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October 14, 2012

Help needed to restore Town Clock Church in New Albany

Horseshoe Foundation has agreed to $25,000 grant for $400,000 project

NEW ALBANY —  With the New Albany City Council set to take final action on a $75,000 funding boost for the project, the push is already on to raise money in the private sector for the revitalization of Town Clock Church.

The plan prepared by the local architect firm Michell Timperman Ritz calls for up to $400,000 in repairs that would include replacing the steeple of the church along Main Street that was once part of the Underground Railroad.

There’s also discussion of repairing the clock so that it will again chime to signal each new hour. The Horseshoe Foundation of Floyd County has agreed to provide a $25,000 nonmatching grant for the effort, and if the council approves its funding measure as it did on initial readings earlier this month, about 25 percent of the amount needed would be in place.

But that still means $300,000 must be raised to foot a full-scale repair project for the church instead of just a temporary fix, Horseshoe Foundation Executive Director Jerry Finn said. The effort already includes several partners such as Indiana Landmarks, Keep New Albany Clean and Green, Develop New Albany, the Horseshoe Foundation and the Floyd County Historical Society, the latter of which has raised about $700 for the project by selling historic prints.

Finn said the goal is to begin some of the work later this year, and to establish a Friends of the Town Clock Church nonprofit group in 2013.

“What better time than a bicentennial year to say this needs to be done, and not just for once, but for all time,” Finn said.

He and others have begun the process of sending out grant proposals to various charitable organizations, and Finn said the plan is to also approach congregations about participating in the project.

“It’s going to take a lot of partners at the table,” Finn said.

The church was originally the home of the Second Presbyterian Church. Though the First Presbyterian Church at the time was anti-slavery, they had more conservative views as they related to black people being involved in worship.

Not only did the Second Presbyterian Church welcome black members, but it also allowed the building to be used as part of the Underground Railroad, as it served as a safe haven for slaves who were trying to make their way north to freedom during the 1860s.

Second Baptist Church now worships in the building, and the congregation is celebrating its 145th year there in 2012. The original steeple was destroyed around 1919 by lighting, and the goal is to have it duplicated and replaced next year.

City Councilman John Gonder is sponsoring the funding measure that passed by a 7-2 vote on first and second readings earlier this month. The proposal is to provide $75,000 of nonmatching money through Economic Development Income Tax funds.

Gonder said it’s a significant structure for downtown New Albany and a key link to the city’s past.

“I think we owe it to successive generations to maintain it,” he said.

There could be a call for an amendment to the council funding proposal before the third ballot. Councilman Greg Phipps voted against the appropriation earlier this month, and said he had strong reservations about using public money for nonsecular causes. Phipps said he would consider supporting the appropriation if the city was given an easement on the steeple, or could purchase the building and lease it to Second Baptist until the congregation no longer needed the structure. 

Many of those in favor of the proposal said the historic relevance of the church is the reason behind trying to save it, not for religious reasons.

The public can donate to the project. A fund has been setup at Your Community Bank branches where anyone can donate to the Town Clock Church restoration. The donations are tax deductible.

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