Thursday, November 3, 2011

Those Places Thursday: On the Steeples of Louisville

Bud Melvin - St. Peter's steeple
It wasn't all that easy to identify this church. All I knew was that it was a photo of Charles Walter "Uncle Bud" Melvin up there, working on the side of the steeple. (Click photo to enlarge.) I thought the church was most likely in Louisville, Kentucky since that is where Bud lived but it could just as well have been in southern Indiana or Ohio. No one in the family could remember.

I dragged the photo file to Google Images in order to let Google find it for me but I had no luck with that so I continued doing my own searches there. I made search after search on three consecutive days and on the third day I was finally successful in finding a drawing that matched the photo and the church web site that went with it. Sure enough, it was in Louisville on Jefferson street; St. Peter's United Church of Christ. (Click here to compare the drawing of St. Peter's United Church of Christ done by Mr. Forrest Steinlage, member of St. Peter's). Nowhere did I find another actual photo of the outside of that church, even after I had the name to search with.

I don't know the exact date of the photo. The square photo with the scalloped edges (cropped from my photo here because of damage) would lead me to believe it was taken in the late 1940s or early 1950s. By 1930, and likely much earlier, Bud had become a Tuckpointer, or a Stone Mason who specialized in tuck pointing. I am not certain when he decided to specialize in steeple work as a Steeplejack as well.   

Bud Melvin - Churchill Downs
An undated newspaper clipping tells how Bud and his crew re-installed one of the twin spires of Churchill Downs that had been damaged by lightening. From this clipping, which is probably from the same time period as the photo above, I would suppose that Bud, who was born in 1896, was doing this type of work for his entire working career, certainly through middle age.

First Unitarian Church
In another clipping, dated November 1, 1947, Bud and W. T. Shackelford are shown doing repairs to the steeple of the First Unitarian Church on S. Fourth street in Louisville.

Finally, I have a photo of Bud and his sister Myrtle, dated 1957. As you can see from the advertisement on the side of his car, Bud, age 61, is still in business. I would assume by that time his crew was doing the high steeple work. However, Bud's grand nephew, my husband Mike, is still climbing scaffolding and high ladders at the age of 64, much to my dismay. I think it's time to let his crew do that.
C. W. "Bud" Melvin and his sister Myrtle 1957



  1. Fascinating. No steeple climbers in our family history, this is very interesting stuff to an outsider. Is Mike going to stop at 65?? That would be concerning to me. My hubs, Man, is NOT allowed to do that kind of thing these days, that last running trip off the steep garage roof, almost off the edge, running full steam, could barely stop, was the last one! Next, I might take his chain saw away, he scared the beejeebees outta me earlier this summer.

  2. I'm hoping to talk him into retiring Carol, but: 1) retirement is slim, 2) he is fit for his age, and 3) he's afraid if he *just runs the crew* he will get fat like some of the builders he knows. The guy has only gained ONE belt size in 35 years, I don't think he needs to worry about his weight! LOL! Seriously, I'm hoping he will at least decide to bid the jobs, purchase the materials and equipment needed, manage the crew, hob nob with the builders and the home owners, and quit that climbing stuff! Enough!