Historic Church Gets $184,878 For Renovation The Swedesboro Church Was Built In 1784. It Is In Danger Of Collapsing.

Posted: February 07, 1993

SWEDESBORO — Head south on windy Kings Highway into the northern tip of town. Cross the old iron bridge that spans Raccoon Creek and pass a windowless log cabin said to have been part of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War.

Then let your eyes drift west, over a rolling hill, past a stone wall and straight up a 25-foot spire that rises above a two-story, 209-year-old red- brick church known today as the Trinity Episcopal "Old Swedes" Church.

"It's quite a structure," said Alice D. Jess, 72, the church clerk and one of about 100 church parishioners.

Just don't go inside - at least not yet. No one is allowed in the church.

Church services have been held in the parish house across the street since April, when eight of 11 wooden trusses holding up the slate roof were found to be cracked, split and in danger of collapsing.

That will all be fixed. The New Jersey Historic Trust recently awarded the church a $184,878 grant, which will go toward the $600,000 cost of making the church structurally sound.

The grant comes from the state's Historic Preservation Bond Act, passed in 1987 when the state Historic Trust set aside $22 million to be distributed to historic preservation sites in the state. This year, nearly $6.6 million was distributed to 34 sites.

"The Cape May Point Lighthouse, Salem City Hall, and Lucy, the wooden elephant in Atlantic City near Margate, all got money," said Jess, the secretary of the Swedesboro-Woolwich Historical Society and a member of the Gloucester County Cultural and Heritage Commission.

The grant pleased the Rev. William O. Breedlove 2d, the vicar of Trinity Episcopal Church.

"It's great news, great, great news," he said. "The church is a real critical part of the history of the local community and all of South Jersey. We're hoping the repairs we do now will last another 200 to 300 years."

Mr. Breedlove said the restoration should be done in late 1994 or early 1995. He said parishioners were working to establish an endowment fund for the preservation and maintenance of the church and to cover the cost of future repairs.

Jess said structural engineer Richard Ortega and architect Margaret Westfield were surveying the 2,400-square-foot building for grant application in April when they discovered the fractures in the wooden trusses on the north and south sides of the church.

"The engineer said right then and there that the building was in danger of collapsing and that any large gathering or heavy snow could cause it to fall," Jess said. "Since then, the engineer has found the construction of the church totally fascinating."

The Rev. Nicholas Collin, a Swede and a friend of Benjamin Franklin's, built the church in 1784, by order of the King of Sweden, Jess said.

A Swedish colony had traveled up Raccoon Creek from Wilmington, Jess said, and staked a claim in what is now Swedesboro in 1638. Originally, the settlers traveled back to Wilmington or to nearby Philadelphia for weekend religious services. But that became too much of a hardship, and so a Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church was built in 1703. That church was burned down by British forces in the Revolutionary War and was replaced by the current Trinity Episcopal Church.

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