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Public Notices

April 23, 2014

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Church Steeple Removal
Proved To Be A Tall Order

Originally published: 2009-01-15 09:22:08
Last modified: 2009-01-15 16:37:16

Additional Images


Stubborn Bolt

Delayed Process


Staff Writer

The steeple at Greeneville Cumberland Presbyterian Church, a towering, decades-old icon strongly associated with downtown Greeneville, came down Wednesday afternoon in a time-consuming removal process that took two days to arrange.

But in the end, it took only five minutes for a towering crane to pick up the white steeple atop the "Cannonball Church," as it is affectionately known, and transport it to a custom-made platform 100 feet below in the middle of Church Street.

After the steeple's removal, a temporary tarp was placed on the new gaping hole in the church's roof, to be replaced by a more permanent tarp by Idell Construction.

Idell Construction is scheduled to add steel structure to the church's wooden steeple base in preparation for the new steeple, which is being built by Campbellsville Industries in Kentucky.

The new aluminum steeple, also white, will be identical to the removed one, Gass said.

The steeple's bell and finial, which is the decorated part at the tip of the spire, were removed last January and transported to Kentucky for measurements.

The removal was delayed for an hour by one very stubborn two-inch thick, hand-forged bolt that had helped tie the steeple to a base atop the church, likely since 1948.

But at 2:13 p.m., the massive, 32-foot-tall steeple section left the spot where it has weathered the elements and pigeons for perhaps 60 years.

Bill Gass, the architect for the steeple removal/replacement project and a member of Cumberland Presbyterian Church, said he was told the original steeple of the church was blown over by strong winds in the 1930s. The church was founded in 1841.

Gass also said he was told that the steeple that was removed Wednesday was built in 1948.

Crane Operator

Bill Wilson, the crane operator employed by Powell Construction, a subcontracting firm, said the job was simply all in a day's work for him.

"It wasn't a big deal," Wilson said after he successfully removed the 17,000-pound steeple section. He added, "It seized (for a while), but once they got the bolts out, it came out. No problem."

But Carlos "Pappy" Lowe, the E. Luke Greene Construction superintendent on the project who worked steadily on the church's roof prior to the steeple's removal, said Wilson was being much too modest.

"It makes a big difference when you've got a good crane operator" like Wilson, Lowe said.

The steeple's new resting spot on a platform on Church Street was short-lived, however, because several minutes later Wilson used the crane to gently tip it over.

Smashed Into Pieces

Gravity did the rest. It caused the white, age-worn steeple to smash into two giant separate sections, as well as into a lot of broken wood. That breaking-up action stirred up a cloud of dust and scattered small pieces of wood debris across the width of Church Street.

By 4 p.m., a Bobcat-like skid steer loader had torn the fallen steeple into smaller pieces, "like you'd tear apart a piece of meat with a fork," said Denny Maxwell. He is the senior project manager for Greene Construction, the contractor for the project.

And with a little bit of chainsawing, by about 5:15 p.m. the steeple was broken up and filled two large (40 cubic yards each) dumpsters located nearby.

Follow-Up Work Today

The debris was scheduled to be taken to the landfill today following a few more hours of some relatively minor crane work and demolition, Maxwell said.

By about 6 p.m. on Wednesday, a crew from Greene Construction had placed a temporary tarp above the new gaping hole on the church's roof and swept up the leftover debris from the steeple on Church Street so that traffic on that section of the street could resume.

Popping And Cracking

The actual steeple removal began around 1:17 p.m., when the first popping and cracking sounds from the steeple could be heard on Main Street below in the first attempt to remove it.

It was one of several unsuccessful attempts for about the next hour for the crane operator to tug on the steel cables surrounding the steeple and dislodge it from its permanent base.

"I don't think it's wanting to leave," Gass said, looking up from his vantage point in the middle of Main Street, which was temporarily blocked to traffic for safety reasons.

"It had hand-forged bolts that weren't uniform, making it a little bit tougher for us to get it off safely in one piece," Maxwell said later.

For more information and stories, see The Greeneville Sun.

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