally closed on it sometime in February of this year, with COVID helping to slow things down.
It has been close to probably 20 or 25 years since it was actively used as a church, Mr. Altieri said. There was some serious damage done to it in the past, some of the structures and the roof failed years ago. Now, in 2021, the church will be open to the public once more beginning Saturday.
From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the historical society will host an open house to welcome people into the building.
“It’s going to be very low-key,” Mr. Altieri said of the event. “The building is going to be used for the public as much as we can while still preserving it and the interior.”
Basically just wanting to invite the public in after so long, the historical society has prepared some written material about the building for guests. According to Mr. Altieri, the historical society will have the building open to the public on a regular basis as soon as it can and hopes to host events when possible.
“In the future it will be open for people who want to come in and do a self guided tour and then we hope to develop more and more about the history of it, maybe do some small exhibits and that sort of thing,” Mr. Altieri said. “That’s the big question on everyone’s mind: What are we going to do with it? The first answer is we’re going to change it as little as possible, we want to preserve the building as it is as much as we can, so that sort of limits what we can do with the building because there’s fixed pews and that sort of thing.”
He said the historical society hopes to have small performances, concerts, speakers and maybe some exhibits. For example, the Hay Memorial Library has put on a quilt show annually for several years, so the Old Stone Chapel will be one of the buildings used to display quilts as part of that quilt show that takes place throughout the community.
For the most part, the historic landmark is in pretty good shape, but there are a few repairs that need to be made, according to a Facebook posting by the historical society. Plumbing also needs to be added to the building to install a bathroom. The society’s fundraising goal for the repairs is $150,000. Those wishing to donate can send a check to: Sackets Harbor Historical Society, 101 S. Broad St., Sackets Harbor, NY 13685.
“We would like to get the public as involved as we can and we’d like to hear ideas about how it can be used,” Mr. Altieri said of the building. “We’ve gotten a lot of ideas, there are limitations, but we’d just like to welcome the public into the building and hopefully also welcome their involvement and ideas and that sort of thing in not only preserving the building, but also keeping it actively used.”