Another of Beaver Dam’s many endangered landmarks has bitten the dust, even as many in the community warned the owners of their vandalism and tried their best to stop the massacre that is their latest remodel.
The former St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, depicted earlier this summer in the Moses Ordway mural on South Spring Street, is now a day care center — and a shadow of its former self. With modern siding and the removal of its steeple peak, only the windows remain as a sign that it was a center of worship from the dawn of the city’s history, and Ordway would never recognize as the landmark it has been for the past 159 years.
Dodge County Historical Society board member Barbara Ellefson has led tours through Beaver Dam’s downtown area. The church was one of her favorite stops.
“When I took the 4th graders on their annual Architectural Walk I would stop at North Lincoln and Park Avenue and point to the St. Mark’s Episcopal Church at 130 E. Maple Ave.,” Ellefson wrote in an email. “We discussed the brightly painted steeple and I explained that even though it was probably not ‘historic’ at least the paint would protect the wood. The children asked about the 1858 Carpenter Gothic board and batten construction and were pleased that the little church would always look like it did during our walk. After all it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on Nov. 28, 1980.
“A few days ago I drove past and saw siding materials stacked on the east side of what is now a day care facility. Some days later all that one could see of the board and batten exterior was next to the front entrance. The rest of the building was covered by aluminum siding which apparently ‘matched’ the exterior color of the church. The steeple had been removed as well. When there is a historic treasure in the community I guess it takes a little protection and kind concern for it from all of us before it is covered up and lost forever... especially to the 4th graders.”
Historical society president Glen Link had contacted the day care director and she indicated that she had spoken to “someone in Washington” and that person had said it was OK to side it as long as it was not using tax credits. As a longtime preservation activist, I know for certain that buildings sided that way are automatically stricken from the register and lose their historic designation. That makes them ineligible for preservation grants — not that they have been available for decades. Still, if their designation has any value, it is now gone.
As long as one is playing fast and loose with officials, the day care center didn’t bother to get the approval of the Beaver Dam Landmark Commission, which is charged with preserving downtown heritage, and especially that of nationally significant structures. The director misguidedly told the city’s building inspector that as long as the color matched the original color, it should be OK. The center never sought or received approval for the project, and as a result has eliminated the landmark’s historic value.
Jean Goodwin Messinger, in her book, “A Closer Look at Beaver Dam,” described St. Mark’s as “another example of a local structure’s association with a nationally significant architect.” The St. Mark’s design was influenced by those made popular for rural churches by Richard Upjohn (1802-1878). Upjohn was America’s foremost proponent of early Gothic Revival, a style popular in this country from 1830-1860. He became the first president of the American Institute of Architects. He published a pattern book to help the style spread across the country. “Rural Architecture” was a construction guide and included visual presentations for local craftsmen to copy.
St. Mark’s is an exact copy of one such design.
Although Messinger stated that the church’s builder is unknown, he or she was certainly familiar with Upjohn’s style, which included vertical board and batten siding, a pointed spire on a square base and pointed arch windows. The shape of the windows and the square steeple base are all that remain.
Now the Landmark Commission must decide what action to take for such a severe violation of its preservation guidelines. The damage is done, and certainly no one will pay to reinstate what has been hidden or removed. A landmark has been destroyed.