ELLINWOOD A historic church long known as the "Landmark of the Plains" in central Kansas could have a new steeple within three months to replace one that was blown over by a tornado in May 2007.
Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church north of Ellinwood is the home of the oldest parish in the Dodge City Diocese, started in 1875, according to Joe Hickel, board member of the Sts. Peter and Paul Heritage Association.
The current church was built in 1892 and is the oldest in western Kansas. It was declared a Catholic Shrine in 1986 and was the center of activity in Barton County for much of the 20th century, The Great Bend Tribune reported.
It was seriously damaged four years ago when the tornado took down the steeple, along with the original three bells and a copper cross.
"We signed a contract to erect the steeple as it was before the tornado so Sts. Peter and Paul could be the 'Landmark of the Plains,' again," Hickel said.
The board has raised enough for the first phase of the project. Funds for the second phase, which involves the installation of the bricks, have not been raised.
Stephen Clayton of Trinity Restoration said the steeple restoration will take about three months. Bricks will be installed to match the rest of the 24-inch thick brick walls, and a new platform will be built for the bells. The cross is being refurbished to be reinstalled on the top of the steeple.
The bells will be placed back on the original 6-by-12-foot solid oak beams.
"It will be just as it was, only this time it will be structurally stronger," Clayton said, noting that the original skeleton structure was built of wood.
Dan Mawhirter of Isern Plumbing Electric Heat and Air Inc. will refurbish the solid copper cross. He said it would take three to four days and he is donating his time.
"I got a lot of black marks to make up for," he said with a laugh.
The solid copper sheets are hard to find and expensive, Mawhirter said. The metal frame inside the cross will also have to be redone.
"(The original cross) was all hand-soldered and took a huge amount of time," Mawhirter said. "When that cross was built, they knew what they were doing."
Open houses will be held at the church Saturday through Monday. On Memorial Day, a service will be held at the cemetery, followed by Mass at 8:45 a.m.