EAST DERRY — It was a towering display on one historic hill in East Derry.

With many people gathering to watch history in action, the bell tower at First Parish Church was reconnected on Thursday morning after several years of being separated and under repair.

The church is one of the focal points in the town's yearlong celebration of the 300th anniversary of the original Nutfield settlement. For several years, the church has undergone renovation projects aimed at restoring the building’s historical integrity.

First Parish was the original meetinghouse in the area. The current church was built in 1769 to replace an earlier structure built by the area’s earliest settlers. The tower was added in 1824. It is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Matthew Thornton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, once rang its bells and served on its building committee.

 

The massive restoration work got underway in 2011. In 2015, the church tower was separated and dismantled for repair work. The tower structure was taken to Nottingham for repairs under Preservation Timber Framing's guidance. The 2,200-pound bell was also lifted out and stored safely. 

Crews from Preservation Timber Framing came to the church site Wednesday, to stage the area and get the giant crane in place.

Then on Thursday morning, it was time to put the tower back together, with a newly gilded weather vane shining on top.

Many church members, town officials and guests from area towns stopped near the East Derry church to watch the lifting action. Eventually, the sun broke through to cast a blue background against the new white structure being hoisted in the air.

Children and teachers gathered in a neighboring playground at the Nutfield Cooperative School to watch. Drones hovered overhead so photographers could get aerial views of the church project.

"This is history in the making and shows the continuum," said church member Marge Palmer, as she watched the process.

Historian Richard Holmes stood on the church lawn with others and said he often felt the tower, in its original aging state, may not have outlasted him.

"But it will outlast me," Holmes said. "We are doing this now for our children and our grandchildren."

 

The renovation project also includes interior work on the sanctuary and other rooms. Services have been held in the Currier Hall at First Parish while major work is being done.

The church received several Land and Community Heritage Investment Program, or LCHIP, grants to support specific aspects of the total restoration project. The church congregation raised and spent about $1 million for the preservation work. Much more is needed to complete the job, Lindemann said.

He said the tower and steeple being reconnected was a major milestone.

"It's just amazing to see this come to this part," Lindemann said, crediting the crews doing the work. "It's amazing what they've done."

Once back together, the weather vane on top was gleaming in the sun.

Alexandra Hadik saw her talents topping the tower.

Hadik gilded the steeple's weather vane in her Chester studio, saying the structure made of copper and lead took 444 23-carat gold leaves, many cut to fit the intricate design.

Once the tower was back in one piece, the bell rang, some applauded, and many continued to take photos. One onlooker took some "selfies" of the historic moment.