Work begins on restoring historic Mon City bell tower

April 8, 2013
Ian Cushey, left, and Dave Lennart of Yohe Roofing in Finleyville erect scaffolding Monday around First United Methodist Church of Monongahela. - Scott Beveridge / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

MONONGAHELA – Workers are wrapping scaffolding around and above the entrance to a Monongahela church in preparation for restorations to its historic bell tower, which include removing and replacing its copper roof.

Yohe Roofing of Finleyville, a business with much experience in steeple replacement, arrived last week at First United Methodist Church to set scaffolding nearly 90 feet high to also allow crews to make masonry repairs to the tower, parts of which are cracking or tilting.

“It’s high, and it’s hazardous,” said company owner Mark Yohe of Deemston. “The scaffolding will take three more weeks to set up. It’s one-fourth of the job.”

The congregation at the church at 430 W. Main St. has conducted in-depth studies on what work needed to be performed on the tower, which holds 11 rare McShane bells that chime on the quarter hour. The bells, believed to be the only ones of their kind still in operation in Southwestern Pennsylvania, were installed in 1925 through a $200,000 gift after lightning toppled the church’s steeple. The bells weigh between 525 and 3,000 pounds each, and contain 80 percent copper and 20 percent tin. They were manufactured by McShane Bell Foundry of Glen Burnie.

The congregation took a fresh look at the bells in advance of the church’s 200th anniversary this year, only to discover their weight, along with that of the cooper roof tiles, was threatening to collapse the tower.

Yohe was then hired for the restorations, which are expected to cost $400,000.

The company has completed similar restorations to a courthouse tower in Allegany County, Md., and replaced steeples in Elizabeth, Meyersdale and at the nearly Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Monongahela.

“We do a lot of steeples,” Yohe supervisor Bill Lusk said at the job site Monday. “I like it. It’s unique.”

Two brick finials atop the tower need to be addressed because they began to lean from having been built on wooded plates that have been compromised by age.

Once the scaffolding has been erected, Yohe will allow a masonry contractor to repair the tower before the copper work begins.

“Then we will tear the roof off,” he said.

Part of the job will be replicating an ornate copper finial that sits atop the center of the roof before the project is completed in August.

Scott Beveridge is a North Charleroi native who has lived most of his life in nearby Rostraver Township. He is a general assignments reporter focusing on investigative journalism and writing stories about the mid-Mon Valley. He has a bachelor's degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master's from Duquesne University. Scott spent three weeks in Vietnam in 2004 as a foreign correspondent under an International Center for Journalists fellowship.

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