Legend has it that when the First United Methodist Church was built at the turn of the 20th century, the builder put three pennies on the platform of the bell tower before the steeple was affixed to the base.
“Probably for good luck,” said Sandra Swenk, church member and treasurer of the board of directors.
The luck lasted. It’s been over a hundred years since the Methodist Church was built on the corner of Main Street and Spring Street.
Swenk said the church building was originally built by the Loper Brothers, a company that used to be located south of the railroad tracks in Port Jefferson Station back in 1893. (The original chapel was on Thompson Street and moved to the parking lot of the current property in the 1870s.)
After 119 years, the original building had gotten a little long in the tooth and church members decided it needed a renovation. The work was started in 2010 by reinforcing the structure’s brick foundation. The final portion of the project involved renovating the steeple tower, the one where the original builders had placed those three pennies in the late 1800s.
Church officials took to the Internet and found a company qualified to do the repairs in Steeple Jacks of America, an Ohio company that specializes in that type of work.
“They go all over the country doing steeples,” said Richard Cox, president of church’s board of trustees.
If you drove down Main Street in late October and passed the church you might have noticed the workers up on an ultra-boom imported in from New Jersey busily doing repairs. Steeple Jacks of America employees were from all over the country, according to Cox. Both Swenk and Cox said the crew was “very professional.”
The company estimated that it would take 20 days to do the work. They finished in 13. During the renovation there was only one minor mishap: The foreman slipped and dropped his cell phone.
“We’re pleased with the work,” said Swenk. “They did a great job.”
Super storm Sandy interrupted the progress for a few days but it was completed in time for Election Day. The Methodist Church is one of the many local polling places and a busy one.
“We were expecting 1,500 voters and we got all of that,” Swenk said.
The total renovation costs were estimated at $100,000, with about $60,000 of it going to the steeple and tower work. The bell was also reconditioned and painted. They raised some money for the project and the rest was borrowed from the Methodists’ annual conference in New England.
The church is still looking for donations to help defray its costs for the renovation. Swenk and Cox said that both church and community members as well as the Port Jefferson business community have been generous with donating to the project.
The church is happy with the results and the work done by the restorers.
“It went very well,” said Cox. “Beyond our expectations.”
Those pennies were never found, according to Swenk. The legend continues for at least another hundred years.
If you’re interested in donating contact the church by mail at First United Methodist Church, re: Restoration/Steeplefund, 603 Main Street, Port Jefferson, NY 11777 or call the church office at (631) 473-0517.