WATERTOWN — The shingle roof of the First Baptist Church that towers over Public Square leaks, and the landmark’s exterior is in need of repairs.
Two years ago, Donald C. Alexander, retired CEO of Jefferson County Economic Development, was spearheading efforts to restore the iconic church and its clock tower when the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The project was put on hold until now.
“We’re picking it up where we left off,” Mr. Alexander said Tuesday.
The group of concerned citizens, with no direct association with the church, are back to work to make sure the 112-year-old church, 207 State St., remains a part of downtown and Public Square for generations to come.
With help from Crawford and Stearns, a Syracuse historic preservation firm, a preliminary assessment of the condition of the clock tower and building has been completed to evaluate the scope of the project and the funding that will be necessary to stabilize the structure.
The initial work was funded by former Watertown Mayor T. Urling “Tom” Walker and the Northern New York Community Foundation.
Mr. Walker was previously involved with helping fund repairs on the clock and stairs that lead to the tower.
The report will provide the basis for the next steps to acquire additional funding and support.
The Rev. Jeffrey E. Smith, who has been at First Baptist since 2008, is grateful that the group is taking up the efforts.
“I’ve been trying to get this done for the past 14 years,” he said. “I can’t tell you how thrilled I am. I’m overwhelmed.”
Repairing the roof, restoring the church’s stained-glass windows, repointing the building’s bricks and fixing the weathered weather vane are among the major work that needs to be done, he said.
But the initial focus needs to be the roof and the weather vane, he said. Mr. Walker agreed.
“This is a key structure in our downtown,” Mr. Alexander said. “We can’t let this building go.”
The committee is already seeking grant funding and local support.
Recently, the group submitted a grant application to the New York Landmarks Conservancy Sacred Sites Program. Members also hope to obtain Consolidated Funding Application money through the state’s Regional Economic Development Council initiative and from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
The Northern New York Community Foundation has agreed to establish and administer a charitable fund through which individuals, families, organizations and businesses can help support the initial and future efforts.
The current stone structure, built in 1891, has held a prominent place in the community for more than a century. In 1898, a clock — one that monitors time to this day — and a bell weighing 2,500 pounds, were placed in its tower. Local residents made contributions to the project.
The city of Watertown owns the clock tower, while the church is a separate owner, said Michael A. Lumbis, the city’s planning and community development director.
Anyone wishing to get involved in the preservation efforts or make a financial contribution can contact a member of the committee or the community foundation.
The committee members are Mr. Alexander, the Rev. Smith, Mr. Walker, Mr. Lumbis, Steve Massaro, Sheila Barney-Pullus, Donald A. Rutherford, Reginald J. Schweitzer Jr., Jason White and Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith.