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The old Wells Baptist Church as it looked May 25, in the midst of renovations. (Photo/Cristine Meixner)

The inside is one big room with an attic above. (Photo/Cristine Meixner)

Lenny Broiles says he cleaned about a ton of bat guano out of the attic. (Photo/Cristine Meixner)

American Bell Company forged the old church's cast iron bell in 1864 in New York City. It includes a funeral gong operated by a second rope. A system of gears turns the bell a tiny bit each time it is rung, spreading out the wear. (Photo/Cristine Meixner)

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Old Baptist church takes on a new role

Monday, June 10, 2013 - Updated: 8:14 AM

By CRISTINE MEIXNER

Editor

WELLS - Lenny Broiles is a man in a hurry. He is renovating the old Baptist church here, and has to be done before Saturday.

That is when local girl Macaela Erb and her fiancé, U.S. Navy Petty Officer Second Class Michael Hulme, will be married in the historic structure.

Macaela is the daughter of Eugene and Barbara Erb of Wells. Michael, the son of Lloyd and Deborah Hulme of Melborne, Fla., is stationed in Groton, Conn.

"Macaela has always said she wanted to be married in that church, even as a little girl," Barbara Erb said. "We're very thankful Pam and Lenny have worked so hard to do this for our daughter."

The Broiles did not plan on a wedding in the church just a couple of months after buying it. "I couldn't say no," Lenny said. "They are two really nice kids."

Barbara Erb expects 105 people at the wedding, including the Broiles.

Lenny and wife Pam bought the old Baptist Church of the Town of Wells from Hamilton County Historical Society this spring. "It's a community project," he said, "to host arts, music, maybe some theater, library events when they need more room."

"We both wanted to see it beautiful, vibrant and a part of the community again," Pam says. "The library hosts wonderful shows but has limited space. They have been using the Community Hall but the ambiance, and acoustics, is lacking."

Neither the town nor Wells Historical Society were interested in owning the church, Pam said.

JUST THE MAN

Fortunately Lenny has the skills the building needs to bring it back to tip-top condition. He owns Leonard A. Broiles Carpentry & Cabinetmaking and is a master carpenter.

He needed help with one thing, though. A friend's son, who is skilled in plastering, redid the ceiling.

It is one of the oldest churches in Hamilton County. According to "History Of Hamilton County" by Ted Aber and Stella King, "The 1845 census of New York State shows a Methodist and a Baptist Church at Long Lake as the only churches in Hamilton County."

But it also says, "[Wells] was without a church building in 1845, but no less than two were underway." The building, probably completed in 1846, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

LIFE IS A CIRCLE

The church is one big room with an attic and a belfry. "The main work was on the belfry," Lenny said. "All the sills were rotted and sloping the wrong way, channeling rain inside."

Lenny crafted new louvers, but said there were none originally. "There is a roof below the belfry floor that drained to the sides and out," he explained.

He speculates that C. Wagar added the louvers, in 1938. Wagar left his name and date painted in big white letters inside the belfry.

"Things have come full circle," Lenny said. "The Wager brothers owned the farm we now live on."

Other testaments to work past are "Gilman," "1852 J.C." and "Paid by the Ladies Society of New York."

SOLIDLY BUILT

"The structure is just so beautiful, timber frame, all hand-hewn," Lenny said. "There is a lot to work with."

He pointed out the pews are each one piece of pine, all planed by hand. The only part that is sanded is the rounded top of each backrest, he said.

Almost all the windows still have their original glass panes. Looking through one is like looking through water.

"The siding is virgin heart pine," Lenny said. "It's as good as it was when they put it up. They knew when to cut it; it's not kiln dried like lumber is today."

The roof has 40-foot spruce beams a foot square and spruce rafters with the bark still on them. The trusses are massive.

The foundation is limestone from a quarry "in back of the cemetery," Pam says.

MORE TO DO

Lenny is almost reverent about the building's construction. "It's such an honor to be working on this building," he said.

It's a good thing he feels that way. After the wedding "we want to do the floor and redo the porch," Pam says. "A bathroom is also on the to-do list," as well as a hidden coffee station.

Also, "eventually we want to have a system where the pews can be moved to the side and tables set up," Pam says.

As if that is not enough, Lenny plans to get the old pump organ working.

"We thought maybe for the Sunday of Old Home Days we would hold an ice cream social and gospel concert using the old organ, something like that," Pam says. "They used to have ice cream socials on the lawn a lot."

The building last saw substantial restoration work in the mid-1980s and mid-1990s, when Hamilton County Historical Society won a series of preservation grants.

The Broiles will hold an open house sometime during the summer. The church is available for weddings, concerts and social occasions. Email to Wellshistoricalchurch@gmail.com for more information.

The bark is still on the spruce rafters. (Photo/Cristine Meixner)

The old pump organ will also be refurbished. Virginia Hosley remembers singing along with it in 1939, according to Lenny Broiles. (Photo/Cristine Meixner)

The belfry originally had open sides, so the bell could be seen as well as the interior trim, some of which survives, on right. The new louvers are at the left. (Photo/Cristine Meixner)

A shake roof under the belfry floor channeled water out the sides and on to the main roof. (Photo/Cristine Meixner)

     

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