Salisbury’s Congregational Church, its distinctive tower built after a design by Ammi B. Young, has been a landmark in the Otter Valley and a community focus since 1838. Its bell has celebrated anniversaries of nation and state and called the village to candlelit Christmas Eve services. Its Ice Cream Social has become the town’s de facto Independence Day celebration, and its 38 years of admission-free summer performances have filled the pews for chamber, jazz, cabaret, and folk music, along with locally sponsored historical and environmental programs. This outreach has done much to assure that the tiny congregation (25 members) has been able over the years to turn to community and friends in the sustained effort to conserve this Vermont treasure.
The most recent effort was to save the church tower. A 2011 assessment funded by the Preservation Trust had found the building basically sound and established a prioritized list for its care. However, a disastrous rain storm that damaged the sanctuary ceiling in 2013 and a subsequent closer look at the tower altered the story. It revealed that the frame had suffered from recurrent water damage to the point that the steeple needed either major rebuilding or removal.
For the fourth time since 1950 the church and its friends rose to the challenge of its restoration (see attached letter).
With a grant in 2014 from the Division for Historic Preservation, the congregation undertook the daunting process of raising an initially estimated $130,000, far beyond the capabilities of the bake and rummage sales, dinners, raffles, and socials that had been financing building preservation. They sold an ex-parsonage that had been utilized as a marginal rental property and pursued local grants and gifts.
Initial assessment identifying a need to rebuild the clock and belfry stages of the tower, the church passed over a proposal to introduce steel in favor of traditional timber restoration, carried out in 2015 by Jan Lewandoski. Engaged to paint the steeple and the body of the church in 2016, Watershed Construction began scraping the upper part of the steeple when wobbling revealed that invisible leakage from the weathervane had rotted it out as well. The painting put on hold, Watershed undertook instead the removal and reconstruction of the spire. Lifted off the building, and braced with scaffolding, it was systematically dismantled and reconstructed, timber for timber, identically to the original. Resheathed, it was raised back atop the building, carefully reinserted into the framing of the lower tower, and painted – hopefully to be the last necessary tower repair for a long time.
2017 saw sill, clapboard, and shutter repairs, repainting the body of the church, restoring the water damaged ceiling, and repainting the sanctuary. Thanks to the heroic efforts of congregation and friends and an investment approaching $250,000, Salisbury’s historic principal public venue stands sound, proud, and sustainable.