In Narragansett, the Boon Street Presbyterian Church rises again

A Google Maps view of the property before reconstruction began in 2021. The old stone tower was all that was left of the old church, which had been turned into a garage.Peter DeMarco for the Boston Globe

When architect and developer Craig Miller stumbled upon the dilapidated property five years ago while vacationing with his family, he had no idea what he was looking at. “It had a flat roof and a tower. I thought it had been a fire station,” he said.

Intrigued, he called the phone number on the for-sale sign. “The broker called me back, he showed me a picture of what it was, and I said, ‘Oh, we have no choice. We have to put it back as a church,’” said Miller, president of Waterfield Design Group of Winchester, Mass.

Now, the building has been resurrected, in a sense. And on Aug. 29, as construction neared completion, the former church’s most-iconic element was restored.

As dozens of people watched, cell phone cameras at the ready, a giant crane lifted the 9,000-pound, 13-foot-tall belfry and the 10,500-pound, 29-foot tall shingled spire from the ground on the site, and maneuvered them into place atop the tall, granite tower.

A small crowd of people gathered to watch as the belfry was placed at the top of the stone tower on Aug. 29, 2022, one of the final steps of the rebuilding of what was once the Boon Street Church in Narragansett. PETER DEMARCO FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

While the exterior is a near-replica of the original church, inside Miller has made some major changes: the building will house a pair of luxury condominiums instead of a new congregation.

Marketed as “114 Boon Street Narragansett” the condos will feature solar panels, elevators, covered balconies, open floor plans, and 12-foot ceilings. One of the units, with wide views of Narragansett Bay just down the street, could fetch $3 million to $4 million.

While some are upset that the building won’t be used as a church again, most locals have embraced the project, understanding that Miller was under no obligation to honor the church’s history or preserve the look of the property, since it sits just outside Narragansett’s official historic district.

“That parcel could have been developed into so many different things that would not have made people happy,” said Vincent Indeglia, a 13-year Narragansett Planning Board member. “Then along comes someone like Craig who unsolicited wants to do this. He’s like a lottery ticket you scratch and get $5 million dollars.”

Working off a single, grainy photo of the church taken around 1885 and a simple architect sketch from 1874, Miller dove in to the project. Construction began last year and accelerated this spring.

A drawing of the Boon Street Presbyterian Church, circa 1874.Handout photo
A final concept drawing for the 114 Boon Street Narragansett project, where the exterior is a near-replica of the old Boon Street Presbyterian Church but the interior will house two luxury condominiums.Courtesy of Waterfield Design Group

Miller had a Chicago fine metal shop re-create the church’s ornate, 5-foot copper cross. He reused 5,000 feet of wooden flooring from a century-old Taunton mill building, and located the church’s original, chevron-patterned wooden entrance doors. Every window plane was made to look as if it were from the 19th century, with Miller going so far as to include three “dummy” windows that match ones in the old photograph, but are walled off inside because they are situated mid-floor.

The building’s stonework – pink- and orange-hued granite blocks believed to have come from a quarry in Westerly – was brought back to its original brilliance through repeated washings and weeks of re-pointing work by an array of stone masons, who left plenty of stone visible inside to serve as a connection to the past.

While there will be no bell in the belfry, residents can climb the steep stairs to look out over the town, and there will be LED lighting that can glow in different colors. “If the Red Sox win the World Series we can make it blue and red,” Miller said.

Architect and developer Craig Miller, president of Waterfield Design Group of Winchester, Mass., stands on the roof of his project Boon Street in Narragansett, R.I., in July 2022.Peter DeMarco for the Boston Globe

Miller plans to live with his family in one of the units. Does he think people will ring his doorbell on Sunday mornings, expecting to be let in?

“One of the neighbors suggested we have services, like on Easter,” he said. “Me and my family, we have a faith background. We work extensively in Haiti and in Ecuador with missions, with an orphanage. So for our family to have a connection to a faith-oriented building, it works really well for us.”

That faith has been tested as he worked on the Boon Street project. There have been numerous delays – Covid, permitting issues, and supply-chain shortages among them. And, most recently, the raising of the belfry almost didn’t happen.

First there was an unexpected issue with the concrete tower top – that wasted the whole morning. Then the crew lost a few more hours hunting down an essential drill bit. They were able to raise the belfry base, but as the sun began to set it looked as if they’d simply run out of daylight to get the wood-shingled spire on top.

“I think he did the right thing by bringing this back because there’s a lot of memories here,” said onlooker Merrick Cook Jr., 82, of Narragansett, who has been following the construction. “It will go up.”

At 7 p.m. Miller and his structural engineer, Mike Grafe made one final check to see if the tow cables were secure. Crane operator Brent S. Dexter was given the signal and the final piece was lifted off the ground – very, very slowly. A minute later the crowd that remained erupted in applause – the belfry was complete.

So, too, was the Boon Street Presbyterian Church’s implausible resurrection.

Raising the Belfry on the 114 Boon Street Narragansett project in Rhode Island
The belfry is raised at the reconstructed old Boon Street Church in Narragansett, which is being made into condos. (Video by Steve Osemwenkhae)

https://www.bostonglobe.com/2022/09/05/metro/narragansett-boon-street-presbyterian-church-rises-again/