Athens is one of the oldest cities in Alabama and was incorporated a year before Alabama officially became a state. If you want to learn a little more about the town’s history, all you have to do is look at the post antebellum homes that line the downtown streets. This part of town is known as the Historic Preservation District. Deep in the heart of this district, you will find Athens First United Methodist Church (FUMC). The church was built in 1925 and designed by Birmingham, AL native architect Bem Price. Price also designed the Limestone County Courthouse, which is located one block from Athens FUMC. Both buildings have a neoclassical design. Because of their proximity, it was important for the two domes to compliment each other. For the next century, these two domes aged in parallel and developed the beautiful green patina that makes copper notorious.
Over the years, the dome at Athens FUMC began leaking. This is not uncommon as frequent hailstorms and other natural disasters are found in this part of the country. Several repairs had been completed over the years. Unfortunately, they were performed by unqualified roofing companies unfamiliar with the material that caused more harm than good. With proper installation, copper should last for over 150 years.
With over 45 years of experience and known as experts in their field, CopperWork Corp along with its sister company, Ornametals Manufacturing, LLC. received the contract to replace the entire copper dome and cupola for Athens First United Methodist Church. The church holds quite a historical significance within the community, and it was essential to its members that the new dome looked as close to the original as possible. But, with a few upgrades.
The new copper dome, including cupola and cross, stands approximately 22.5 feet tall and has a diameter of five feet. The crown itself features a base with 64 individual standing seams and 288 custom three-dimensional interlocking tiles that float into another row of standing seams at the top. The upper floor of the dome is encompassed by 8 snail ornaments.
The cupola, which also serves as a time capsule, features a half-sphere spun from 48-ounce copper and has a diameter of 30-inches. It is held up by eight (57-inch tall) copper pillars that have been lacquered in white for historical accuracy. Guenther Huber-Delle, CopperWorks Corp and Ornametals President, says, “I usually don’t like to modify the natural beauty of the copper, but sometimes even I have to bend my own rules for the sake of historical accuracy.” The original was fabricated in an octagonal shape with wooden pillars. The center of the new cupola is encompassed by eight snail ornaments imprinted with a decorative flower.
And atop of it all sits a three-foot copper cross that can be seen throughout the town. The original cross had a three-dimension design but was reimagined at the suggestion of CopperWorks Corp VP and Lead Installer Daniel Delle. He thought that the original plan was too busy and that a simplicity would be a better choice. The church agreed.
Twenty-ounce copper from the metal manufacturer Aurubis was used for the dome restoration, and the cupola has an aluminum under-construction that also serves as a lightning rod. Similar rods can be found in prominent structures such as the Empire State Building. Construction on the new dome began in November 2020 and was completed on May 26, 2021. The church crowning event was even covered by the local nightly news.