Religions and Spirituality

Presbyterians Stay True to History in Roxbury Chapel Fix-up

First Presbyterian Church of Succasunna Pastor Carie Morgan poses with workers restoring the historic Stoddard Chapel porch railings
Pastor Carie Morgan inspects one of the railing pieces that was being patched on the chapel's front lawn
Old postcard showing First Presbyterian Church of Succasunna and Stoddard Chapel

ROXBURY, NJ – The air outside the First Presbyterian Church of Succasunna was filled with an odor today, a smell that only a few people - including auto body repairmen and people who restore old buildings - can appreciate.

It was the scent of hardening body filler, material being used by craftsmen to reconstruct the rotted wooden porch railings on the 129-year-old Stoddard Chapel adjacent to the main church. They’d disassembled the ornate, white railings, moved the pieces beneath a shady tree and meticulously returned them to their 19th Century glory, or tried to, by filling or recreating missing chunks with the pungent goop.

“The wood was rotting away,” said First Presbyterian Church Pastor Carie Morgan. “If you tried to come up the stairs and needed to use the railings, they just weren’t going to hold anyone.”

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The railings’ deterioration got to the point where, for safety’s sake, they were cordoned off with yellow “caution” tape. The goal is to have that tape gone well before crowds of people show up Sept. 10 for the 27th annual Olde Succasunny Day.

There was no way the historic old railing was going to be removed and replaced with something generic from Lowe’s or Home Depot. The First Presbyterian Church is an iconic, historical landmark in the heart of Roxbury and its Queen Anne style chapel would see no pressure-treated wood, vinyl or plastic porch rails, said Morgan.

The $4,000 restoration is being done by painting contractor Mark Tirondola of Bloomfield. Money for the project was raised by the sale of a book written by church congregant Phyllis Guerrero.

The book, “The Life and Loves of Eliza Ann Stoddard,” subtitled “Love Always,” was sold to fellow church members for a suggested donation of $15 and for $20 to non-members as part of a “Save the Front of the Chapel Fund.”

The title refers to the wife of former church pastor Elijah Stoddard. The Stoddard's daughter, Linnet, died in 1886 when she was 16, according to church historians. The chapel was built in memory of Linnet, the couple’s only child, using redwood from California, pine from Carolina and stained glass from England, said the historians.

“In memory of her, they built this amazing little chapel … for children’s ministry,” said Morgan, who has been the church’s pastor for about 18 months. As she spoke, a worker with a nail gun re-attached a section of refurbished old wood, one more step toward the chapel's return to historically accurate visitor safety.

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