PLATTSBURGH — The foundation of the Trinity Episcopal Church is as solid as a rock.
Its windows, however, are another matter.
“The Trinity Episcopal Church is probably the oldest public building in Plattsburgh,” the Rev. Colin Belton said. “There’s a lot of historical context for the region here.”
The structure was originally built in 1830.
Keith Wills, the former senior warden of Trinity Episcopal Church and now ad-hoc committee chair for the capital campaign to restore the church’s windows, said that sometime in the 1860s the church expanded to take on a larger congregation. The current windows of painted glass were installed in 1866. They are now in need of dire restoration.
“They are very historic in the sense that many churches found them rather flat and dull compared to actual stained-glass windows,” Wills said.
At that time, officials removed many of the patterned windows in favor of “figured” windows, a style that depicted the likes of Jesus and people from the Bible.
“Unfortunately they have experienced neglect over the years,” Wills said. “We have one window now that a healthy sneeze would cause it to collapse. It’s in very, very bad condition.”
“The windows are quite literally falling out,” Belton added.
One window, located over the front door, is sagging from its casing.
“You can see daylight through the frame,” Wills said.
Another window, located on the east side of the church, is also pulling away from its frame. Wills said part of the problem stems from improper repair work done in 1972.
“The windows were not removed to a studio to be restored,” he said. “Everything was done in situ,” meaning restored while still hanging in their frames.
Wills said there are crossbars to help keep the windows in place.
“But I call them twist ties,” he said. “In a sense, they are. The wires are very thin, and some of them are missing.”
In addition, Wills suspects that prior to the renovation in the early 1970s, a cloudy glass pane was placed over the existing windows.
“But they need to be vented,” Wills said. “And because they’re sealed, there’s no weep hole or ventilation to release any humidity.”
Without a weep hole, the window frames and sills have rotted — both outside and inside the church.
On the west side of the church, the window frames have also rotted because they haven’t been recently painted. Wills said proper upkeep means the frames should be painted every five years.
For proper repair, the windows should be removed and placed on a light box to be restored and re-soldered.
“But they need to be flat when this is done,” he said.
Even when the windows get repaired, the restoration work isn’t done just yet.
The removal and reinstallation of the windows also means that a fresh coat of paint to the interior of the church is necessary.
In all, 11 windows need to be restored. Wills said total repairs are estimated at $500,000. The first step is repairing the three windows in the worst shape.
“We’ll have to do it in stages,” Wills said. “We are a small congregation.”
The current number tallies in at about 100 congregants, many of them on fixed incomes or young families.
“But we can’t put the burden on the congregation,” Wills said.
A money-raising brainstorming session has ensued. So far the church has tried eBay sales as well as a coffee-house entertainment series.
Wills said folks have been donating items that have been sold on eBay to raise funds. Wills, himself, donated a rare antique silver watch inherited to him by his great-grandfather.
“We got a nice price for it,” he said.
The entertainment series,
dubbed “Trinity Café,” recently wound down its winter and spring run. Trinity Café, organized by congregant and local musician Peter Grosskopf, was performed at local coffee houses and raised money for the restoration cause. It’s on hiatus for the summer and will return this fall.
Grants are also being considered.
“But we have to have some seed money before we go for a grant,” Wills said.
Belton and Wills are just happy to get the word out. Flyers, which include the eBay site and donation information, are being distributed to both congregants and visitors to the area for when the likes of the Battle of Plattsburgh festivities take place.
“We’ll have the church open so people can look around,” Wills said. “We want them to see that the building is regarded as a historical part of Plattsburgh’s history.”