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Here is the church, here is the steeple

St. Agnes steeple installation is 100 years in the making

A contractor with JFP Enterprises stabilizes the new St. Agnes Church steeple in Lake Placid on Monday morning. (Enterprise photo — Sydney Emerson)

LAKE PLACID — St. Agnes Church finally got its steeple on Monday morning, 100 years and two weeks after the first stone of its foundation was laid.

A crowd of parishioners and neighbors gathered across Saranac Avenue to watch the installation, erupting into applause when the crane pulled away.

“I was emotional. I thought I was going to cry a little bit. It’s like, ‘Wow, this is history,'” St. Agnes parishioner Nancy Morse said. “It’s taking a vision, a thought, a house of God and completing it.”

After serving at 8:30 a.m. Mass, Morse came outside to watch the steeple installation, which took more than an hour. As it got closer to 10 a.m., more people began to gather, she said. The wind held out just long enough for the steeple to be set in place.

“It was right about 10 o’clock that (the steeple) was seated,” she said. “It was dead quiet. There wasn’t a breeze, and as soon as it was in place, this breeze came up. It’s like the Holy Spirit came afterward.”

A contractor with JFP Enterprises, left, and JFP Enterprises owner Jon Poissant install the new St. Agnes Church steeple in Lake Placid on Monday morning. (Enterprise photo — Sydney Emerson)

The steeple was supposed to be built 100 years ago with the rest of the church. The first foundation stone was laid on June 2, 1924. Designed by architect David D. Kieff of Watertown in the Gothic style, the church took 10 months to build, celebrating its first Mass on April 2, 1925. It cost $94,000, around $1.7 million today, and was ultimately the steeple that was planned was not installed, as the budget ran out before it could be built.

“Five years later, it was 1929. That was the crash, the stock market crash, so no money. Then we went into a depression for 10 years,” Morse said. “As soon as that ended, we’re in World War II and that’s going on forever, and then the end, just coming back and rebuilding in the ’50s, no way. Somehow … it just didn’t get done.”

From its construction in 1924 to approximately the 1950s, the bell tower was topped with decorative crenelated parapets, similar to the top of the rook chess piece. From the 1950s onward, the tower had a flat roof.

About five years ago, a group of parishioners approached Rev. John Yonkovig about completing the building with the long-lost steeple. He got to work on a capital campaign that would ultimately renovate the interior of the church, put on a new roof and add the steeple to the top of the tower.

“It all came together and I’m really very pleased with the finished product,” Yonkovig said. “We did follow the blueprints from 1924. It does kind of finish it off, the design. It makes it complete.”

A crowd of onlookers watch the installation of the new St. Agnes Church steeple from across Saranac Avenue in Lake Placid on Monday morning. (Enterprise photo — Sydney Emerson)

Aside from being beautiful, the steeple is also functional, according to Yonkovig. The church has always struggled with water leaking through the tower’s flat roof and damaging the building. Yonkovig’s hope is that the new steeple, with its sloped sides, will deter future leaks and ultimately extend the lifespan of the building.

Jon Poissant and his Plattsburgh-based firm JFP Enterprises built and installed the steeple. While he’s never built a steeple before, Poissant said it was similar enough to other projects for the firm to take on.

“We took what (the original architect’s) intention was 100 years ago and then, with the help of Highland Engineering out of Glens Falls, they came up with the design that would aesthetically match what was intended and structurally be up to today’s standards,” he said.

No big changes were made from the 1924 blueprints, Poissant said. The steeple looks very similar to what was planned, but materials and techniques were updated to make it long-lasting.

A notable original feature that carried over to the modern design was the Celtic cross topping the steeple. A Celtic cross is a Christian cross with a ring in the center. Yonkovig suspects that this was the handiwork of St. Agnes’s rector at the time, Rev. Daniel Cahill, who had Irish heritage.

The new St. Agnes Church steeple is installed via crane on Monday morning. (Enterprise photo — Sydney Emerson)

“Saint Patrick brought Christianity to the British Isles,” Yonkovig said. “In Ireland, there are many circles of stone, and he put the cross on top of the circle, and thus the Celtic cross.”

Now that the steeple is in its rightful place, three years’ worth of renovations and updates at St. Agnes are finished. Yonkovig said he was relieved.

“I was very anxious the last month or two knowing that (the steeple) weighed eight tons and it’s a 100-year-old building,” he said. “Seeing it, it does complete the architecture of the whole building.”

Morse said that the most beautiful churches in the world always take years to complete.

“You think about the cathedrals in Europe, they took hundreds of years to do. Well, it’s not that, but it’s 100 years exactly, to the point. It’s monumental,” she said. “It’s a wrap-up of years of expectation and planning, and I’m so happy for Father John that it gets to be completed under his watch.”

CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this story did not include the detail that from its construction in 1924 to approximately the 1950s, the church’s bell tower was topped with decorative crenellated parapets, similar to the top of the rook chess piece. From the 1950s onward, the tower had a flat roof. This story has since been updated to include that context.

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