Churches replace fallen landmarks

Published 7:01 am Wednesday, April 13, 2005

By By Lee Weyhrich
Dozens of people held their eyes skyward as the steeple at First Baptist Church of Atmore was completed Thursday.
At one time the church and steeple were the tallest structure in Atmore. With the work to United Bank and the slight shortening of the steeple by eight feet there is some question as to whether it is still the tallest structure, but it is still an impressive sight.
"We're right up there with United Bank," First Baptist administrative assistant Julia Harrison said. "The steeple itself is like 70 or 71 feet, it used to be 80 feet."
The imposing structure sits atop a pretty large building.
"The steeple is about 70 to 72 feet and the church is abut 60 feet," building committee chairman Jack Ward said. "It's sticking way up in the air there."
For close to 35 years the steeple cast the longest shadow in town, but with the advent of Hurricane Ivan the structure came crashing down.
"It went up in 1970 and it came down about 2:30 in the morning during Hurricane Ivan," Harrison said.
Since 1970 the price of placing a steeple of that size has risen exponentially.
"(The cost of the steeple) was a little over $25,000 then and it's closer to $70,000 now. Quotes ranged from $60,000 to $140,000 to replace it," Harrison said.
It took months of planning to get the steeple back in place.
"We've been working on this thing since last October," Ward said. "It took us about two months to track someone down to build the thing. Some of the bids were way out of site. This (company) furnished all the cranes and all the equipment, so we went with this one.
The top bids for the steeple were without the cranes and everything, it was about $120,000 for the aluminum steeple, plus the cost of the crane."
The new steeple is not aluminum, according to Ward, it is steel reinforced fiberglass. The whole thing came in pieces that were assembled in just a few hours.
"They finished about 2 p.m., yesterday," Harrison said Friday morning. "They came in Tuesday evening and brought the pieces. They had to quit at lunch Wednesday because of the winds and they completely finished about two o'clock."
Harrison is just happy to see the steeple in its rightful place.
"I didn't know how much I missed it until now you see it and you go 'wow,'" Harrison said. "You don't know how much you take for granted even when it's a steeple."
People watched in awe as the final piece was lowered by a crane.
"I think it's one of the landmarks of Atmore," Ward said. "People came from all kinds of churches to watch it get erected."
Trinity Episcopal replaces cross
First Baptist was not the only church in town that has recently replaced a steeple lost during Hurricane Ivan.
Trinity Episcopal Church lost the cross that sat atop their steeple. It was replaced in the middle of March as a gift.
"The cross was presented to Trinity Episcopal Church by David and Ida Swift in honor of their daughter, Ida Ross', upcoming marriage to Bradley Hicks," Rev. Sandra Mayer, the pastor of Trinity said.
The church was working on getting the cross replaced, but when the offer was made it made the cross more special.
"We would have replaced the cross anyway, but it turned to a special event," Mayer said.
Trinity is one of the oldest churches in Atmore. Built in 1900, it is considered one of the oldest public buildings still in use.
"For over 100 years the cross on the steeple has been a landmark that can be seen for miles and miles," Mayer said in a blessing Sunday. "It has survived torrential rain, mighty winds and blistering heat. It has endured swarms of wasps. The cross signifies that this is God's house – a house that has seen happy times, sad times and changing times."
Mayer used the symbolism of these statements in a special blessing for the future bride and groom Sunday.
According to Mayer the cross is a constant symbol of God.
"That cross has always been a part of the church as far as I know," Mayer said. "It's not always the highest point to look at in Atmore, but it certainly is the most constant."
Mayer is just happy the cross is back in its rightful place.
"It signifies that (the church) as the house of God and it has been that way in Atmore for over 100 years," Mayer said.

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