The early March nor’easter caused damage all across Hatteras and Ocracoke islands, but in the town of Rodanthe, one of the storm’s local impacts was impossible to miss.
After the waters and winds subsided, islanders noticed that the steeple at the Fair Haven United Methodist Church (UMC) – a local landmark on the oceanside of N.C. Highway 12 – had completely toppled over due to the strong gusts.
Roof repairs associated with the damage were made immediately after the storm subsided, but the steeple itself, which measures about 24 foot high, presents a bit of a larger challenge. It has since been removed from is precarious position on the roof and set on the ground, but the next step is putting everything back together again.
“There are a couple challenges with placing the steeple back,” said Administrative Council Chairman for Fair Haven UMC, Jonna O’Neal Midgette. “For one thing, it’s going to take a crane, a carpenter with knowledge on what to do, and time. With spring projects coming up, and other storm damage projects on the island, it’s not that easy to get someone who has both availability and ability.”
The Fair Haven United Methodist Church stands out on the island for a number of reason.
Its spot in the heart of Rodanthe is unique, as it is a distinctive structure in a crowd of vacation rental homes close to the ocean. But the church itself has been standing there for decades, and the congregation has been along much longer than that.
The church was placed on the site around 1946, after the devastating storm of 1944. Prior to its current locale, the church was located on the soundside, in the vicinity of the former Waterfall Park, and almost directly across from where it sits now.
“There was even a little bridge where the bike path is now, and kids from the north side and the south side of the village would join on the bridge and walk to church together,” said Jonna.
After the 1944 storm, a plot of land was donated by an original north Rodanthe resident and developer, Theodore Meekins, and the church has remained in the same spot ever since.
Extensive renovations took place around 1965, and again in the 1970s, and it’s not entirely clear when the steeple was added to the structure. What is known, however, is that it survived 2011’s Hurricane Irene when the rest of the church was surrounded by six feet of tide.
So what was it about this March nor’easter that toppled the steeple when it had already survived a number of storms that had come before? As it turns out, there were a few structural problems already in play. The steeple sat on wood that was not salt treated, and two of the few bolts that held it in place were rotted.
“So when a good wind came, that did the steeple in,” said Jonna.
And what a wind it was! With gusts peeking at around 50-60 mph across the island, and remaining strong for the duration of the first weekend in March, the steeple simply unrooted.
Folks at the church are expecting three bids on the project within the next several weeks, and they are looking into hosting dinners and silent auctions in the near future to help with the project.
People who want to help with the project can also make a donation via the following address:
Acting Treasurer: Polly Moffet
Fair Haven UMC
P.O. BOX 206, RODANTHE, NC 27968 (with memo “steeple repair”)
In the meantime, the roof and shingles have been repaired and are protected from water damage, as the steeple waits to regain its rightful place on the top of the historic church.
“My grandfather always said that with March, you just never know [what the weather will bring], and that is very true,” said Jonna, “but we’re hoping to get it fixed very soon.”