In 1996, the University purchased the former St. Thomas Episcopal Church, along with two adjacent houses, for around $400,000.

The two derelict and ill-positioned houses on the property were razed, but the decision was made to restore the church.

“The University has restored a number of historic buildings, such as Elliott Hall, Evans House and Daugherty Hall, and we wanted to continue that tradition,” David Hollowell, UD’s executive vice president, says.

The restoration project was ambitious, considering the building’s condition.

“In 1996, the church was within a couple of years of falling down,” Hollowell says. “The roof had been leaking and water had seeped down inside the walls, causing extensive structural damage. The 12-inch-thick brick walls had absorbed water and were starting to dissolve. When repair work began, the plaster fell off because all the nails inside the walls had rusted through. There was nothing left to hold it up.”

To remedy the problem, says Hollowell, structural support was needed. Heavy bolts and new mortar were added. Epoxy was injected into the walls to harden them and keep them from further disintegrating.

Wherever possible, the restoration team tried to encapsulate the building’s history rather than re-build. Myriad layers of paint, wallpaper, plaster and brick remain hidden beneath what shows today. The restoration was ideal for student research in various fields.

“This project was a cooperative effort involving a number of disciplines: art conservation, art history, design, history of religion and architecture,” Herman says. “Student researchers uncovered and helped replicate original stencil work, colors and plaster elements.”

To learn more about UD's preservation of historic buildings, see the April 6, 2000, issue of UpDate.