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October 12, 2013

Local carpenters lead restoration of Boston's Old South Meeting House

Local carpenters lead restoration of Boston's historic Old South Meeting House

BOSTON — Two local craftsmen are spending the fall with history at their fingertips.

To carpenter Graham Lawson of Byfield and preservation carpenter David Mason of Newburyport, it doesn’t get any better than that.

Hand-picked to lead the restoration of one of Boston’s most iconic buildings, the Old South Meeting House, they revel in the meticulous work that currently keeps them at a stomach-churning distance from the ground.

“You just have to focus on what you’re doing and ignore where you are,” Lawson said of climbing 180 feet of stairs to the staging area around the steeple.

Lawson was approached by Cornerstone Construction, a Reading-based contractor in charge of the $800,000 project to restore the famed structure’s steeple, windows and exterior woodwork.

He, in turn, reached out to Mason, who has applied his expertise in preservation to a number of high-profile jobs in Newburyport, Marblehead and beyond. Mason has also been part of two projects at the meeting house in the past.

But they both said this is a job like no other.

The historic landmark in the Downtown Crossing neighborhood, where the colonists gathered in 1773 to launch the Boston Tea Party, was in dire need of a facelift before winter, said Emily Curran, the executive director of the Old South Meeting House, a private nonprofit museum. Considered a high-priority asset, the project is financed by the National Park Service.

“Preserving this building is just critical,” Curran said. “They’ve done a fantastic job.”

When Lawson and Mason began four weeks ago, they faced an enormous task. Close to 50 windows, most 7 to 8 feet tall, needed sash repairs. Nearly all of the 96 balusters demanded attention. Four urn finials, one on each corner of the balcony, had to be taken down in nine pieces to be restored and reassembled. And one of the eight 16-foot columns that stretch from the floor of the balcony to the roof required replacement.

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