Before noon Monday, Dan Bush, owner of Hannibal Crane Service, was predicting the First Presbyterian Church’s wind-damaged steeple would be brought down Wednesday. However, by 6 p.m. Monday, the top half of the steeple was resting in Center Street.
The game plan changed after workers got a better look inside the steeple.
“As they opened up the flashing at the base of the steeple and got more natural light in there, we could see there was a lot more damage to the old wooden beams that are in there as well as brick and mortar had been knocked loose,” said Dirk Sauer, a member of the church. “As we looked at it it was going to be too dangerous to try to lift that whole thing because it would require some of Hannibal Crane’s men to be on the inside.”
“We decided to go ahead and put in a special effort and take the top half down just so it wouldn’t catch so much wind, even though the wind was picking up today. It was sure moving it around quite a bit,” said Bush, who earlier in the day indicated that wind gusts of at least 15 mph at steeple level approximately 120 feet off the ground could postpone the effort.
Bush says the top half of the steeple came down without any issues.
“It came down the way we had it planned,” he said. “Thank God it got down and nobody got hurt.”
Bush is hopeful of removing the remainder of the steeple on Tuesday.
“We’ll have to cut the bottom loose and get a lot of the flashing off so we can take it off there,” he said.
Once the bottom half of the steeple is removed a truss-rafter roof will be constructed on the ground and lifted into place to help protect the top of the bell tower. Bush expects it will be set in place in the next couple of days.
Sauer acknowledges the church was fortunate something catastrophic didn’t happen on May 20 when winds of at least 100 mph hit Hannibal.
“We have no idea what happened up there that night. When we were looking up there and saw all the things that were jerked out of place, things that were broken... Some steel rods probably kept it from falling over. That’s probably what saved it,” he said. “The more you look at it and see what happened up there, the scarier it gets.”
While no definite decisions have been made, Sauer doesn’t believe the current steeple will be repaired and returned to the top of the bell tower.
Page 2 of 2 - “Taking it down in at least two pieces is going to pretty much eliminate the idea of putting the old one back up,” he said, noting that the church may consider purchasing a prefabricated steeple. “I think we’d like to keep a steeple, but costs and designs will all enter into it. We’ll see how that weighs out over the next several weeks as we decide what we’re going to do.”
According to Bush, some members of the congregation have indicated they would like one of the steeple’s slate shingles as a remembrance.
The steeple being removed dates back to when the current building was dedicated on Sept. 15, 1895.