Historic Raleigh church works to restore windows
Workers are putting the finishing touches on a new entrance and reception area at Edenton Street United Methodist Church downtown, part of a $4 million capital campaign to improve the church’s outreach efforts.
Two blocks away, St. Paul A.M.E. Church is in the midst of a more modest capital project, that includes repairing and refurbishing some of the church’s stained-glass windows. After more than 100 years of winter cold and summer heat, the leading that holds the thousands of pieces of colored glass together has begun to deteriorate, causing many of the windows to bow out or sag.
There’s never a time when we don’t have something we need to pay attention to.
Rev. Gregory Edmond, St. Paul A.M.E.’s pastor
The historic brick Gothic church at the corner of Edenton and Harrington streets is both a blessing and a burden to the congregation of 1,500. Like any old building, it needs constant repairs. A few years ago, the church paid $317,000 to restore the woodwork in the sanctuary and spent $45,000 last year shoring up the exterior wood around the windows. The ventilation system and the carpeting were replaced in recent years, too.
“There’s never a time when we don’t have something we need to pay attention to,” said Rev. Gregory Edmond, the church’s pastor since 1985.
Now St. Paul A.M.E. is trying to come up with money to restore the most badly damaged windows. It’s part of $144,000 project that includes fixing termite damage, repairing plaster and shoring up a leaning stairway in the bell tower.
Most of the money will come from the congregation, as it always has. But church leaders say financial fatigue has set in among the members.
“They’re tapped out,” Edmond said.
So church trustees decided to invite the wider Raleigh community to pitch in and created a gofundme page where people could contribute to the windows project. The goal of the page is to raise $43,400 for the windows.
The church has erected a sign announcing the project and the gofundme page at the base of its bell tower on the corner of the Edenton and Harrington. Above the sign, plywood covers the place where one of the first two windows has been removed and sent to a shop in Knightdale to be restored.
But the gofundme page has been a disappointment. It went up almost a year ago, on May 19, and has so far generated two donations, totaling $60.
St. Paul was formally established in 1848 as a church for slaves who were members of Edenton Street United Methodist Church.
At their meeting Thursday night, church trustees were at a loss to explain why the page hasn’t generated more interest. They shook their heads as they talked about a gofundme page put up by a woman who said she was distraught by the death of the musician Prince and was trying to raise $3,000 to go to his funeral (she had raised nearly $1,800 from 63 donors by Friday).
Ed Wills, the trustee in charge of the renovation work, said maybe people just aren’t familiar with the church.
“They may be wondering, ‘Is that for real?’ ” Wills said.
Several grand old churches grace downtown Raleigh, but only three are on the National Register of Historic Places: Christ Episcopal, All Saints Chapel of the Church of the Good Shepherd and St. Paul A.M.E.
St. Paul’s place on the register comes not only for the beauty of its Gothic revival building but for the struggles and perseverance of the congregation that built it and the role the church has played in North Carolina history.
St. Paul was formally established in 1848 as a church for slaves who were members of Edenton Street United Methodist Church. In 1853, white members of Edenton Street bought a wooden church near the State Capitol where the St. Paul congregation had been meeting, and the following year teams of horses pulled it down Edenton Street to the corner of Harrington.
At the end of the Civil War, St. Paul severed its ties with the white church and joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was founded by people of African descent in Philadelphia in 1816. The church became Wake County’s first independent black church and soon had its first black pastor.
St. Paul A.M.E. hosted the first legal assembly of blacks in North Carolina in 1865, as representatives from around the state called for the repeal of discriminatory laws and for better conditions for black citizens. The church went on to take a leading role in organizing political activity among blacks during Reconstruction and helped produce some of the state’s leading black statesmen of the day.
The cornerstone for the church’s new brick building was laid in 1884, but progress was slow for the cash-strapped congregation. Black masons and craftsmen did the work, but parishioners had to come up with money for materials. An article in the Raleigh Gazette in 1896 describes solemn meetings at which they pledged to eat only bread and molasses to free up cash for the building committee.
Though the building was still missing its spire, St. Paul’s A.M.E. celebrated the completion of its new home in May 1901 with a two-week rally that featured nightly sermons and a speech by Gov. Charles B. Aycock. The building had cost $30,000, The News & Observer noted, “all of the amount paid come from self-sacrifice such as is seldom known.”
That sacrifice was so dear, and the resulting church so elegant, that The N&O said any fears that blacks would leave for better opportunities elsewhere were unfounded. “The negroes are going to stay in the South,” the newspaper wrote. “They are not building a thirty thousand dollar church in Raleigh to leave.”
