Catawba County News
Making Models of Landmarks
Published: April 25, 2019
She’s created scale models of Old St. Paul’s Church, the Bunker Hill Covered Bridge, the Catawba Toll Bridge, and the Matthias Barringer home (former site of the Catawba County Library). Now, she’s added Grace Union Church to her collection of handmade architectural replicas.
Roberta Handlin, library services specialist with the Rhodes Room (the library’s genealogy department), has been constructing miniature versions of some of Catawba County’s landmark structures for several years now. Given that some of the original buildings exist only in photographs, these models provide an intriguing glimpse into the past.
Grace Union Church in Newton, NC – sometimes called the brick ‘Union’ church – was built in 1857 in Greek Revival style. Its notable architectural features include a pedimented gable, stuccoed pilasters on the corners, and a double entrance staircase. Handlin recreated these features with modeling clay and a wooden framework (her first ‘brick’ model), setting the entire structure onto a landscape that mimics the terrain around the church, complete with its pair of Southern magnolia trees.
She also replicated the interior of the church, with its exposed ceiling trusses, pews, and pulpit, populated by a miniature pastor and parishioners. Overhead lighting fixtures even illuminate with the flip of a switch. Outside, a horse and buggy stand at the ready.
The sequence of models came about because Handlin had been interested in decorating the Rhodes Room one Christmas. Thanks to a long fascination with the Bunker Hill Bridge, she decided to see if she could reproduce it as sort of Christmas village. When it turned out beautifully, other local historians asked her in turn to build the other models. The impulse for Grace Union Church happened because a patron shared that her father had made a version of the church’s interior, and Handlin decided that she’d like to tackle the entire structure. When asked why she commits to the months-long effort for each model, Handlin shares, “For the fun of it. For a challenge. Because I work in the history room. And it’s fun to see how detailed I can make everything!”
The models now make up a small compound of county landmarks that enjoy pride of place on a bank of filing cabinets in the Rhodes Room. And while that real estate is quickly being filled, Handlin isn’t done yet, even if she’s not entirely certain of her next project.
Plus, as Alex Floyd, associate librarian of the Rhodes Room (and the historian who made the request for the Catawba Toll Bridge model) states quickly, “As long as she keeps making them, I’ll find a place to display them!”
To catch a glimpse of Handlin’s models (each one featuring her signature deer), drop by the Rhodes Room, downstairs in the Main Library in Newton (115 West C Street) between 9am and 6pm, Tuesday through Saturday.