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St. Marks Episcopal Church for Bell Tower and Carillon Preservation

111 Oenoke Ridge

At the time the New Canaan Landmarks article was written, the Episcopal Church was located in the present day Lutheran Church building on lower Oenoke Ridge,
“The frame of the first Episcopal church erected in New Canaan was raised on the thirteenth day of May A.D. 1762….on the lot of land called the Old church burying ground, situated about three quarters of a mile west from where the [Lutheran] church now stands…The first church was never finished throughout, and probably on this account was never consecrated.”  

After seventy-one years, it was demolished when the new church was being constructed in 1833, with a square cupola above the front of the building with four points extending up from each of the four corners in the Greek Revival style.  It was consecrated in 1834, and is now the oldest consecrated building in the town.

In 1857 the decision was made to remodel the church, with interior renovations, a porch tower with a new steeple, and replacing the flat-topped windows with rounded tops in the Italianate style.  It was painted brown.   Subsequent changes were made in 1921 when the chancel of the church was deepened and the exterior painted white.

Thirty years later a new church campus was being envisioned and the architectural firm of Sherwood, Mills and Smith was selected.  Willis N. Mills, who had designed his own house on Frogtown Road in the modern style in 1939, describes the new church as recalling Gothic principles of fusing “the design and structure into a single entity…to express with modern materials the fundamental of Gothic design… You enter the church through a low, teak-paneled narthex.  The nave soars to a height of 56 feet….Triangular vaults soar upwards from 13 white reinforced concrete columns.  The roof seems to grow out of the tapered columns.” 

“The Bell Tower follows the classical, campanile tradition and is separate from the church, adjacent to the main entrance. At the four corners of the tower four tapered, reinforced concrete columns, each 117’ height, form a double crossed arch at the pinnacle.  Infill patterned brick walls similar to those of the main church, enclose the tower which is topped by a bronze cross.

The top of the tower houses twenty bronze bells fabricated by master craftsmen … in France.  The bells vary in weight from 110 pounds to 3,100 pounds and are operated manually by a bellmaster from a keyboard in the tower.”

In 2005 when a structural survey was conducted of the church buildings, structural problems were discovered in the bell tower and soon concrete was dropping from the roof connecting with the church. The completion of the sanctuary’s repairs had depleted the preservation funds, until a donor offered a major gift for the repairs of the tower and the bells.  Soon two more donors agreed to complete the project and in 2010 a building permit was given for the preservation repairs.

The team consisted of Steven J. Susca, Senior Engineer, Hoffman Architects, New Haven; Vincent Capasso of Frank Capasso and Sons, Hartford was the contractor; the carillon, or bells, were shipped to the Verdin Company, Cincinnati Ohio, for repairs; all under the supervision of David Kraemer, Chairman of the St. Mark’s Building Committee in 2010.

The donors who made this preservation possible were:
Margot and Don  Sting and their daughters
Clair and John Johnstone
Christine and Ronald Ulrich

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church demonstrates good preservation practices by

1)  preserving the original bell tower and its carillon bells and repairing structural problems so that these bells will now ring for the enjoyment of the  parishioners and neighborhood..