JACKSONVILLE — Boarded-up stained-glass windows on the historic First Presbyterian Church at 405 E. California St. don't signal any changes in the building's use. The coverings are a precaution to prevent damage while the roof and 80-foot-tall steeple get new shakes.

JACKSONVILLE — Boarded-up stained-glass windows on the historic First Presbyterian Church at 405 E. California St. don't signal any changes in the building's use. The coverings are a precaution to prevent damage while the roof and 80-foot-tall steeple get new shakes.

The congregation, which moved to a new building on Middle Street two years ago, will retain the old church, said Larry Jung, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Jacksonville.

"The church is still using it very much and we still need it despite the new facility," said Jung. "If we put it on the market who knows who might buy it."

Two youth groups, a recovery group and a senior group use the old church for meetings. When roof work is completed, the church will lease the sanctuary for Sunday services by Christ Church of Medford, which now meets at Griffin Creek Grange.

"We respect its legacy and its history," said Jung. "A lot of people besides us gave a considerable amount of time and energy to build it and preserve it."

Work on the original church started in 1879. It was dedicated in 1881 after the hand-painted Italian glass windows were installed following a sea voyage around Cape Horn. An addition was put on the back of the building in the 1940s. The church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The steeple shakes being replaced were put on about 25 years ago by Hoag Roofing of Medford.

"Since it's something that nobody does all the time, it's like a new frontier," said Ed Scott, estimator for Hoag, which will perform the work again. "It's a pretty steep steeple."

But Hoag workers are used to doing big, steep and difficult jobs, Scott said. The firm is currently replacing shakes on the Annie Creek Lodge in Crater Lake National Park.

A "manlift" with a large basket on the end of telescoping booms will allow two men to work on the steeple at once. The men will wear harnesses tied to the inside of the basket, which they never leave.

In the old days, "one guy probably had to crawl up with a rope and tied a ladder off the top and worked off the ladder," said Scott.

"There's a bunch of bird holes in it so I'm sure it will need to be re-plywooded," Scott explained. "The steeple will take about a week. We have to get up there and start putting it on just to see how long it will take us."

Composite plastic shakes that look like wood will be used on both the steeple and roof. They should last twice as long as wood shakes, Scott estimated.

Work on the roof began Saturday. Steeple work will probably commence a week or two later.

According to church lore, parishioners searched in the early 1960s for a steeplejack to perform repairs, said Jung, who has been pastor for 24 years. The only steeplejack they could find was a man lodged in the Jackson County jail. Parishioners recalled that a deputy brought the steeplejack out each day and stood guard to make sure he didn't escape.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboom8929@charter.net.