Steeple repair interrupts cell service

— Photo from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

The Greek revival steeple of the Helderberg Lutheran Church in Berne houses an invisible cell-phone antenna, leased by Verizon.

BERNE — Historic restoration has temporarily collided with modern communication.

The steeple of Helderberg Lutheran Church in Berne, which houses a Verizon cell-phone antenna, is being repaired by Charlie Stewart.

Repair work started on Tuesday, Sept. 14, and will take at least a week — more if rainy weather persists, according to Sharon Nevins, a church member who spearheaded the drive to get the building listed on the state and national registers of historic places.

As Stewart works on each side of the three-tiered Greek Revival tower, the signal from that side will be turned off.

This has caused consternation, Nevins said, as some places receive spotty service or no service at all. She notes that people who have wi-fi service through Spectrum can do a work-around to use their phones.

The repair work on the steeple is essential, she said. “It’s not done very often — once every 30 or 40 years … We’ve got to brace the steeple and fix wood rot.”

Also, Nevins said, screening had been pushed down, allowing birds and animals to get in. “We’ve got to button it up,” said Nevins.

The church is located on the hamlet’s main street, Helderberg Trail, next to the Berne-Knox-Westerlo schools.

The building was constructed in 1835 — its bricks made from clay “from the nearby farm of Peter Bassler,” according to the state register nomination. “Once the brick-maker’s work was complete a bee was held and all the brick was hauled to the church in one day. ”

 “The transitional Federal-Greek Revival style church remains the rural hamlet’s most impressive work of 19th century architecture, as manifested in its overall scale, brick construction, and tall bell tower,” said the nomination.

The Federal architectural style of Colonial America was notable for its austerity and simple lines, while the Greek Revival style, which was becoming popular around the time the church was built, introduced a bit more grandeur. 

Built as St. Paul’s, the church is now known as Helderberg Lutheran Church, after being renamed in 2010 when St. John Lutheran Church of East Berne and St. Paul’s merged to form one congregation.

A freestanding bell tower to the front of the church, constructed in 2010, houses tower bells from both churches. The St. Paul bell was displaced by the Verizon cell phone antenna that was installed inside the tower.

The church is famous for its role in the Anti-Rent Wars, also known as the Helderberg War, that broke out in Rensselaerswyck, the vast holdings of the Van Rensselaer family, which included the Hilltowns and extended up and down the Hudson Valley.

Not so much a war as organized resistance by tenant farmers against the patroon’s rent collectors, the movement evolved into a quasi-political-party that held a  convention in January 1845, with delegates from 11 counties, in the biggest building around — the Lutheran church in Berne.

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