Glass panels carry history

Renewed: Windows from an old church, stored in a barn since the 1940s, bring a sense of the past to a new part of Mount Airy's Calvary United Methodist Church.

April 20, 1999|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

For years, the small treasures -- bits of colored glass held together by strips of lead -- sat unattended, propped against the wall of a Carroll County hayloft, above George F. Harne Sr.'s horses and cattle. Little by little, the stained-glass windows surrendered their gleam to an ugly crust of dirt and dust.

Still, Harne -- who had rescued the windows from an abandoned church -- waited patiently for the day when sunlight would touch them again.

"We had to save the windows," said Harne. "I could not let them get away from us."

Now that day is near. Within a few months, the nine windows -- fully restored by craftsmen in Virginia -- will grace an addition to Calvary United Methodist in Mount Airy, helping to unite the congregation.

The windows date to the 1900s, when Trinity Southern Methodist Church stood at Main and East streets. The decrepit wooden building was abandoned during the Depression and razed 40 years later, when its roof caved in. The windows could have gone to the landfill with the other debris if not for Harne, a church and community volunteer, and R. Delaine Hobbs, a town councilman who owned the abandoned building.

"They were gorgeous windows with old, handmade glass," said Hobbs. "I didn't want them lost to the town."

The windows were appraised at about $40,000, Hobbs said. Before the old church was razed, the glass panes were carefully removed from their frames. Then Harne loaded them into his pickup and carried them to the loft of his barn.

"I just stacked them up tight against one wall to keep them out of the weather," said Harne.

He housed cattle and horses in the main barn and rarely climbed into the loft. He never moved the windows, but he did not forget about them.

"I had a feeling that sooner or later there would be an addition to Calvary, and I figured the windows would bring it all together," he said.

In November, his prediction proved true as Calvary broke ground for a $2 million addition that includes a gymnasium and auditorium. The church hired Shenandoah Studios in Front Royal, Va., to restore the windows and install them in the addition.

"We took them out of the barn real easy," Harne said. "They had to be handled carefully. They were heavy, cumbersome with little pieces of glass along the edges."

The dust-encrusted glass was pulling away from deteriorating lead frames. The brilliant colors and images appeared impossibly faded.

But Harne said he knew that "the windows will see the sunlight again in the new church."

That could happen within two months, said Robert J. Abdinoor Sr., a consultant for the studios, where cleaning the glass and tightening or replacing the frames has worked wonders.

"After years in a barn, the windows were dusty, dirty and broken with different pieces and sections coming apart," said Abdinoor. "It is amazing how they have come out. The church is going to tell us they have new windows."

History eases changes

Calvary's congregation has doubled to about 1,100 in the past decade, and Mount Airy's population has topped 6,000. Using the old windows will truly complete the merger of two congregations whose founders played roles in town history.

Etched in dark red panes at the bottom of each old window were the names of Trinity Church's benefactors. Restorers have welded those panes together under the restored image of a soft white dove. That window will adorn the main entrance to Calvary United Methodist.

"I knew a lot of the names on the windows, and a lot of those families ended up going to Calvary," said Harne. "People in Mount Airy recognize those names. They were all Mount Airy people."

For the Revs. Dennis E. and Carol C. Yocum, pastors at Calvary, the name plates connect the past with the present. Some older parishioners were reluctant to build the addition until Harne produced the windows.

"The windows incorporated history and gave the community ties to the past," said Dennis Yocum. "The history of Trinity Church is now part of ours. It just brings the whole addition together. Those are all old Mount Airy names, some with descendants still here."

Patient work

In the past six months at the studio, William "Dubby" White has saved eight windows and used much of the broken glass from the ninth for the memorial panel. He repaired a hole made by a BB gun and sanded cracks until they are barely noticeable. He promises no leaks.

A patina spray has brought out the original vibrant colors, many of which cannot be duplicated today.

"We can't use many of those chemicals to get those colors anymore," said White, who keeps boxes of broken stained glass with every restoration. "You might get just the right size you need from the box of broken pieces. Some colors we can only get real close.

"You save every piece of the stained glass," he said. "Without them, you would just be guessing about the original."

The lead frames that held the glass had deteriorated beyond repair, but that is not unusual, said White.

"Glass lasts indefinitely, but lead has a life of about 80 to 100 years," said White.

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