Before there was a copper dome, there was Athens. Athens is one of the oldest cities in Alabama and was incorporated a year before Alabama officially became a state. To learn a little more about the town’s history, you must look at the post-antebellum homes that line the downtown streets. This part of town is known as the Historic Preservation District. You will find Athens First United Methodist Church (FUMC) in the heart of this district. The church was built in 1925 and designed by Birmingham, AL, native architect Bem Price. Price also designed the Limestone County Courthouse, located one block from Athens FUMC. Both buildings have a neoclassical design. Because of their proximity, it was important for the two domes to complement each other. These two domes aged parallel for the next century 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. This caused more harm than good. With proper installation, this copper dome should last for over 150 years.
With over 45 years of experience and known as experts in their field, CopperWork Corp was contracted for the job. Ornametals Manufacturing, LLC., was hired to replace the cupola. The church holds quite a historical significance within the community. The new dome needed to look as close to the original as possible. But, with a few upgrades.
The new copper dome, including the cupola and cross, stands approximately 22.5 feet tall and has a diameter of five feet. The crown 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. Eight snail ornaments encompass the upper floor of the dome.
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 said, “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 it 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 simplicity would be a better choice. The church agreed.
Twenty-ounce copper from the metal manufacturer Aurubis was used for the copper dome restoration. The cupola has an aluminum under construction that doubles as a lightning rod. Similar rods can be found in prominent structures like the Empire State Building. Construction on the new dome began in November 2020 and was completed on May 26, 2021. The local nightly news even covered the church crowning event.