Church… meet Steeple

CONTACTS: Dr. Dennis C. Landis, Ph.D., Restoration Chairman
(401) 863-1556 or (860) 774-5146,
Phyllis Emigh, Restoration Co-Chair
(860) 428-5607,
            BROOKLYN, CT, March 12, 2007 – Brooklyn Center residents and passersby are in for a visual treat when a crane lifts into place the new steeple for the Old Brooklyn Meeting House. Brian Kronenberger of Kronenberger & Sons Restoration tells architect Frank Dziki and Restoration Committee Chairman Dennis Landis that the crew expects to lift the steeple on Wednesday, the 14 th, at approximately 7:00 a.m.
            The original steeple was destroyed in the 1938 hurricane, and the replacement that went up the following year was unable to withstand the test of time. That steeple was removed by crane in 2001 to allow for repairs to the supporting tower. Timbers already in a weakened condition before the hurricane hit were removed and replaced by massive new beams. Grants from the Connecticut Historical Commission and from the Quinebaug-Shetucket Heritage, as well as donations from individuals and businesses, supported this work.
            Work came to a standstill, with the old steeple left sitting on the ground next to the building, when a second grant from the state, approved in 2002, failed to make it through the State Bonding Commission. With the entire state budget in crisis, the Legislature also cut the Historical Commission and other state commissions, and later re-invented them as divisions of the new Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism. Funds finally became available in 2005, but by that time the cost of the project had soared.
            “Maury Bowen, Brooklyn’s former First Selectman, put us back on track,” says Restoration Committee co-chair Phyllis Emigh. “He helped us organize a major fundraising effort, and literally knocked on doors soliciting contributions.” The effort netted well over $50,000.
            Even with this success, it seemed that much-needed exterior work on the tower would have to be delayed. An additional last-minute grant, recently secured through the efforts of Senator Don Williams, makes it possible to complete the job before construction costs rise even more.  
“Replacing the steeple is the culmination of a long, harrowing project,” says Landis. “When we removed it, we expected the total cost to come in around $132,000 but the lowest bid came to $245,000, including the exterior work.”
Charlene Cutler, Executive Director for the Heritage Corridor is among those happy to see the steeple pointing heavenward once again. “Iconic buildings like the Brooklyn Meetinghouse define the character of our region, along with our farms and forests. Conserving these places means we can offer authentic experiences to visitors to The Last Green Valley, both now and into future generations.”
            Erected in 1771, the building is a rare pre-revolutionary Connecticut meeting house, and is prominently located at the junction of Routes 6 and 169 in the Historic District of Brooklyn. The Unitarian Universalist Society in Brooklyn cares for the structure.
            The Old Brooklyn Meeting House is a Connecticut treasure. The tall windows, open space, and simple wooden seats recreate the social, religious, and governmental gathering place of early colonists. Some historic figures who appeared in the Meeting House are
·         General Israel Putnam, who took a leadership role in planning for the building and served as its sexton;
·         the Rev. Samuel May, abolitionist, spokesman for schoolmistress and state heroine Prudence Crandall, and uncle of Louisa May Alcott; and
·         the Rev. Celia Burleigh, who in a service at this very building in 1871 became the first woman ordained in Connecticut.
            Groups interested in arranging for a tour of the Meeting House are encouraged to make arrangements by calling (860) 779-2623.   Anyone wishing to donate to the ongoing restoration of the building can send a check to UUSB Restoration Committee, PO Box 38, Brooklyn, CT 06234.
— From my friend Phyllis

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