By Jude Genereaux
It is fitting that “STAVKIRKE, The story of Washington Island’s Norwegian Replica”, comes to us from the pen of Dick Purinton, one of Washington Island’s finest writers and keeper of island history.
Purinton’s fresh-off-the-press collection takes us through the inspiration for and construction of the uniquely beautiful Stavkirke, translated “stave church” and located on Town Line Road on Washington Island, across from its big brother, Trinity Lutheran Church.
The inspiration for the creation of Stavkirke originated with the island’s Lutheran pastor, Rev James Reiff, who was Trinity pastor from 1978-1985. Feeling it would be a dramatic way to celebrate the island’s abundant Nordic heritage, Reiff convinced church members, and islanders in general, to support and build what has since become an asset to the entire community.
The book covers the great contribution islanders made to this difficult, improbable project, as citizens came forth with funds and sweat equity to create a stunning replica of a traditional Stavkirke. The total cost was about $76,000, including the value of contributed labor. Ultimately, the small community raised the money and also provided the required craftsmanship and timber.
“Stavkirke,” the book, documents the key individuals who accomplished the ambitious project. Purinton relates the initial efforts by Pat Mangan, a Sister Bay architect who had a love for Norwegian heritage buildings, and the island carpenters John Herschberger and Dale Bjarnarson. Great care was taken to not only design the building in accordance with tradition, but also to use the specific materials that make it an authentic rendering.
The land across from Trinity Church was selected and construction began in earnest in 1992. Purinton relates anecdotes of the process that identify key crew members the many islanders who helped by learning new and old techniques: dragonhead carver David Ranney, volunteer builders like Lars Goodlet and many others.
The book goes step-by-step from the inspiration for this beautiful recreation to the dedication of the finished Stavkirke on August 4, 1995, and features excellent photography of the project and the personalities involved as the stunning building took shape. Some of the church’s previous pastors have been included through their remembrances and comments. Overall, Purinton’s book reveals the learning curve needed to bring together a small community in accomplishing a unique dream.