St. Peter’s tower, a Morristown landmark, going into the body shop

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The thunderous bells of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Morristown will be silenced next spring.

That actually may be a blessing. For three months, workmen will renovate the massive bell tower, thanks to a $428,134 grant from Morris County’s Historic Preservation Trust Fund. This should ensure many more years of majestic music from the 18-ton carillon, according to church officials.

St. Peter's tower in Morristown will be getting a new roof next spring.
St. Peter's tower in Morristown will be getting a new roof next spring.

“It’s wonderful news,” said Rector Janet Broderick. “We’re extremely grateful to the Morris County Preservation Trust and to the freeholders for awarding us this very large grant.

It is the largest grant among 27 awarded to projects across the county, totaling $2.5 million. Other recipients in Greater Morristown include the Parish House of the Presbyterian Church, the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, and Acorn Hall.

Janet described the tower as a “landmark on the Morristown skyline…a serious architectural work with beautiful lines and integrity. It speaks to its time and it has influenced other structures around it and the lives of the people of Morristown for generations.

“We’re very serious about ongoing preservation and upkeep of the building. We work very hard on this, and this grant will help us,” the minister said.

St. Peter’s must raise an additional $107,000 towards the renovations, which are meant to stop water leaks in the stone structure, explained church volunteer Mark Dadd.

“The tower is safe and secure now,” Mark said. “But if we don’t deal with the water problem, there probably will be problems later on.”

St. Peter's tower under construction in June 1907. Photo courtesy of Bruce Rand/ St. Peter's Episcopal Church
St. Peter's tower under construction in June 1907. Photo courtesy of Bruce Rand/ St. Peter's Episcopal Church

Built more than a century ago, the tower stretches 119 steps high, with four levels that include 49 bells and a cabin where the carillonneur plays them via a keyboard of wooden slats.

The church was designed by one of the great architectural firms of the Gilded Age, McKim, Mead and White.  The partners are famed for planning New York’s original Penn Station and the campuses of Columbia and New York universities and, tragically, for Stanford White’s murder by a cuckolded husband.

“The church is a contributing resource to Morristown’s Historic District,” the Morris County Freeholders said in a statement.

“When the tower was built in 1907-1908, a relatively new technique at the time was used that set up the exterior stone together with an inside wood form and the concrete was poured between the two.”

Water trickles down those walls, “coming out in odd places,”  Mark said.

Starting in late spring, stonework atop the tower will be removed so a new roof membrane can be installed, along with a new support frame for the flagpole, he said.

The project will be managed by Artefact Inc. and John Harry Restoration Services, and the C & B Waterproofing Corp. will do the sealing, Mark said. All three companies are from Pennsylvania.

Janet credited Mark with painstakingly writing the grant request and assembling the team.

“It’s volunteers like Mark who make it possible for structures such as ours to be cared for,” the rector said.
“I told him when I called him today: ‘My God Mark, I am glad you go to St Peter’s!'”

Church services will continue during the renovations, and the 1930 Skinner organ will be unaffected. But the bells will be covered in plastic and silenced, Mark said.

John Dyer, the carillonneur at St. Peter’s, said a respite from the bells might let him catch up on another important church ritual.

“If it is shut down for three months that will give me a chance to go to coffee hour after the services before everyone has left,” John said.

 

 

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