Stone ready for remount

MARIETTA – A huge finial stone, cracked by a lightning strike last September, is ready to be remounted on the bell tower of the 156-year-old First Unitarian Universalist Church in Marietta.

“It’s being restored at Angelina Stone (in Bridgeport, Ohio). But there have been so many people asking about it that at one point we talked about putting it on display so people could see the stone before we had it reinstalled,” said Roger Kalter, a member of the church building and grounds committee.

The conical stone, topped with an ornate sculpted ball, stands about six feet high and weighs more than 600 pounds, according to Dan Harrison, owner of Harrison Construction on Colegate Drive, also a member of the building committee.

“Replacing the stone will be a major project, and we’ll need about a week of good weather to put it back up,” he said. “It will take some huge equipment, including a large crane, and we’ll have to block the streets for awhile.”

Harrison said no date has been set at this point, but the work should be done as soon as possible once the winter weather breaks.

“In addition to re-setting the stone, the brick column it sits on had to be repaired,” he said. “The back side of that column was split-right through the brickwork.”

Funded by early philanthropist and founder of the Marietta Unitarian Society Nahum Ward, construction on the church at the corner of Third and Putnam streets was completed in 1857, and much of the original sandstone used on the building’s exterior is still in good shape, thanks to recent repairs that have reinforced the material with stainless steel rods.

“All of the sandstone has been repaired, and the brickwork tuck-pointed,” Harrison said, noting all restoration efforts have focused on keeping the building materials as close to the original as possible.

He said the damage, from a direct lightning strike during a thunderstorm that had moved through the area Sept. 1, was covered by the church’s insurance policy. The cost of removing, repairing and resetting the stone is expected to be around $34,000.

The cracked finial stone caused quite a stir after it was discovered by a Harrison Construction worker on Sept. 7.

Harrison said a crew was working on the roof of the Colony Theater building on the opposite side of Third Street when one of the crew members noticed the damage and gave him a call. The worker said it looked like the stone could fall from the tower at any time.

“It was literally just being held in place by gravity,” Harrison said. “And it was Friday of Sternwheel festival weekend-thousands of people were in town and would be walking on the sidewalks below the church bell tower.”

The mayor and safety-service director were in a meeting at Marietta City Hall, just across Putnam Street from the church building, but Harrison ran into the meeting and told the officials that the stone was in danger of falling from the tower.

“We all went over to look at the damage, and they called out the fire and police departments who set up barricades on the streets,” he said. “I panicked. We couldn’t find a crane that would be available for rent until Monday. So we barricaded the area below the tower in the best way we could. But all weekend I kept driving past the church -we didn’t want anyone to get hurt. It was really a blessing that the stone didn’t fall.”

A 120-ton crane from Mustang Aerial Services Inc. of Reno hoisted the cracked finial stone from the top of the bell tower Monday afternoon. Three of the four lanes on Putnam Street were closed for several hours as the crane lifted workers more than 100 feet in the air where they checked, then secured the broken stone with cables before removing it.

Part of the finial is being stored at Harrison Construction, but the stone ball that topped the finial was sent to Angelina Stone in Bridgeport for restoration.

“We were able to preserve the ball-it’s very ornate, and would have cost thousands to replace,” Harrison said.

Kalter said restoration work on the church began in 1998, and some stonework was replaced on the structure at that time. But he said the material was saved and has been used for benches and artwork in a meditation area of the churchyard located behind the building.

“We just wanted to keep those parts on site,” he said. “We love this building, but it can be difficult to come up with the resources to keep it restored.”