BELLOWS FALLS — The Rockingham Select Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to save the steeple on the old Methodist Meeting House at 66 Atkinson Street, as well as its distinctive stained glass window.
On two separate motions, the board voted to spend up to $15,000 to remove the steeple, and up to $5,000 to remove and crate the stained glass window of “The Parable of the Sower.”
What will happen to both of the historic items after they are removed was not decided, but Town Manager Scott Pickup said the demolition date had been pushed back to December, to allow more time for the historic items to be salvaged before the full demolition.
Pickup told the board that he wanted the demolition to take place while school was not in session at nearby Central Elementary School.
Hodgkins & Sons, the demolition contractor, wants nothing to do with salvaging historic materials, Pickup reported.
A separate contractor will be brought in to remove the top section of the steeple, which Select Board member Elijah Zimmer said is in excellent condition, unlike the rest of the building.
Zimmer, a member of the town’s Historic Preservation Commission, said he had taken many closeup drone photos of the steeple, and he said the very top is in fine shape.
Zimmer wants the steeple moved to The Island and next to the Waypoint Center, and have it used as a storage shed, replacing a historic carriage shed which was demolished a few years ago.
He said the steeple would just need a cement slab for a foundation, and that a door would be added via one of the louvered sides. The louvers could be backed with plywood to make it secure, he said.
The Bellows Falls Downtown Development Association needs a place to store its Christmas decorations and lights, among other items used in the downtown area, he said.
The Waypoint Center area is more convenient, he said, than the Riverfront Park.
Other board members said a better location for the steeple, which was added to the Methodist church in the 1880s during a renovation, is the Bellows Falls Historical Society’s Riverfront Park, which celebrates the town and village’s industrial heritage, including the Adam’s Gristmill.
But Gary Fox, the town’s economic development director, said the Riverfront Park is not a good place for a church steeple, saying the theme of all the historic work is on the village’s paper mills, hydro-generating facilities and other industrial firms, not a church or residential property. He was emphatic.
The town became owner of the dilapidated building, once the home of Meeting Waters YMCA, this summer, in an agreement with its owner Christopher Glennon, who had fallen behind in property taxes and also failed to take any repairs mandated by the village of Bellows Falls.
The board voted last month to demolish the 1835 meeting house, which is the second oldest church building in Rockingham. It was extensively renovated in 1880. But under its life as the YMCA, the building had fallen into a state of serious disrepair.
Zimmer said that he had received an estimate from a firm specializing in work on steeples for $12,000, but he said Wednesday no contract had been signed yet.
Walter Wallace, the town’s historic preservation coordinator, said he had received a bid of $5,000 to remove the stained glass window and to crate it, ready for storage or to be sold as is.
Wallace said the crated window could sell for anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000 at auction.
Rockingham Select Board member Rick Cowan, who was attending the meeting remotely, said the response from the community lead him to believe it might be worth trying to raise funds to keep the window in Bellows Falls.
The community is upset about losing the old church, which sits at a prominent location at the end of School Street, at the intersection with Atkinson Street.
No decision was made about what to do with either the steeple or the window Tuesday, but Board Chairman Peter Golec said the board has time to make the final decisions.
Zimmer said he’s disappointed the meeting house is coming down, but he said he’s encouraged by the town’s commitment to preserving what it can.
He said the top of the 75-foot steeple, above the weathered shingles, is in good shape.
“I’m sad to lose the building, but glad to see a commitment to historic preservation,” he said.