What’s in a window?
A Webster City congregation spends dearly to preserve its connection to a rich past
The buildings of our past, particularly those we deem importantly historic, are not merely reminders of the way things once were done: They are part of the fabric of our communities.
That is why, in our opinion, the choice made by the congregation of a Webster City church to completely restore 38 spectacular stained glass windows to their original glory is so important.
In all, 38 windows in the First Congregational United Church of Christ were removed by Cathedral Crafts Inc., of Winona, Minnesota, in June and taken back to its shop. Crews took them apart, cleaned the glass, then painstakingly reassembled them with new leading.
On Sunday, the church invited the public in for a look.
In the stained glass window in the east chapel, where the church hosts its adult Sunday school, a sun rises in the middle with a bright warm morning light that glows with a fiery radiance.
The east chapel is the Rev. Craig Blaufuss’ favorite room.
“The colors really come through,” he said. “They do glow. Mornings in the east chapel, they’re afire.”
A spectacular installation commemorates the long-deceased Judge Daniel Darrow Chase and his wife, Hattie.
The windows date to the construction of the building. Blaufuss said it was built in 1890 and dedicated in 1891.
“When these were put in, the cost was a whopping $17,000. That was for the entire building. There’s no record of the cost of the original windows or who might have designed and made them,” he said.
Blaufuss is proud that the cost of the project, $88,280, has been paid in full.
“We have retired the cost of the windows. The entire cost of the windows’ restoration has been met by congregational members’ donations, plus a $2,500 grant from the Teresa Treat Stearns Charitable Trust.”
The windows were past their life expectancy before the restoration. Blaufuss said 70 to 80 years is their normal life span before the leading begins to fail.
“They start buckling under their own weight,” he said. “If you looked, the windows had waves. The leading was starting to fail.”
The building that is home to all these spectacular windows is the congregation’s third, the first being little more than a log cabin.
The congregation was organized in 1855 by seven people, according to Blaufuss.
Its second building, dating from 1869, was wood-framed.
Money was tight in those days. “For awhile, they rented pews,” he said. “That was not an uncommon practice.”
Fast forward from those days to the present, when a proud congregation managed to pull off what is a major feat of historic preservation.
Their collective reactions were worth it.
“Surprise, delight and pride. They realize that it was an investment in the legacy we’ve received from our spiritual ancestors. It was the right investment to make,” Blaufuss said.
In these times, when it is so tempting to let the almighty dollar reign more powerful that a desire to preserve the past, the effort put into saving the magnificent windows is admirable.
Yes, the congregation restored what are, essentially, works of art, but it restored something else: a connection to the past.
What’s in a window?
It depends on the window.