SACKETS HARBOR — Past and present merged Wednesday evening in the village during the Community Campaign kickoff for a project to restore the clock and bell tower of the United Presbyterian Church, 101 S. Broad St.
The event allowed dozens of community members to learn more about the restoration work on the 120-year-old structure. Held from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Sackets Harbor Ballroom, the party featured food, music and laughter, along with a little history and a lot of heart.
The goal of the campaign is to raise $300,000, though the overall project will have a price tag of about $600,000. During a short speech on the project, restoration committee co-chair Janet S. Quinn noted that following the silent phase of the fundraising, during which potential donors were approached, over half of the fundraising goal was raised.
“Over the past two years, professionals have been consulted, partnerships formed and there were COVID-safe front porch conversations talking to people about how do we raise a lot of money in this little community,” Mrs. Quinn said. “We listened, revised the plans, listened a little more, and continued to move ahead.”
At the corner of Main and Broad streets, new banners advertise the continuing work to restore the beloved village icon: “Preserving a Landmark, Sustaining a Legacy.”
The tower was completed and rededicated in August 1900 following two fires that destroyed previous Presbyterian churches in the village. The bell tower holds a set of 10 bells that were a gift from Marietta Pickering Hay, daughter of Great Lakes Capt. Augustus A. Pickering, who also started the local library now housed next door.
Years of harsh weather have taken their toll, damaging masonry and threatening structural integrity. Restoration efforts have been underway since 2020, initiated by the Sackets Harbor United Presbyterian Church, the steward of the community tower and bells.
“By July 30 this year, we will have committed to the necessary items of the original estimate. However as we work through the top down and outside in, there’s a lot more that needs to be done, including additional external and internal masonry repair,” said restoration committee co-chair Richard T. Stephens.
Mr. Stephens found the first big chunk of brick that had fallen from the tower in 2018, and realized something needed to be done sooner rather than later. He said that about 98% of the work estimate by Lupini Construction, a family-owned masonry restoration company based in Utica, has been completed so far.
Brick by brick, special care has been given to the restoration project. Broad construction goals for the tower are to repair all deteriorating brick and mortar, replace flashing and re-caulk around all windows, doors and clock faces. The granite steps leading to the front doors will be re-caulked, and the buttresses on the front corners of the annex, what used to be Hay Library, will have deteriorated brick and mortar replaced.
Former mayor John W. Deans, a member of the restoration committee, was the master of ceremonies Wednesday evening, sporting a vintage tux. Rev. Summer Sattora, of the United Presbyterian Church, attended the event dressed as Marietta Pickering Hay herself. Those in attendance included the village mayor, trustees and residents as well as the Hounsfield Town Supervisor Beth Arthur, and representatives from the local historical society and chamber of commerce.
Various stations set up in the ballroom invited guests to sign up to volunteer to ring bells or have bells toll for a particular occasion. Visitors were also asked to build their own tower and bring it to the Can-Am Festival in July for free ice cream. A banner with the names of people who had visited the tower and climbed its stairs to the top was prominently displayed along one wall. Guests could sign their names on an accompanying surface.
Screens set up at the event showed work completed throughout the project, as well as the tower’s condition when the restoration began. During the festivities, a painted portrait of Clifford E. Whalen, created by Virgina Hovendon, was unveiled. Mr. Whalen started ringing the bells of the tower when he was about 15 years old and rang them for 60 years, until climbing the stairs became too much for him. He is fondly remembered by many in the village and there is a plaque dedicated to him in the tower.
Some who were among the early supporters of this project shared their reasons for contributing.
“When we were approached about participating with this, it seemed a perfect fit for the bank; our motto is community,” said Stephanie Elliot, Sackets Harbor branch manager for Watertown Savings Bank. “Some people have wondered, why donate to the church? I’m not a member of the church, I don’t have anything to do with the church. … We open and close the bank by the bells tolling. This tower really does signify our community. It’s the first thing you see coming into town. It’s the focal point for you to tell people how to get to the restaurants, bars, shops — it’s so much part of who we are.”
Business donors include Chrissy Beanz, BCA Architects, Renzi Foodservice and Watertown Savings Bank. Project partners include the Northern New York Community Foundation, the New York Landmarks Conservancy and the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Those wishing to donate to the restoration project can do so through the Northern New York Community Foundation, which is providing a $25,000 matching grant, through the project’s website, www.restoreshtower.org, or by getting in touch with a committee member.