August 7, 2008

An Inspiring Face-Lift: Top of Conewago Chapel Gets $600,000 Renovation

By Melissa Nann Burke, York Daily Record, Pa.

Aug. 7--The spire of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus rises from the corn rows as you drive north on Chapel Road over the south branch of Conewago Creek.

Until at least December, that soaring tower on a hill outside Hanover is obscured by a Tinker-Toy configuration of scaffolding.

The 30-ton system of platforms, horizontals and verticals encircles and braces the steeple as contractors renovate the exterior and sheath it in copper and aluminum.

The 136-year-old steeple was showing its age: Nails were rusting and copper corners puckering.

Engineers determined the church structure was sound, but pieces of tower molding had blown off in high winds.

"We've maintained it, but the copper was nearing its shelf life, and the wooden boards over time have been loosened," said the Rev. Lawrence McNeil, pastor of the church in Conewago Township, Adams County.

"They were not terribly rotten but, over 150 years or so, they reached a point where we need to do some major repair work."

The experts said encasing the siding and gingerbread molding with aluminum would look the same but preserve the exterior for decades and eliminate the need for maintenance.

This spring, parishioners put off a long-planned air-conditioning project to invest in the exterior project. It's estimated to cost $600,000 -- $110,000 for the scaffolding alone.

Contributions from parishioners and the community will shoulder the bulk of the cost, he said.

"We plan to be here a couple

more centuries, so we take the time to do it right," McNeil said.

As they renovate, the contractors can't forget the story of what locals call Conewago Chapel.

"We're trying to keep everything exactly as it was because of the history," said J.D. Miller, the project manager for Donald B. Smith Roofing in Hanover.

The parish dates to at least 1741, when a Jesuit priest built the first chapel near the basilica's site at Chapel and Edgegrove roads.

As the Colonial-era mother church to Pennsylvania Catholics west of the Susquehanna, the basilica counts the parishes of York, Hanover, McSherrystown, Abbottstown, New Oxford, Carlisle, Chambersburg and others as spiritual daughters.

The present stone church, built in 1787, had a cupola until a pair of New Oxford men built the spire in 1872. The wooden cross atop the spire towers nearly 150 feet above the ground.

Inside the tower, the wooden beams are fit together with wooden


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