- Associated Press - Sunday, December 4, 2016

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) - An unwelcome surprise was in store for Paul Meissner and his crew as they worked on an old chapel at E.B. Lyons nature preserve.

Though it has been decades since the 150-plus-year-old structure has been used for worship, it was far from uninhabited.

“I think every bat in the Mines of Spain was living in that roof there,” Meissner said.

The Telegraph Herald (https://bit.ly/2fSu6Vz ) reports that work recently wrapped up on the restoration of the chapel, which was built by Otto Junkermann in the 1860s. The building is one of the last remnants of an old farmstead that now is home to E.B. Lyons preserve in Mines of Spain State Recreation Area in Dubuque.

The project was supported by a $17,000 fundraising effort by Friends of the Mines of Spain. The effort was led by Gerda Preston Hartman, who said she views the chapel as a “spiritual place.”

Hartman said the chapel’s roof had started to deteriorate and the steeple was marred by a “gaping hole.”

Meissner began work on the new cedar roof in late September. Work took about one month, he said.

Bats were far from the only obstacle Meissner faced.

“I think the biggest challenge with that was that it was down in the middle of the woods sitting on top of a little hill,” he said.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources officials crafted a makeshift road to allow Meissner’s vehicles to access the site, located along the Pine Chapel Trail. But he still had to contend with an unusual dearth of resources.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” Meissner said. “That was the first time I had to work on something that didn’t have any electricity and no running water and the bumpiest road you can imagine to get to it.”

The old cedar roof was removed and replaced with treated cedar shingles. A sheet of plywood and other measures were installed to ensure the roof stands up to the elements while still allowing it to “breathe.”

Doug Olk, president of Friends of the Mines of Spain, credited Hartman for shouldering the project. No state funds were available, and attempts to secure grants for the project were unsuccessful.

“(Hartman) had a list of potential donors that she wrote personal letters to,” Olk said. “And within a couple of months, she had all the money raised.”

Had action not been taken, “the whole structure was at risk of being lost,” Olk said.

“It’s a landmark that I think most citizens of Dubuque know and have come to visit,” he said. “It has great historic value. It’s something that once you lose it, you can’t get it back.”

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Information from: Telegraph Herald, https://www.thonline.com

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