ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) – One of the oldest churches in Elmira is putting the finishing touches on a major renovation, just in time for Holy Week. The Park Church, which was built 150 years ago and has been a congregation for 175 years, is restoring all of its stained-glass windows.

“Most of them began about 100 years ago,” said Jenny Monroe, President of The Park Church Council. “In the 1920’s there were some folks in Elmira who wanted to give money to have a memorial window created for a member of their family who had died.”

“Like all old stained-glass windows in churches, the heat from the outside starts to work on the lead came which is holding the pieces of glass together like a puzzle. The lead came and the weight of the glass itself will begin to pull over time, especially on our western side of our building. So we noticed that the windows were bulging, some to the concern that we were going to lose a piece of glass. So we asked the Corning Museum of Glass, what should we do?”

Corning recommended Willet Hauser Architectural Glass, a global leader in stained glass restoration based in Winona, Minnesota. The company removed the windows two years ago. Specialists then took the windows apart to restore each piece of glass.

“When the windows get back to our studio in Winona, Minnesota, the glass gets taken out of the old lead and they get re-leaded,” said Jacob Morris, Project Manager for Willet Hause Architectural Glass. “All the glass that needs to be repainted is repainted by our artists. We have the largest supply of European stained glass in the country so we can match almost any glass that comes out of whatever church we’re working on.”

Jenny Monroe says the while the windows were being restored, some people may have not noticed the original windows were gone. “Before they were removed, they took a photograph of each of the windows so that we could have a photo transparency of the windows that were being repaired so we didn’t lose our favorite images. But now we have the real glass back and it is so much richer and deeper in color,” Monroe told 18 News reporter Nicolas Dubina.

Monroe says the project was made possible by a surprise donation.

“A gentleman named Charles William Brand, who was born in Elmira about 100 years ago, was baptized here at the church and then moved to Denver. When he died, 24 different charities were beneficiaries of his estate, and one of them was The Park Church. It was a complete surprise to us when we got the letter from his lawyer. We decided at council that this was a gift that is going to allow us to do all the windows and to take care of this amazing resource that we have. We were going to do them piecemeal over time, but Mr. Brand’s bequest allowed us to do them all at once. We’re delighted. We were hoping that they would be back for Easter last year, but it’s okay. It’s worth waiting for.”