143-year-old church doors restored

Craig Shagena scrapes out the corners of the original wood doors at the 143-year-old Immanuel Congregational Church on Sept. 8. In this picture, the door on the left has already been sanded, but not yet clear-coated. Photo by J. Hanlon

Immanuel Congregational United Church of Christ had its bell tower doors restored last week. Located at 1 Hovey St. in Oxford Village, the building began construction in 1878 and finished in 1879. The wood doors at the base of the bell tower are original to the building.
Woodworker Craig Shagena, co-owner of Caveman & Pip, did the restoration. “I’m not painting them,” he said. “I’m putting them back to wood the way they should be, the way they were when they were put on.”

The restored, clear-coated church doors .

Shagena estimates he scraped off about a centimeter of paint layers. “50 coats probably. If not more.”
The door had been painted all different colors over the decades. “First color was white. There was a yellow in there. There was a baby blue. What was the other weird color? A teal. Something you would never see in a church.” The doors were most recently dark green.
Once the paint was removed, he sanded the doors and smoothed over speckles of divots where various door handles were bolted over the years, and nail marks where bulletins had been posted. Then he clear coated it.
“This is all handmade. The wood is probably indigenous to Oxford,” he said. The doors are a combination of white oak with Douglas fir trim.
He thinks the doors will last a long time to come. “There will be some upkeep. Every 5-6 years just put a coat of clear on it, before it starts deteriorating.”
Shagena specializes in custom furniture and repair, but historic restorations like this are his favorite thing to do. He did the project for a discounted a rate.
“Hopefully one day we can get the wooden doors on Denison Street done to match,” said Justin Willcock, the church’s moderator.
For the past few years, the church has been raising money for a larger project of replacing the roof. Money for the doors was donated by two individuals who wanted to see something done to the church more immediately.
Fundraising for the roof has been difficult for the small congregation since traditional ways of raising money, like luncheons and dinners, have been on hold because of the coronavirus. The goal is to raise $30,000 to replace the shingles.
“We are currently putting together a team to make the church a national historical landmark,” Willcock said. “Hoping this will help open doors to grants to cover funding for repairs. I recently learned that this process could take some time, at least a year.”
Although the building was dedicated in 1878, the congregation was organized in 1877 following a series of revival meetings. They paid $200 for the building site on which “a temporary shelter of rough boards, appropriately christened a tabernacle was erected in which the new church members worshipped until the completion of the lecture rooms of the present commodious edifice,” according to a history published in the Oxford Leader in March 1942.
The total cost of building and furnishing was $4,899.40, paid through a combination of donations and generous personal loans.
Folks can donate help preserve the historic church at icucc.org/donate, or by mail to ICUCC 1 Hovey Street, Oxford, MI, 48371.

Craig Shagena climbs a ladder to work on the doors at the 143-year-old Immanuel Congregational church on the corner of Hovey and Dennison streets. Photos by J. Hanlon

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