Kent County celebrates the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in Chestertown this year by recognizing a number of success stories concerning projects in the African American community. The recent completion in January 2020, of the long-awaited slate roof replacement at historic Janes United Methodist Church in the downtown district, was a monumental collaboration by a team of many dedicated individuals with community spirit overcoming many obstacles along the way.
Janes Memorial Church is one of the very few remaining building examples of the achievements of African Americans in Chestertown’s Historic District. The building remains in continuous use as a recognizable example of a prominent historical structure in Chestertown’s urban fabric. It is a vital center of worship for the African American community, a monument to self-determination, and a cultural center for gospel and other musical performances, and for various artistic and community activities.
PROJECT HISTORY: This historically significant church was originally constructed at South Cross and Cannon Streets, by community members in 1914 of rare sand-lime brick. A decade ago, it was discovered that existing faux slate, fiber-cement shingles installed in the 1990s as a lower cost replacement for the original historic Pennsylvania slate were already failing within ten years of their installation. The Church engaged an attorney, only to find out that the manufacturer had gone bankrupt. Five years ago, these faux slates were breaking up in many places, and falling to the sidewalk, endangering pedestrians. The Church was forced to install temporary “Shingle Catchers” to collect the sliding shingles, although building damage continued to occur. It was determined that ultimately, only a new, historically-appropriate roof would ensure Janes Church could survive in good repair.
During more than the past seven years, the Church, and the Friends of Janes, a community–church partnership, had been raising funds through selected grant opportunities and a sustained community-based effort, to maintain the stewardship of this essential worship facility. Through the Maryland Historical Trust, under the African American Heritage program, and through the National Trust for Historic Preservation, under the Bartus Trew Providence Preservation program, partial funding for the anticipated approximately $180,000 project had been awarded. The real triumphant story, however, was a successful Community Campaign, that resulted in enough adequate funding to permit construction to proceed.
With the help of these recent funds and timely grants, the Church was able to replace the failing fiber-cement shingles with authentic Vermont Black Slate that replicated the 1/4″ thickness of the historic 1914 slate and are expected to last 90 years or more. Historic sheathing boards were retained and any rotted wood or roof decking was replaced-in-kind with like material. All eave and rake wood trim was likewise repaired or replaced-in-kind when found to be rotted or structurally damaged.
RESTORATION EFFORTS: While it is difficult to name all who contributed to the culmination of this work, beginning and sustained activities included, for example, architectural services and field work providing for the development of bid specifications and drawings in coordination with architect Peter Newlin, FAIA, Principal of Chesapeake Architects, historic architect Barton Ross, AIA, President of Barton Ross & Partners Architects, and construction manager Jay Yerkes, President, Yerkes Construction Company. The roof contractor was Frank Cyrwus, Inc. of Lafayette, NJ, who has successfully worked on dozens of historic buildings. These individuals, also members of Friends of Janes, and their staff and associates, were instrumental in moving the project forward.
Other contributors to the team, from the beginning, include the church Congregation, volunteer committee members of Friends of Janes; Pastor Emmanuel Johnson; Joyce Moody, Chair, Janes Church Administrative Council; Ralph Deaton, Chair of the Church’s Finance and Building Committees; and Larry Samuels, volunteer grants administrator. These named individuals are only examples of the many human components that brought this portion of the building restoration to fruition.
A major issue arose when the work was about 95% complete, requiring Delmarva Power to de-energize a section of primary electrical transmission line adjacent to the Church. However there was no additional budget to pay the $11,284.00 fee. It was feared work would come to a stop and be unable to be completed. The Church submitted an application for a facility relocation type request and was ultimately able to work with Delmarva Power’s corporate offices who graciously agreed to waive this fee in its entirety. Instrumental in these negotiations and deserving of recognition for enabling the project to be completed were Cory Buxton, Sherrod Cole, and Renee Sheehy of Delmarva Power’s Centreville office.
THE FUTURE: Following this critical roof replacement, additional funds are still urgently needed for the vital restoration of 1. stained glass windows; and 2. masonry repairs to the Church’s rare sand-lime bricks, which are in critical need of repointing. Fund raising efforts have shown we can successfully mobilize our community and grantor agencies to respond as they have previously. The Church welcomes more help: additional small to large contributions, and along with grants, the community can help implement the timely, essential, and all-important restoration work.
Get involved! If you are interested in helping, please contact Ralph Deaton at 410-778-4154.
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