Historic steeple taken down for repairs on Second Church in Codman Sq.

Crews from American Steeple & Tower Co. coordinated with Dorchester preservation consultant Jeff Gonyeau to remove the dome and lantern tower from atop the Second Church in Codman Square over the past week – the first time the structures have been removed since 1806. Seth Daniel photos

Dorchester preservation consultant Jeff Gonyeau shows off the Paul Revere & Sons ca. 1816 bell in the belfry of the Second Church in Codman Square.

The dome and lantern tower of Dorchester’s Second Church has been standing proudly above Codman Square since 1806. Last week, it was removed from its perch for critical structural repairs.

Jeff Gonyeau, a Dorchester resident and preservation expert who has been heading up the Second Church’s repair project, said the decision to remove the steeple’s elements was made quickly after substantial rot was found at the base of the dome and on internal supporting columns.

Last Wednesday (March 29), steeplejacks from American Steeple and Tower Co. of Salem removed the copper-plate dome via a crane. On Monday of this week, they removed the lantern tower. Both have been placed in the front yard of the church property, marking the first time since the church was built that the 4,000-pound top had come off. Much of the repair work will be done on the ground.

The circa 1816 bell made by Paul Revere & Sons foundry in Boston still stands proudly in the belfry of the Second Church steeple.

“The plan was not to take the tower down,” said Gonyeau. “They thought they could repair it in place. However, there are 8 supporting columns inside that are 13 feet tall and 6 had failed. They pulled out one of the columns and found significant rot at the base – especially on the main King Post.”

Gonyeau and Bob Levesque, of American Steeple and Tower, noted that repairs made in the 1950s were probably the cause of the rot, as they had reinforced the columns with steel plating that ended up trapping water and moisture in the base of the columns.

“The water just got inside the steel plates and sat in there and likely caused the rot,” said Levesque. Added Gonyeau: “If we had done all of the preservation work and then put them on a rotten structure, it would have been very bad. It’s a godsend in a way, not so much for the budget, but for the fact we have it down and can do these structural repairs at ground level.”

Having the dome on the ground will also allow crews to do significant work on its copper plating and reinforce/replace it so that it will better protect the top of the church.

The dome of the Second Church steeple on the ground.

Levesque, who worked on repairs to the church in 1986 alongside his father, said in dismantling the steeple they took great care to protect the circa 1816 Paul Revere & Sons bell that still sits proudly in the belfry – just below the lantern tower that was removed on Monday.

He said that the bells are special, though not rare, and the one in Second Church is in great condition. He noted that “there were only 19 bells that Paul Revere was actually involved in making. The Paul Revere & Sons foundry made over 450 bells. They’re all over the place and we see them all the time in the area.”

The Rev. Victor Price, the pastor at Second Church of Dorchester, said the church hopes to raise enough money in future preservation phases to put the bell back in working order, allowing it to be run on holidays and special occasions.

A four-faced glass clock on the tower is also pegged for fundraising efforts. The timepiece, a gift from chocolate magnate Walter Baker in the 1800s, has not operated in decades. They hope to be able to get it working again.

Most of the funding for the project at Second Church has come from proceeds of the Community Preservation Act. It has not yet been determined how much additional funding will be needed to complete the project after the unexpected discovery of the structural issues.

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