'It's identical': College Church in Wheaton replaces steeple toppled by tornado

  • Workers guide the installation of a new, 45-foot-tall steeple atop Wheaton's College Church on Thursday, almost a year after an EF-1 tornado toppled the structure.

      Workers guide the installation of a new, 45-foot-tall steeple atop Wheaton's College Church on Thursday, almost a year after an EF-1 tornado toppled the structure. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • A crane hoists a new steeple on the roof of the historic College Church in Wheaton.

      A crane hoists a new steeple on the roof of the historic College Church in Wheaton. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • A new steeple rises 45 feet above College Church in Wheaton.

      A new steeple rises 45 feet above College Church in Wheaton. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • A new steeple is positioned in exactly the same place as the old one that was knocked over in a tornado on Aug. 10.

      A new steeple is positioned in exactly the same place as the old one that was knocked over in a tornado on Aug. 10. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • A large group of people gather to see the new steeple for College Church Thursday in Wheaton.

      A large group of people gather to see the new steeple for College Church Thursday in Wheaton. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Workers on Thursday guide the installation of a new, 45-foot-tall steeple for College Church in Wheaton.

      Workers on Thursday guide the installation of a new, 45-foot-tall steeple for College Church in Wheaton. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • A new steeple for College Church in Wheaton has the same dimensions and look of the old one.

      A new steeple for College Church in Wheaton has the same dimensions and look of the old one. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • College Church in Wheaton bore the brunt of a tornado last August that left its steeple collapsed.

      College Church in Wheaton bore the brunt of a tornado last August that left its steeple collapsed. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer, August 2020

  • A Showalter Roofing Service crew member uses his cellphone to record the moment a crane removes the fallen steeple at College Church in Wheaton last summer.

      A Showalter Roofing Service crew member uses his cellphone to record the moment a crane removes the fallen steeple at College Church in Wheaton last summer. John Starks | Staff Photographer, August 2020

 
 
Updated 6/10/2021 7:02 PM

A tornado that hit northeast Wheaton last August lasted only about a minute.

That's all it took to turn the 45-foot-tall steeple atop one of Wheaton's oldest churches into a mangled mess.

 

College Church, located across Washington Street from Wheaton College, felt the wrath of the winds as sections of the roof peeled off and slammed into the steeple.

"There were pieces the size of an automobile that were pushed into the steeple and probably just as heavy," said Nancy Singer, the church's administration and finance director.

The force of the impact left the steeple dangling over the side of the church's Washington Street entrance.

The congregation immediately began the cleanup effort, but it wasn't complete until a crane on Thursday replaced the steeple with a replica of the old one.

"It's identical," said Howard Kern, the church's facilities director.

The National Weather Service had classified the tornado as an EF-1, the second-weakest category, with winds reaching around 90 miles per hour.

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The $73,000 project to rebuild the steeple was covered by insurance, Singer said. There's still a skylight to replace over the sanctuary.

But the sight of the steeple being gingerly placed on the roof left a crowd of onlookers awestruck.

"It's not nearly as arduous as it was taking it down," Singer said.

The church was established in the 1860s by Jonathan Blanchard, the first president of Wheaton College and a staunch abolitionist.

About 30 years ago, church members raised enough money to put up the old white steeple. Campbellsville Industries, a company in Campbellsville, Kentucky, built the new one with the original plans it still had on file.

If church members happened to look really close, they might have recognized the finial, a ball-and-spike ornament. The decorative piece was salvaged after the storm and secured to the new steeple.

The church's bell tower was left unscathed.

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