A small crowd gathered on Edgartown’s Main street on a chilly Monday morning to watch and wait as a giant crane prepared to put the top back on the Old Whaling Church.

Top of Old Whaling Church clock tower returns to rightful place. — Mark Lovewell

For the last several weeks, restoration has been under way on the clock tower of the 172-year-old building. What began as a fairly basic paint and trim job became more intensive as additional rot was discovered in the tower, according to Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust executive director Chris Scott. The preservation trust owns the Old Whaling Church, but the town of Edgartown owns the clock tower.

With a layer of scaffolding covering the columned-facade and clock tower — and the clock bells silenced — a structural engineer was called in to evaluate the building, Mr. Scott said.

The town landmark is structurally sound, he said, but exposure to the elements has taken a toll. And marine plywood used on the tower has completely rotted through, he added. Mahogany, a more durable wood, was used in its place.

The cost of scaffolding alone is more than $50,000, Mr. Scott said, so it was important to complete any work that needed to be done while the scaffolding was up.

Very top of tower was reassembled on the ground outside whaling church. — Mark Lovewell

About 80 per cent of tower was replaced, Mr. Scott said. The four white spires are completely new, as are the crenellations, the notched edges around the top of the tower. Two of the clock faces were restored and two were completed replaced.

When it became clear how much work would be required, the decision was made to do it in Myles Thurlow’s woodshop in West Tisbury, with the top of the tower assembled and painted on the ground outside the whaling church.

Main Street was blocked off to traffic early Monday as a large crane was parked in the street to hoist the tower top, spires and all, back to the top of the 95-foot tower. While this wasn’t an option when the church was built in 1843, Mr. Scott said this was the best way to do it today — and it was successful, despite a wind that wanted to spin the top tower like a whirligig.

The preservation trust director praised project manager John Anderson, lead carpenter Mr. Thurlow and their crews for their craftmanship, as well as the work of the crane operator, Baxter Crane of Cape Cod.

Project manager John Anderson poses with the acanthus leaves (not pineapples). — Mark Lovewell

Going forward, Mr. Scott said, renovation work will likely be done more frequently on the clock tower, probably every 25 years or so. The last big project was in the early 1980s.

But work is winding down for this round of renovations, which were aided by unusually fair weather. There is some touching up to do, and Tom Bassett, who takes care of the town clock, will have time to do fine tuning. The scaffolding will come down before the Christmas in Edgartown festivities on the weekend of Dec. 11, Mr. Scott said. The familiar clock chimes will resume by then too.

And the preservation trust learned something new, Mr. Scott said. The gold finials on the four spires, thought to be pineapples, are actually acanthus leaves, which were often used in Greek revival buildings and appear in the recreated mural inside the whaling church.

“They are a symbol of rebirth,” he added. “Which makes more sense to me than pineapples.”

Video by Steve Myrick.

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