DERRY — The landscape on the hill in east Derry will look a bit different all in the name of history and preservation.
The steeple of First Parish Church is getting a major upgrade, part of a restoration effort to repair the historic church tower.
Timber experts are working at the church, readying the top portion of the tower for a detachment later this month.
A large crane will lower the top two sections to the ground near the First Parish building. The belfry and lantern will be placed in secure staging on the church lawn and a temporary roof will be hoisted up and installed above the clock, that will remain in place.
Tower repair work on these parts will continue on the ground.
This all may happen by month's end according to timber expert Arron Sturgis, owner of Preservation Timber Framing, the company doing the First Parish work.
Sturgis said the work is meticulous, but a much-needed repair at this time for this historic wooden gem.
"There is extreme rot damage in the tower," Sturgis said. "We are here none too soon. It's time to do this."
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.
The restoration work is part of a multi-year rehabilitation project, said Paul Lindemann, a member of the church rehabilitation committee.
"What you see out there now is the first step, the first part of the project," Lindemann said.
Lindemann said parishioners have been extremely generous with giving toward the capital campaign to finance the work.
Repairs over the next several years could be estimated at $1.5-$2 million.
Funding for the tower removal and other earlier rehabilitation projects came from years of preservation donations and a recent $800,000 campaign drive within the church.
Other fundraising efforts will be launched to help pay for the work. Grant funding could also help contribute to the historic church renovations.
"Our church has been a trustworthy steward of the 'old meetinghouse on the hill' for two and a half centuries," said Rev. Dr. Deborah Roof, First Parish pastor. "We look forward to sharing this rewarding challenge with the community."
Work over the next several years includes not only the current tower project but also lifting the building to rebuild the foundation, adding an elevator that will access several levels, more frame and roof repairs and doing restoration work on the interior.
The majority of the work will be completed by the fall of 2017.
Sturgis has spent 28 years working in this business, restoring and repairing aging buildings in communities all over New England.
He said working on First Parish is part of what he loves best — dealing with the history of this type of timber frame building and learning all about it at the same time.
Sturgis said First Parish was a beautiful example of an early church, dating back to 1769.
"This is a magnificent timber frame structure," he said. "And we rebuild using traditional methods."
Repairs should keep the tower of the church on track for generations ahead, Sturgis said.
Work on churches like First Parish is typically done in the summer, Sturgis said, due to the weather and temperatures.
Lindemann said First Parish is in good hands with Sturgis' team.
"They have such passion for what they do," he said. "It's a labor of love."
Lindemann said so many people love First Parish and it's role in the history of the community.
"People love it and respect the old meetinghouse," he said.
First Parish is readying itself to be a focal point in the upcoming 300th anniversary of the Nutfield settlement in 2019. The church is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and is thought to be the oldest structure in town and one of the oldest New England meetinghouses still operating today.