Saugerties church wants to recreate historic steeple

Site of the once and future steeple.

The Rev. Michael Phillips of the Trinity Episcopal Church in Saugerties wants to recreate a steeple stripped from the church structure in 1970. The schematics for the project will be provided by structural engineer Bill Scribner, a Saugerties native, and his team at Kaaterskill Associates. It remains to be seen how the congregation will afford the actual structure.

Built in 1831 in a neo-classical style by the Barclay family, the church has been a longstanding part of the local landscape. At some point within her period of influence in the parish, Catherine Barclay campaigned for a church steeple, which gradually tipped over to the west until its removal in 1970. With clues left by old photographs of the site and remnants of the steeple left in the current standing building, Scribner will attempt to place what went wrong with the original structure to create something both beautiful and long-lasting.

“The old steeple that was up there started to lean. You can actually see a piece of it to the west, it has quite a lean to it,” said Scribner. “The front end was well supported, but the back was not. I need to come up with a method to either fix what was there or [build] something that the roof structure can hold. [I’ll] start by documenting what’s there, taking accurate dimensions on timber framing, dimension[ing] everything and analyz[ing] it. What can we do with what we have to work with there to make this work?”


Last fall, church member town councilman Paul Andreassen climbed into the base to conduct a condition survey. Although the foundation for the steeple is damaged and there are bees’ nests in the bell tower, he found that a lighter-weight structure could be supported. He reached out to Scribner, who has engineered several public-works project pro bono in the recent past, including a similar spire replication project of Saugerties’ Katsbaan Reformed Church and additions to the Center for Spectrum Services.

“Because of our location we feel we have a responsibility to welcome visitors to Saugerties,” said Phillips. “As people round the bend at the Knights of Columbus, we want them look ahead and see an attractive, lovely and picturesque church that will set the tone for the entire village. To that end, in the past few years Trinity has completely resurfaced its exterior walls, refinished the front doors to their original wood design, repaved half of its asphalt drive, and added new landscaping with more to come. One of the final steps in this project is replacing the historical steeple.”

According to Phillips, efforts are being made to raise money for the erection of the spire once the  plans are ready.

“Obviously, we can’t do this for all projects, but everyone once in a while a project comes through … that benefit[s] our community,” said Scribner. “We like to do what we can do to contribute.”

There are 2 comments

  1. David Overbagh

    Let me put some historical perspective on the Trinity Steeple. When the church was built, the steeple was only supported on the front oaf the church. By 1970,the steeple either had to be completely supported or removed. To support the steeple, structural and aesthetic changes would have been required that would have destroyed much of the charm of the sanctuary. At the time funding was not a major issue. The church was very well endowed. It was decided to remove the steeple rather than making major changes in the sanctuary. My father, Richard Overbagh and his cousin, Sheldon Fuller, were involved in the decision process.

    I would love to see the steeple replaced with lighter materials so that it could be accomplished without changing the sanctuary.

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