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First Presbyterian Church - Cupola Raising

West Chester, PA

Article courtesy of: www.dailylocal.com
First Presbyterian Church of West Chester realized a dream in August, 2013, as a cupola was raised to the top of its sanctuary. The crowning feature was initially intended to be part of the structure when it was designed more than 180 years ago. “I thought the Quakers took their time making decisions, but I think the Presbyterians may have us beat in this particular case,” said West Chester Mayor Carolyn Comitta at a ceremony celebrating the cupola Monday. “But some things are worth waiting for, and this is certainly one of them.”

Comitta joined church officials and dozens of church members gathered Monday outside the Grecian-style church in the 100 block of West Miner Street. Some watched for hours as the cupola was constructed piece by piece. The cupola nearly doubles the overall height of the 37-foot-tall building to 73 feet, as was originally planned in 1832. According to church officials, the cupola will include an electronic carillon that will play bells at the conclusion of worship and other key celebratory moments.

“Doesn’t it look beautiful?” asked the Rev. Greg Stovell, senior pastor of the church. “We are so very grateful. I believe also given the historic character, it’s an important day in the life of our community.” Stovell said that just over a year ago on the 180th anniversary of the first church meeting, he and other officials, including architects, gathered to discuss completing the addition of a cupola envisioned by church architect Thomas U. Walter. A Philadelphian, Walter is known best for designing the dome of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Most of Walter’s design projects, including the Chester County Courthouse, are in the Philadelphia area.

In addition to a sanctuary and balcony, Walter described in his vision the addition of a cupola if funding was available. Unfortunately that dream was not realized until Monday morning. The purchase of the cupola was made possible through a donation by church member Sam Walker, who died a couple years ago and left $500,000 to the church specifically for the addition. Walker’s wife, Joae Walker, attended Monday’s ceremony. According to Joae Walker, the couple moved to West Chester in 1960 and soon became a member of the church but realized it was incomplete. “He was driving through Media and saw this beautiful church almost exactly like this one with a magnificent cupola and he thought to himself, ‘I’m going to save money all through my life to give my church a cupola like that.’” And Walker did. Each month Joae Walker said her husband, a 40-year DuPont executive, would put away some of his paycheck saving money so he could make the donation. “I thought it was a wonderful thing that he had done,” Joae Walker said.

Comitta said the addition will serve as a historic embellishment to the skyline of West Chester. “Our spirits soar when we see something as beautiful as this cupola rising above the architecture and the trees,” Comitta said. “It tells us we’re home, we’re here, we’re at church, and that we are part of a very special community that really does embrace history. In this case we are connecting history with a very vibrant present and beautiful future.” Grateful for the donation, Stovell said church members took it upon themselves to raise a tithe, 10 percent of the original gift, to be given back to the community. “To celebrate and acknowledge that we are blessed to be a blessing, we are raising a tithe, or 10 percent, of the amount of Sam’s gift to give back to the community,” said the Rev. David Pickett, pastor of the church.

Titled “Feed My Sheep Tithe Campaign,” church members needed to raise $50,000 in six weeks, though they were able to complete the task in five. After some discussion, church leaders decided to donate the gift to the West Chester Food Cupboard. The cupboard, staffed entirely by volunteers, serves about 600 families per month who suffer food insecurity and hunger.

“These are our neighbors whom we are called to love. They are God’s precious children, of whom Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep,’” Pickett said.

The cupola was constructed by Caldwell, Heckles & Egan in their Lancaster Architectural Millwork Shop in three sections. A gold dome and cross, as well as the carillon were also added, and the church officially dedicated the addition on Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013.

Architect: John Milner Architects - Chadds Ford, PA