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Downtown landmark becomes part of Massena’s past


MASSENA - A landmark that has stood at the corner of East Orvis and Main streets in downtown Massena for just over 150 years is now part of the community’s history.

After months of preparation, a demolition crew from Richardson & Sons leveled the former First Baptist Church in Massena Wednesday morning. Demolition worker David E. LePage, who ran the excavator, said the condition of the approximately 150-year-old church made the demolition hard to predict.

“The building fought me the whole way. It was tricky,” Mr. LePage said. “It wouldn’t come down how I wanted it to. I like to have more control of a building.”

Mr. LePage said crews attempted to knock down the church’s steeple by tying cables to the support beams and tipping it over. Instead those cables ripped through the steeple’s support beams entirely. They said the wooden beams inside the building’s brick exterior were rotten and weak.

The crew took down the upper portion of the steeple Monday. They thought they would have to cut that section into pieces, but found they only had to rig and pull off that portion of the steeple.

“It was just sitting there. I’m surprised these high winds we’ve had lately didn’t blow it off,” Mr. LePage said.

The sanctuary was also in rough shape, according to Mr. LePage, who knocked down that portion of the church in only 15 minutes with an excavator.

Mr. LePage said the demolition went fast and easy. However, the proximity of the church to Main and Orvis streets posed safety risks to passersby. Massena Village Police closed off sections of Main and Orvis streets for approximately an hour Wednesday morning as the church’s tower was brought down.

“I don’t like masonry buildings. You can’t predict what it’s going to do,” Mr. LePage said.

Jon Maginn, the son of the property’s owner, Richard E. Maginn, commended the Massena Police Department, Massena Electric Department and the Massena village government for ensuring safety during the demolition.

“They did a great job (and) we’re lucky to have them,” he Maginn said. “I’m just happy it came down safely.”

Mr. LePage pointed out no bricks or debris landed outside of the safety fence set up around the property during the demolition.

Mayor James F. Hidy said he had been in discussions with Richard Maginn to have the historic church bell and cornerstone turned over to the local government. If recovered in favorable condition, the church bell may go on display outside the Massena Fire Department, as it was the first fire bell in the village. The cornerstone, Mr. Hidy said, could go on display at the Massena Museum.

But he acknowledged he wasn’t certain what would happen after learning crews felt the tower needed to be knocked down before the bell could be removed due to potential safety concerns.

The cornerstone for the church was laid in June 1859 and work was completed by July 1860 to house local Baptists, who trace their roots in Massena back to the early 1800s. In 1827, early prominent settler Col. Uriah H. Orvis built a frame house on West Orvis Street to hold religious meetings, according to “History of Massena: An Orphan Town” written by Eleanor L. and Nina E. Dumas.

The final services took place at the church in 2007, and the worship space has sat vacant ever since. The buildings were put up for sale later that year for an initial asking price of $425,000. .

Mr. Maginn, owner of Heritage Homes, closed on a deal in January 2011 to purchase the church at 93 Main St. and the house behind the church at 19 E. Orvis St. He purchased the two buildings for $150,000, according to the St. Lawrence County Real Property Tax Office.

He said last week he’s working with a developer for a new business for the site, but declined to provide specifics.

“It’ll be a nice building that will provide employment and pay taxes for the community,” he said.

He has said construction on that development could begin by spring.

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