‘It’s identical’: College Church in Wheaton replaces steeple toppled by tornado

A tornado that hit northeast Wheaton last August lasted only about a minute.

That’s all it took to turn the 45-foot-tall steeple atop one of Wheaton’s oldest churches into a mangled mess.

College Church, located across Washington Street from Wheaton College, felt the wrath of the winds as sections of the roof peeled off and slammed into the steeple.

“There were pieces the size of an automobile that were pushed into the steeple and probably just as heavy,” said Nancy Singer, the church’s administration and finance director.

The force of the impact left the steeple dangling over the side of the church’s Washington Street entrance.

The congregation immediately began the cleanup effort, but it wasn’t complete until a crane on Thursday replaced the steeple with a replica of the old one.

“It’s identical,” said Howard Kern, the church’s facilities director.

The National Weather Service had classified the tornado as an EF-1, the second-weakest category, with winds reaching around 90 miles per hour.

The $73,000 project to rebuild the steeple was covered by insurance, Singer said. There’s still a skylight to replace over the sanctuary.

But the sight of the steeple being gingerly placed on the roof left a crowd of onlookers awestruck.

“It’s not nearly as arduous as it was taking it down,” Singer said.

The church was established in the 1860s by Jonathan Blanchard, the first president of Wheaton College and a staunch abolitionist.

About 30 years ago, church members raised enough money to put up the old white steeple. Campbellsville Industries, a company in Campbellsville, Kentucky, built the new one with the original plans it still had on file.

If church members happened to look really close, they might have recognized the finial, a ball-and-spike ornament. The decorative piece was salvaged after the storm and secured to the new steeple.

The church’s bell tower was left unscathed.