Pennsylvania Historic Preservation

Blog of the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office

Colorized historic postcard showing wood church building.

Preserving Pennsylvania’s Stick Style Architecture: Old Lutheran Church in Franklin

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The mid-nineteenth century oil boom is synonymous with northern Venango County, which brought population and construction growth to the city of Franklin.

I remember my discovery of the Franklin Historic District’s collection of stately homes, grand commercial structures and awe-inspiring religious buildings when I first joined the PA SHPO office.  I was surprised that the vast and spirited economic growth is very much expressed in its architecture.

One of the more interesting buildings is the 1886 Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church at the corner of Buffalo and 11th Streets. It is the last and best example of nonresidential Stick Victorian architecture remaining in the City of Franklin.  The current building, now known as the Old Lutheran Church, replaced a smaller one built in 1852 by a group of German settlers.

Colorized historic postcard showing wood church building.
Undated historic postcard of Grace Lutheran Church. From the collection of the Historic Franklin Preservation Association.

I highlighted the current project in Franklin in my January 6th post and thought a follow up with more information concerning the project was necessary.

What is Stick Style?

I will admit that the Stick Style of Architecture, common in American between 1860-1890, is slightly unfamiliar to me.  I got my architectural chops in Lancaster and York Counties where there are few examples of this unique style. 

Steeply pitched gable roofs often marked with cross gables and decorative trusses at the gable peak are perhaps the most identifiable hallmarks of the style.  You can read more about the style in the PHMC’s Pennsylvania Architectural Field Guide.

New Life for Franklin’s Old Lutheran Church

After the last congregation of the Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church left the building, the Historic Franklin Preservation Association (HFPA) rallied to purchase the building in 2015. Community donations were instrumental in its acquisition, but this event marked the beginning of a careful planning process as the building’s future was far from secured. 

Process of siding replacement and steeple reconstruction at small wood frame church.
Grace Lutheran Church during construction. Photo by Historic Franklin Preservation Association.

In 2016, HFPA commissioned a comprehensive study detailing the restoration process, identifying urgent building needs and long-term restoration. The study included documentation of existing floor plans as well as suggested floor plans for potential reuse scenarios.

HFPA’s next step was to complete an historic structure report which formalized the adaptive reuse plan, funded in part through a grant from the National Park Service via the Oil Region Alliance of Business, Industry & Tourism.

The preferred identified long-term use for the building will be a partnership with other nonprofits in the community to use part of the building for office space or residential apartments and the sanctuary for nonprofit meetings and events. Encouraged by the findings of both reports, HFPA embarked on a fundraising campaign for the restoration.

Restoration Project

The first phase of restoration of the Old Lutheran Church halted the structural damage caused by active roof leaks and the lack of gutters and downspouts. Luckily, the overall structure is sound with only isolated areas of deterioration. The organization turned to the PHMC’s Keystone Historic Preservation Grant program for the initial roof replacement and stormwater improvements.

The original roofing material was unknown, but wood or slate shingles would have been typical options given its date of construction.

Small wood church with siding replacement and porch and steeple repairs underway.
Grace Lutheran Church Roof. Photo by Historic Franklin Preservation Association.

However, due to funding to constraints and the urgent need to secure the roof, HFPA opted to use an architectural asphalt shingles with traditional galvanized flashing and edging. The project team grappled with this decision but the urgent need to replace the roof outweighed the potential wait for additional finances to complete a true restoration.

Similarly, the project team installed new galvanized gutters and downspouts even though they were not current to the structure. The need to manage roof-water drainage is essential to the preservation of the structure. The original eaves are sloped and lack a vertical fascia board which were acerbating rot. Period appropriate half-round single-bead gutters with roof-deck mounting brackets and round fluted downspouts with decorative brackets were specified. Water collection boxes matching the style and material of the gutters and downspouts were placed where roof valleys and tower merge. All of the decorative eaves were repaired, replacing deteriorated trim as needed with all eaves prepped, primed and painted.

Wood church with decorative windows and wall shingles.
Detail of roof eaves after repair. Photo by Historic Franklin Preservation Association.

In addition to their Keystone grant, HFPA restored the main facade stained-glass windows on the exterior and made the necessary interior life safety improvements to grant a Certificate of Occupancy.  Soon, HPF will initiate a second fundraising campaign specifically for the tower restoration.

Programming for All

Like so many organizations, the pandemic cancelled HFPAs programming at the property and their associated community fundraisers.  Previously, the building was open to the public for tours and several events from May to October.  The former sanctuary hosted live music events all summer long from June and Labor Day weekend.

Hopefully, these events will be back soon. Feel free to check out organization’s website for updates on their process rehabilitating the Old Lutheran Church and their events once they can reopen – www.franklinpreservation.org

Author: Karen Arnold

Karen Arnold manages the Keystone Historic Preservation Grant program at the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC).

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