But city officials have yet to open the small copper container uncovered Friday when construction crews moved the landmark Sherman Avenue building from its foundation.
"This is exciting," said Councilwoman Jeanne MacLeamy, who watched as the capsule was removed from the church's cornerstone. "We're going to hire a specialist to come up with the best way to open it."
Officials had expected it would take hours to move the former church - which became Novato's City Hall after the Presbyterian congregation moved to 710 Wilson Ave.
Yet crews finished the work in under 45 minutes - leaving archaeologists from William Self Associates of Orinda plenty of time to search for the hidden time capsule.
Parishioner Dick Crocker learned of the capsule while researching the history of the church for its 100th anniversary in 1996.
"I had given up hope of ever seeing it, until my wife found out three or four months ago that they would be moving the building," said Crocker, who served as chairman of the church's centennial committee. "It was supposed to exist, and now they found it."
According to the March 26, 1896, issue of the Marin Journal, the box contains "the records of the first Presbyterian Church of Novato, with a list of its members, copy of the Holy Bible, together with copies of the Marin Journal and Sausalito News."
"How all that stuff is going to have fit in that box - it's hard to believe," Crocker said.
The site at the corner of De Long and Sherman avenues was originally chosen for the construction of a Methodist Episcopal Church, but was abandoned for unknown reasons, according to historian May Rodgers Ungemach's book, "Novato Township."
The area proved acceptable, however, to the Presbyterian Church, North Marin's first Protestant congregation, which had previously met in A.D. Scott's general store at the corner of Grant and Scott avenues. According to the church's history, the original building was painted white and valued at $1,500.
Based on the church's account of its history, archaeologists Friday began looking for the time capsule at the building's southwest corner. After several excavations proved fruitless, however, workers shifted their search to the southeast, finally locating the church's cornerstone at around 1 p.m. and revealing the copper box beneath the concrete.
Archaeologists Eric Strother and Jennifer Lippel used a toothbrush and whisk broom to excavate the dirt and wood fragments around the box. While the capsule - about the size of a cigar box, and colored green from oxidation - appeared little the worse for wear for its time underground, city officials decided they were taking no chances.
"It needs to be opened in a protected way, in a controlled environment," said Assistant City Manager Mary Neilan, who took custody of the box after archaeologists enclosed it in double bubble wrap and placed it in a plastic container. The city would seek a consultant's help in preserving its contents, she said.
The renovation project is expected to be finished in time for the city's 50th anniversary in January 2010.
Read more Novato stories at the IJ's Novato section.
Contact Rob Rogers via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org