PORTLAND – The upper section of the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church’s steeple was removed Wednesday as the first step in a $225,000 restoration project.

The steeple’s lantern, spire and weather vane are headed to a shop in Barre, Vt., where they will be fully restored by Southgate Steeplejacks.

The belfry will remain in a specially designed enclosure at the church on Congress Street.

Jay Southgate, the proprietor of Southgate Steeplejacks, said his crew started working to remove the steeple around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Spectators gathered along Congress Street as a crew from Irving Equipment used a crane to raise the steeple sections and then lower them to the ground.

“Today was a good day. Everything went pretty smoothly,” Southgate said as his crew collected its equipment late Wednesday afternoon and prepared return to Vermont. “The only thing that surprised me was the steeple was more rotted than I realized.”

Southgate Steeplejacks will work through this winter, with the goal of completing the restoration by February or March, said Stephen Jenks, president of the church’s board of trustees.

Jenks said the congregation recognized that it had to take steps to repair the steeple after pieces of wood fell into the church garden last year. The steeple had been rotting and leaking water.

Jenks said the church took out a loan to restore the steeple and will have to raise money to repay the loan. So far, the church has raised $40,000.

The steeple was installed in the early 1800s. It was refurbished in the 1930s and the 1970s. It will be restored to historical standards.

Jenks hopes that the community will donate generously to the restoration project.

“It’s not just a church, it’s a historic building that has served downtown Portland since 1825,” he said.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com