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Historic Columbus church plans restoration, with community support

 

Father Robert Dore of Annunciation Catholic Church, center, talks with Rufus Ward and Alice Lancaster of the Billups-Garth Foundation Thursday outside the circa 1860s church structure to soon undergo restoration. The Billups-Garth Foundation recently awarded a grant to help with the project.

Father Robert Dore of Annunciation Catholic Church, center, talks with Rufus Ward and Alice Lancaster of the Billups-Garth Foundation Thursday outside the circa 1860s church structure to soon undergo restoration. The Billups-Garth Foundation recently awarded a grant to help with the project. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff  Buy this photo.

 

Jan Swoope

 

BY JAN SWOOPE 

 

jswoope@cdispatch.com 

 

Almost 150 years after the cornerstone of Annunciation Catholic Church was laid in Columbus on May 4, 1863, its congregation and community are coming together to ensure the historic landmark is here for generations to come. 

 

The oldest Catholic church in Northeast Mississippi will soon undergo substantial and necessary restoration to its original sanctuary, thanks to families, individuals and organizations that have already pledged or contributed approximately $1.4 million. One of those organizations is the Billups-Garth Foundation of Columbus. 

 

"The Foundation has presented a $2,000 grant to Annunciation Catholic Church to support the restoration of their 1863 church building," said Foundation Chair and historian Rufus Ward. "The church is an example of Gothic form rarely found in the South and is a Mississippi Landmark. Not only is it a part of the historic fabric of Columbus, it is one of the most architecturally significant religious structures in Mississippi." 

 

 

 

From the top 

 

Roof replacement leads the list of work to be done on the structure, which is currently referred to as the Annunciation chapel. A new, larger sanctuary was dedicated in 2000. The older sanctuary, however, is in regular use for daily mass and other church functions, including some weddings and funerals. 

 

"The roof is the first priority; the Mississippi Department of Archives and History has given us a grant to help with that," stated Wanda Holley, treasurer of the capital campaign for the restoration. The MDAH grant will also assist with drainage and dirt work to help "waterproof" the base of the church. 

 

Exploratory work in the vault above the sanctuary has revealed damage from moisture wicking from below, leading to deterioration of plaster and other elements of the building, said Father Robert Dore, pastor of the church. 

 

"There is a basement and it seems to be a haven for moisture," he remarked. "We hope to insulate the bottom of the church, in addition to connecting our drainage system into the city grid for more effective prevention of moisture." 

 

Work planned also includes restoration of the many stained glass windows in the structure, by Joseph Beyer of Beyer Studio in Philadelphia, Pa. 

 

Interior restoration will also include floors, painting and finishes. 

 

"And our real hope and fervent wish is to make the church more handicapped accessible in the most creative and effective ways we can," said Dore.  

 

Once work begins, the whole project is estimated to require about 18 months to finish. B.B. Archer of Archer Architecture in Meridian serves as architect. Kenneth Thompson of Greenwood is general contractor. Both have extensive expertise in historic restoration. 

 

The capital campaign continues, to fully fund all planned phases.  

 

"We welcome and encourage any support from the local community," said Dore. "We really feel like this is not just a Catholic endeavor; people come from everywhere, especially during the Pilgrimage tours, to admire the architecture, the stained glass windows, the history." 

 

"The Billups-Garth Foundation commends the Annunciation Church family for their plans to restore this historic structure and to preserve it as one of Columbus' most beautiful and important buildings," stated Ward, of the church writer Mary Wallace Crocker called "an architectural gem" in her book, "Historic Architecture of Mississippi." 

 

"The value of this 149-year-old structure to Columbus is beyond measure, and the entire community needs to join in supporting this project," Ward urged. 

 

To learn more about the restoration, or about making a donation, contact the church office at 662-328-2927, or contact Holley at 662-328-3254.

 

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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