NORTH WATERFORD — With a loud crack, a ring of the bell and whoops from those watching on the ground, the historic North Waterford Congregational Church steeple was removed from the 1860 building Friday afternoon.

“This is the most involved one (steeple project) I’ve done,” said Albert Cummings of Stoneham, who along with his fiancée, Diana Douglas, spent more than seven hours in the steeple preparing it to be unbolted and then lifted with a crane onto the front yard of the church.

“It’s very time consuming,” said crane operator Lou Bernier of Waterford of the work that entailed placing straps on the 2,200-pound, 40-foot-tall steeple.

Bernier said the sheathing on the steeple had rotted. “The structure is good, but the boards are rotted,” he said.

Arthur Holt, a trustee of the church, said the damage was discovered when a painter went to scrape the steeple one day and the scraper went right through the wood. “He was horrified,” said Holt, as he stood down the road a bit with others watching the steeple work proceed throughout the morning.

Parishioners say the steeple, which sits over a belfry containing a Holbrook bell cast in 1872, has been tilting for some time and had been repaired a number of years ago, but water had begun to damage it again.

Cummings said he will work on the steeple on the ground over the course of the next week or two, replacing the rotted boards with wood that he milled from his grandfather’s property in Windham. A 45-year parishioner himself, Cummings said his father and stepmother were married in the church, and his grandfather was a parishioner.

Construction of the church, formerly called the Second Congregational Church of Waterford, was begun on July 4, 1860, and completed later in the year. The bell came from the George Holbrook bell foundry in East Medway, now known as Millis, Mass. Holbrook was an apprentice of Paul Revere, and Holbrook bells are found worldwide today.

The top of the belfry was removed with the steeple in order to repair a section of it to stabilize the steeple. With the belfry roof,  the steeple weighed 5,300 pounds, Bernier said.

Bernier said the steeple was built out of rough-cut lumber in the vestry of the church, where a square frame can be seen on the floor, and then it was lifted up through the belfry, before the bell was placed inside and positioned on the top of the church.

Because the church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the original steeple had to be repaired, not replaced.

Cummings, Douglas and Bernier are donating their time for the project, and Irving Equipment of Hampton, N.H., is donating a portion of the cost of the equipment, said Milly Millett, president of the North Waterford Congregational Church.

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