Nearly 165 years ago the bricks were laid to build Wesley United Methodist Church and last week, for the first time in 20 years, a major repair to those bricks was completed.

Nearly 165 years ago the bricks were laid to build Wesley United Methodist Church and last week, for the first time in 20 years, a major repair to those bricks was completed.

Several weeks ago scaffolding and netting scaled the façade of the historic church so that workers from Paul’s Pointing Inc., out of Kennet Square, Pa., could repoint the bricks. Repointing is a process by which the mortar between the bricks, or at least a portion of it, is replaced. Over the years sections of the church’s façade had been repointed, but this most recent renovation ensures that all of the work, from steeple to sidewalk, is consistent, said Jim Thistlewood, a member of Wesley’s board of trustees.

When some of the bricks were repointed in the past, a more modern mortar was used, said Dawn Melson-Williams, principal planner for the city of Dover.

“For the last project they changed the characteristics of how wide the mortar joint was and used a more modern mortar than what would have been originally used,” Melson-Williams said. “This most recent time they went back with a mortar that was more characteristic of the original color.”

Last fall, the board of trustees and Wesley agreed that the church’s façade needed work. The bricks at the front of the church were spalling, meaning that the front face of the bricks had begun popping off, and the mortar joints weren’t holding up. However, the project couldn’t start until spring brought better weather. Work began in March and took about four weeks, Thistlewood said.

Workers also replaced crumbling bricks with more sound brick from the same period. Keeping the building historically correct was important, Thistlewood said.

“Well it was important for two reasons,” he said. “One is that it’s a requirement as it is a historical building. Two, the building is something that could never be replaced and it’s important to maintain it to the highest quality to respect the people who put it here.”

The church is both a part of the city of Dover’s historic district and a site listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The church was listed on the register in 1979, according Melson-Williams

The origins of the congregation can be traced back to 1778. In 1784 a smaller church called Wesley Chapel was constructed on North Street, but the congregation eventually outgrew its space and in 1850 the building that Wesley now calls home was built. The church was originally called Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church, according to the church’s website. Now, over 150 years later, Wesley UMC has a congregation of roughly 1,000 people and still calls its original building home, though the church has been expanded or renovated roughly six times since its original construction. At one time the congregation began to contemplate moving out of the city of Dover, according to Thistlewood.

“Ten years ago the church had to make a decision whether we wanted to go out of town with a new building or if we wanted to continue to be in downtown,” he said. “We made the decision to be part of downtown Dover and we welcomed everybody to the church. We felt as though it was our calling and that there were people downtown not being reached.”
Thistlewood said the board and congregation are happy to have a fresh, historically accurate face.

“We’re tickled with it,” he said. “We got some good compliments on it and we’re pleased with the outcome.”