A Tale of Three Steeples

A Storied Steeple – The Steeple of 1740
On August 15, 1740 a large group of workmen in Boston’s North End sat down to a huge “raising dinner” put on for them by the Old North Church parish. Earlier that day they had hoisted a wooden spire topped with a weathervane to its place 190 feet above the surrounding town.

The process had begun over three years earlier in 1737 when the Old North Congregation received a generous gift of logwood, a highly valuable natural resource used to make dyes for fabric, from a group of generous parishioners who called themselves “the Gentlemen of the Bay of Honduras.” By the spring of 1739 thanks to further donations from the ‘Gentlemen,’ church leaders believed that they would be able to raise the estimated 1000 pounds necessary to build the steeple and in April of 1740 work on the steeple began. William Price, a printer and the church’s first organ master designed the structure, and builder John Indicott was hired to oversee its construction. Shem Drowne was hired to design and create the weathervane.

Seventeen years after work on the church had begun, the white wooden steeple with its three rectangular stages and obelisk-shaped spire, topped by Mr. Drowne’sflower pot weathervane, would make the Old North Church Boston’s tallest building, and an important beacon for those returning home to Boston from ocean voyages around the globe. Thirty-five years later it would also be the sight of another beacon, the lantern signals that would help ignite the American Revolution.

Twice Toppled – The Steeples of 1806 and 1954

In October of 1804 a late season hurricane slammed into Atlantic City, New Jersey and slowly began to make its way up the eastern seaboard. After dropping large amounts of rain on New York and Southern New England the tropical storm turned extra-tropical, dumping up to three feet of snow across a region from Massachusetts up to Montreal. Among the victims of the ‘great gale’ in Boston October 9 were the roofs of Kings Chapel and Paul Revere’s foundry, and the first steeple of the Old North Church.

In April of 1805 church leaders set out to raise funds for the construction of a new steeple, which would be completed in 1806. Topped with Shem Drowne’s reconditioned flower pot weathervane, the new steeple stood 15 feet shorter than the original. Forty years later the spire was brought to the ground to be worked on while the top layer of the steeple was rebuilt.

In 1870 a clock was placed in the second layer of the steeple, where it would remain until August 1954 when the entire steeple was toppled by hurricane Carol. Charles R. Strickland, the designer of Old North’s current steeple, returned it to the original design created by William Price in 1740, and once again Mr. Drowne’s flowerpot flies at 190 feet above Boston’s North End.

The steeples of the Old North Church, one from 1898 and the one that is visible today