EATON — Although costs associated with replacing the steeple on the Little White Church were higher than originally envisioned, enough donations have come in to get work underway.
Problems with the steeple began last November with peeling paint. Then in the spring, water leaks were noticed in the sanctuary. Further investigation revealed the steeple’s main support poles had rotted up to 90 percent, to where it had to come down for safety reasons.
The non-profit church's insurance company denied the claim, stating this was a “long-term” water leakage problem, according to Little White Church President John Hartman of Eaton.
It was hoped the project would cost about $100,000 or less. But in the Oct. 1 edition of the Little White Church newsletter, The Eaton Bell, Hartman said: "The new estimate stands at almost $150,000 and the expectation is that the total cost will exceed that amount."
Hartman said he non-profit didn't have the money to pay for it outright, but donations have poured in.
"Thanks to the generosity of so many people within the community and many from far beyond, and the enormous love held for this little gem, we now have enough to begin rebuilding," he said, noting work began the week of Sept. 23.
Builder Tom Costello of Eaton had been hired to do the work, said Hartman in August.
"The bell is removed, and repairs to the belfry have begun. Spire to follow. Stay tuned."
Hartman told the Sun on Tuesday that details of the fundraising would appear in the next newsletter. In terms of work on the steeple, he added: "Unfortunately, winter is closing in so it will not be done until late spring or early summer next year."
The Little White Church was built in 1879. In December 2017, it earned a write-up on onlyinyourstate.com.
“If you haven’t seen the stunning church tucked in tiny Eaton, your assessment of the Granite State’s offerings simply isn’t complete,” the website said. “The Little White Church in Eaton is about as picturesque a New England chapel as you can imagine.”
Despite being over 100 years old, the church is not on the National Register of Historic Places. Hartman said that in his 12 years of being president church repairs were covered by appeals to the church mailing list.
The challenge of raising money for the church has a silver lining, said church trustee Dana Cunningham on Tuesday afternoon.
“Board members, and as a town, we could not have anticipated the hidden gifts inherent in meeting such a challenge together,” she said.
“As we began to work with one another, the bonds of our community have strengthened, friendships have deepened, and new visions for The Little White Church and its outreach have risen.
“Fueling our inspiration, in part, was an exciting and generous donation for the full restoration of the church’s Steinwaygrand piano! To have an instrument of this caliber in this setting will undoubtedly be a draw for gifted musicians, far and wide.”
In August, Cunningham said the piano has been maintained, but it’s still over a century old and needs work in terms of its sound board, strings, pin block and action.
Cunningham also said “the seemingly insurmountable task“ of replacing the church steeple has shown the church leadership that they were “woefully unprepared to face such a major project.”
Since then, they have embarked on a “new approach” moving forward and begin a capital reserve for upcoming maintenance and improvements.
“We thank the larger community of which we are a part for their participation in our hope that the church become a vibrant place of joyful inspiration and reflection for all,” said Cunningham.
To donate to the Little White Church, go to littlewhitechurch.com, mail a check to Little White Church, P.O. Box 31, Eaton, NH 03832, or go to gofundme.comhelp-us-rebuild-our-steeple.
Donations are tax-deductible.