Columns Rising!

Placing the first column, Photo by Bob Riemer
Smithfield Church Restores Historic Ionian columns

The first of four restored columns was installed at Smithfield Church late Friday afternoon, October 30, 2015 amid the rainbow bounty of newly fallen colored leaves from Friday's drenching storm.

Darlene Riemer, R.A., AIA, Architect of Record for Smithfield Church Restoration Project said to TMI: "The columns are being set in place almost to the date of the original columns, as one hand-written note on the wooden capital base revealed: "this column was put up November, 1847." This date verifies that the present columns are original to the structure. Through laborious work by many craftsmen, the original columns, bases, and capitals were repaired, restored, and installed at their rightful place of 'birth' of November, 168 years ago." 

Underneath layers of paint on the column bases in dark ink script were the names of some of the 1847 church members. Smithfield Church will be publishing a book about the restoration project which will include numerous pictures, including pictures of the names inscribed on the columns.

The installation of the columns was aided not only by many generous contributors in the area, but also by a $25,000 challenge matching grant from New York State Landmarks Commision.

One aspect of this restoration project was that thirty-five years ago two smallish holes were drilled into the lintel facade triangle in order to employ a contemporary acoustic system for that era. The restoration project has allowed the facade triangle in the lintel to be repaired. A forthcoming improvement will be on-demand propane heating. This will permit the church to have a stable temperature (as well as result in small maintenenance savings), and include summer air-conditioning. Because of temperature stability, further pipes will be added to the historic Johnson tracker-organ.

As soon as the propane heating and air-conditioning system with new ducts is installed, the church will build a new staircase and install an elevator. The elevator is a donation from the estate of the late Robert Rosenheim whose residence was the former estate of William F. Buckley in Sharon, Connecticut. Mr. Rosenheim had it installed, and rarely used it in the last year of his life, and is in "like new" condition.T Modifications to the elevator will  need to be made, especially a replacement door and interior light. The current door has no window because the prolific writer William F. Buckley suffered from fear-of-heights; he preferred to ride the elevaor in total darkness.

Rev. Douglas Grandgeorge, the current pastor of the church, said: "Speaking as a theologian seeing these columns reset, I think how different the Calvinists of 1847 interpreted their faith from those of us, still following Calvin’s genius into the 21st Century, as we reset them. 168 years later, we are still modern seekers after God, as they were modern seekers after God in their day; these 168-year-old columns have been 'pillars of faith' through generations. We now return them stronger than ever to generations yet unborn, trusting that there will always be a remnant of men and women brave enough to search for God."

It had been hoped that the remaining three columns might have been laid in place on Saturday in time for Sunday service, yet only one other column was installed on Saturday. The installation process remains exteremely mahcine-and- labor intensive, as welll as occassionally breathtaking in its perilous maneuvers. The columns will be completely installed dring the first week of November.