Synagogue restoration begins with masonry repair and lintel replacement

By Terry Fear

Terry Fear is vice president/secretary of United Hebrew Congregation Terre Haute.

The process of restoring United Hebrew Congregation’s historic synagogue began in the fall of 2015, when Indiana Landmarks offered UHC’s board an opportunity to take part in a training initiative with Sacred Places Indiana.

Through that training and the resulting grants, we have begun the actual restoration.

But we would not be on this journey without generous donations from congregation members, former members and friends. To date, UHC has received $30,000 in grants made possible by Sacred Places Indiana and funded by the Lilly Endowment. Our Restoration Fund continues to grow as we prepare to apply for additional grants.

To date, UHC has received $30,000 in grants made possible by Sacred Places Indiana and funded by the Lilly Endowment.

UHC’s restoration has begun with Phase One: Critical Limestone Masonry Restoration and Lintel Replacement. Midwest Restoration Inc. from Paris, Ill., is completing that work.

Architect Jonathan Young of Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf

After consultation with Indiana Landmarks Western Regional Office Director Tommy Kleckner; architect Jonathan Young of Indianapolis-based Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf; and Midwest Restoration owner Donnie Furry, the board decided UHC’s first project would focus on critical exterior work.

Midwest Restoration came highly recommended through Mr. Kleckner, on the strength of its previous efforts.

Some of Mr. Furry’s clients include the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana; the Presbyterian Church of Paris; and Vigo County Schools.

Mr. Young, Mr. Kleckner and Mr. Furry met with UHC’s board to explain the process of replacing the lintels and restoring isolated pieces of the limestone façade. The discussion also included strategies to protect the sanctuary’s stained-glass windows while workers remove three rows of bricks above the windows.

All the original bricks have been preserved as Midwest Restoration removed them from above the windows.

Mr. Furry displayed an impressive knowledge of preservation and restoration work as defined by the Secretary of the Interior’s Guidelines for Preserving, Rehabilitating, Restoring, and Reconstructing Historic Buildings.

All the original bricks have been preserved as Midwest Restoration removed them from above the windows. The lintels are being replaced over the north- and south-facing sanctuary and Vestry Room windows. Once the new lintels are in place, the bricks will be reset.

Workers replace lintels on north and south walls

Midwest Restoration workers removed this lintel from above one of the sanctuary’s stained-glass windows. Notice the rust & deterioration. The sanctuary’s window lintels had been bolted onto an iron channel. Removal required cutting out the bolt.

The lintels were of special concern since they protect the windows from the pressure of the bricks. Mr. Young had made the following recommendation in his synagogue feasibility study:

“The most significant issue at the brick masonry is related to steel lintels that support the brick over some of the windows.

“These lintels are generally in poor condition. Previous brick repair was noted at all these lintels indicating prior issues. Because these steel lintels are essentially a ‘shelf’, water that infiltrates the mortar can often make its way to the lintels and have nowhere to drain.

“If the steel has not been previously coated with a rust-inhibiting coating, the lintels will rust, which in turn causes expansion. This often leads to issues with the brick moving. It is recommended that all the steel lintels be replaced.

“This would include removing the old lintels, installing a new lintel with rust-inhibiting coating, installing flashing over the top of the lintel to allow water to weep out of the system and lastly, reinstalling the brick.”

Limestone masonry requires patching, repair

In a section titled “Limestone Masonry Restoration”, Mr. Young reports:

“The limestone is generally in good condition with some isolated exceptions. Approximately 20 percent of the mortar joints need repointing.

“Care should be taken in undertaking these repairs. This includes matching the hardness, texture and color of the adjacent mortar.

“Where spalling has occurred, it can be repaired via a cementitious patching method. This is done by applying a paste-like patching material to the face of the stone to help it appear as it did originally.

‘Care should be taken in undertaking these repairs. This includes matching the hardness, texture and color of the adjacent mortar.’

“It is very important to use a quality manufacturer for this product such as Jahn or an approved equal. The patching compound is to match the texture and color of the adjacent.

“Where corners of the limestone are cracked or chipped, those areas are to be repaired. If the original chipped piece is still available, then is can be utilized and essentially ‘glued’ back in place with appropriate adhesive mortars.

“This can also be repaired with cementitious patching methods. Displaced stone is to be removed and reinstalled so it is square and plumb with adjacent construction. Care should be taken when removing the stone as to not damage it.”

The synagogue is a historical treasure

United Hebrew Congregation worships in an architectural and historical treasure. Preserving the synagogue will help to insure a Jewish sense of place in Vigo County.

Even as the congregation continues with Jewish life-cycle events, we also hope to preserve the significant history of our predecessors, B’nai Abraham and Temple Israel.

The Jewish community has made far too many contributions to the greater Wabash Valley to allow its legacy to be forgotten.

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