More sacrifice lay ahead as the congregation got together money to buy materials for the spire and for a slate roof in 1909. But on July 4 that year, a balloon carrying fireworks became lodged in a rain gutter, sparking a fire that left nothing standing but blackened walls.
A combination of donations, insurance money and bank loans allowed St. Paul A.M.E. to rebuild in a year. And when the church held its first services in June 1910, the sunlight shone through dozens of stained-glass windows.
It takes time
The provenance of the St. Paul A.M.E. windows is unknown; church records indicate only that the windows came from Europe, Edmond said.
Mike Strickland, owner of Stained Glass Associates in Knightdale, says they are “probably catalog windows,” and he doesn’t mean that to sound like they’re cheap. It’s just that there weren’t glass artists and craftsmen in this part of the country to do a custom job like that, and windows made in New York or Europe could be had from a catalog.
The first two St. Paul A.M.E. windows to be restored are laid out on tables at Strickland’s shop. The first has already been taken apart, cleaned and put back together, while the other lies nearby looking like a half-finished jigsaw puzzle.
These first two windows are more than 8 feet tall and about 2 feet wide and contain about 300 pieces of glass each.
“Leaded glass work is just time, time, time, time,” said Strickland. “You’re looking at three days just to put this together.”
The relationship between St. Paul A.M.E. and Stained Glass Associates goes back to 1959, when the Rev. L.S. Penn sent a hand-written note inquiring about having some repair work done. The note appears in a file labeled Job #27 that the company’s founder and late owner, Robert J. Wysocki, started that year and kept, along with detailed records of all his customers, until his death in 2002.
The company continued to do small jobs, “patch work,” for St. Paul A.M.E. over the years. Strickland, who began working here as a high school student in 1983 and became the owner after Wysocki died, says he could see the windows needed extensive work.
“You can keep patching things, but you get to a point where you have to redo it or lose it,” he said. “They’re at that age where they’re really falling apart. Every window they’ve got needs some work.”
The church is doing what they can, how they can, with what they have.
Reuben Freeman, contractor
But it wasn’t until the church’s contractor, Reuben Freeman, contacted him last year that Strickland got the job. Freeman says the church is going to do a few windows at a time over the coming year in part because it doesn’t have the money to do the work all at once.
“The church is doing what they can, how they can, with what they have,” he said.
There are 115 stained-glass panels that make up the windows in St. Paul A.M.E., including 15 panels in the largest window, on the front of the church. At this point, Strickland plans to do only 20 panels, “the worst of the worst.”
“It’s scratching the surface,” he says, but that’s all that’s budgeted for now. “They’ve got an expensive set of windows in there. It just takes a lot of time and a lot of effort.”
Strickland says there are a few cracked pieces of glass and a few missing but that overall the glass in the St. Paul windows is in good shape. With new leading, he says the windows should last another 100 to 120 years.
“They’ll easily outlive us,” he said.
To restore a stained-glass window
1. The window is removed from its sash and a rubbing taken to get an outline, showing the pattern of leading and panes, on paper.
2. The window is moved to a water table, where it sits in an inch or two of water. This keeps down the dust and loosens dirt as the window is carefully pulled apart and the old leading discarded. Each piece of glass is cleaned with steel wool.
3. Missing pieces of glass are recreated in colors and patterns that match. Cracked pieces are left in place, held together with thin pieces of leading.
4. The pieces are put together with new strips of leading in between. Lead was the preferred material 100 years ago and it still is, because it is relatively strong but also pliable and takes sodering well. It also gives a bit, unlike harder metals, and is more forgiving as the glass expands and contracts.
5. After the window is reassembled, putty is put between the leading and the glass by hand to act as waterproofing and help hold the glass in place.
6. Before the window is returned to the sash, cross-bars are put in place every 12 inches or so to brace the window. The bars are mounted in the wood and help distribute the weight. When people look at the windows, they tend not to notice the bars, but they’re a necessary and standard feature on stained glass windows.
7. When the windows are placed back in the building, a layer of clear glass, lexan or plexiglass is put on the outside to protect them.
Source: Stained Glass Associates
Want to help?
St. Paul A.M.E. Church is accepting donations for its window restoration project at www.gofundme.com/stpaulamewindows or send a check made out to St. Paul A.M.E. Church, 402 West Edenton St., Raleigh, N.C., 27603