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First Presbyterian Church makeover uncovers nearly 200-year-old brick

NATCHEZ — Church building maintenance is rarely a religious experience. But, for one local congregation, the renovation of its 19th-century front porch columns took a little bit of faith.

When a member of the First Presbyterian of Natchez noticed cracks in the plaster covering the front columns, church leaders didn’t know what they would discover when they decided to repair the damage.

Made from the original pie-shaped brick, the columns have marked the entrance to the church on Pearl Street since it was dedicated in 1830.

Without seeing the brick’s condition brick underneath the plaster, some feared the mortar between the bricks had softened.

“We did not know if we would have to take the actual columns down until we took the plaster off,” church elder Stratton Bull said.

Despite not knowing the extent of the project, The Rev. Joan Gandy said the church decided to go ahead with the repairs.

“We stepped out on faith that we could actually do this,” Gandy said. “Even though we didn’t know how complex (the project) would be.”

For the last couple of weeks, crews from Germany Construction and Fitzgerald masonry are performing the repairs — at times exposing the original 19th-century brick for passersby to see.

After further investigation, Bull said, the church’s worst fears were put to rest.

Except for some deterioration at the top and bottom of the columns, the brick appears to be in good condition, Bull said.

“The brick in excellent shape,” Bull said. “About a foot and a half at the top of one column will have to be rebuilt.”

The majority of the work on the columns will consist of repointing brick and re-plastering the columns with a soft stucco that is less susceptible to cracking.

Some deteriorated wood at the bases of some columns will also be repaired, Bull said.

The work will basically wrap up much of the renovation work the church has done to the main sanctuary and Stratton Chapel in the last five or six years, Bull said.

In addition to two new roofs and the refurbishment of the window in the sanctuary, the church is working to complete work on the stained glass windows in Stratton Chapel, Bull said.

For the last couple of years, the windows have been taken out in stages and sent to Pearl River Studios in Jackson to be rebuilt and repaired, Bull said.

“They take the window out of the sash and rebuild the stained glass,” Bull said.

Two windows are currently in Jackson, slated to be sent back to Natchez soon. Two small transoms are left to be taken to Jackson, Bull said.

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