Colton’s historic Zion Episcopal Church undergoes major restoration
Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - 5:34 pm

Resetting some of the Potsdam sandstone had to be done as the roof restoration at Zion Episcopal Church proceeded. Photo by George Cox.

COLTON – The restoration of historic Zion Episcopal Church, begun in 2010, has made significant progress and is continuing.

So far the project has included rewiring, installation of underground drainage tying into the new municipal system, and the restoration of its slate roof and incorporating the gutters into the drainage system. The roof renovation will be done by the end of November.

The nearly 130-year-old slate roof was replaced with a system of 80 percent post-industrial recycled rubber and plastic slabs from EcoStar in Holland, N.Y. They have been made in three colors to match the original colors on the main and side roofs and custom cut by RSI Roofing in Gouverneur.

“The original architectural design of the slate roof is intact and the roof looks exactly the same as the original,” said Joe Liotta, a member of the church. He said the material has the same lifetime guarantee as slate. The installation of the new roof also required some major sandstone repair. C.C. McCready Masonry of Clayton is continuing to do this work.

Virginia E. McEwen, a long-time parishioner and a career fourth grade teacher in the Colton-Pierrepont Central School District, was concerned about the upkeep and maintenance of the church edifice. Upon her death in 2009 she bequeathed Zion a substantial sum of money to be used for those purposes. It is with this bequest that Zion has embarked on the beginnings of these restoration projects. The Women’s Guild of Zion has also made a major contribution to this effort.

In the near future more sandstone and mortar restoration will be done and there will be restorations of windows, in particular the 12-paneled Rose Window. The Rose Window has its own history and that will be forthcoming when that project emerges.

Zion was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003 along with its former Rectory, which now serves as the Town of Colton Museum. Some of the following information is gleamed from. She also submitted the application for Trinity Episcopal Church, Potsdam’s placement on the National Register at the same time.

Susan Omohundro’s application for that designation said:

“Built in 1883 as a memorial to Elizabeth Clarkson, member of Potsdam's prominent Clarkson family, the Zion Episcopal Church is architecturally significant as a remarkably intact and distinguished example of late-19th century ecclesiastical architecture, which reflects an English parish church inspiration with Victorian Gothic elements. The building is constructed in rough-cut ashlar masonry of red Potsdam sandstone taken from the family's sandstone quarries. In the area of Social History, The Zion Episcopal Church, which began its life as a mission of Trinity Episcopal Church ... for the Adirondack workers and their families, is significant as a testament to the lives of those workers and to the missionary zeal of the mother church.

“On April 29, 1883, Elizabeth Clarkson died, and in her will left $10,000 to build a church. Three of her six children, Thomas, Lavinia, and Elizabeth, carried out her wishes and built the Zion Episcopal Church in Colton as a memorial to her. The cornerstone for the impressive red Potsdam sandstone church was laid on July 16, 1883, Elizabeth Clarkson's birthday, with approximately 1,000 people in attendance. Zion Episcopal Church was incorporated in 1884, and Thomas S. Clarkson, Jr. presented the parish with the deed to the .83 acre property on April 25, 1884,” wrote Omohundro.

Zion was consecrated on July 16, 1884, again on Elizabeth Clarkson’s birthday. William Croswell Doane, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany officiated. Thomas S. Clarkson continued to serve on Zion’s vestry for several years, and the Clarkson family gave two endowments for the long-term support of Zion.

The interior of Zion Episcopal Church is in excellent condition. In the 1970’s the rough-cut basement was converted to a full-fledged undercroft with all of the amenities of a parish hall.

In December of 2009 the original Danby Vermont Quarries Marble Baptismal Font was restored to its original pristine condition. This restoration was a gift given by Elizabeth Hawley in memory of her late husband and life-long Zion parishioner Jean Hawley.