A sweet day for Church Sweet Home

Guess what today is.

Church Sweet Home turns 127 years old today.

Imagine life 127 years ago!

A Republican from Indiana was president of the United States (yes, that would be Benjamin Harrison, an attorney perhaps best known for the McKinley Tariff and the Sherman Antitrust Act).

Horsepower had real meaning then because horses were a common form of transportation for most people; some also had the privilege of traveling by rail.

News came by word of mouth, Western Union telegrams and newspapers. No radio. No TV. No internet.

Author Laura Ingalls Wilder was 24 and had been married to Almanzo Wilder for six years in 1891.

The Wrigley Company had been founded earlier in the year and was about to launch a new product: Chewing gum.

The U.S. flag had only 44 stars. Utah, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska and Hawaii were not yet states.

Functional airplanes hadn’t yet been invented, in-home refrigerators were decades away and American women did not yet have the right to vote.

That was the year our church, now residence, was built. After many years of meeting in people’s homes, the Methodists secured a piece of property in September 1891. Here’s what happened next, according to one newspaper account:

On Nov. 29, 1891, the first church was dedicated by Rev. Smith, who planned the building and worked with his son for nine weeks to complete it. On the day of dedications, the following was received: cash $39; two stoves; one pulpit; two chairs and some lamps donated by the J.M. Carey family.

Library 1
This image of the church, taken I’m guessing between 1894 and 1920 (I can’t figure out that number: 19917), hangs in the local library.

For more than a dozen decades, parishioners celebrated Christmas and Easter, baptized babies, married couples, buried the dead, sang, learned, prayed, cried and dined in this little church.

As a reader of this blog, you know the status of this building today: It’s our home, born of the structure left by the Methodist congregation when they vacated in 2016.

Happy birthday, Church Sweet Home. May you still be standing in 127 years.

sepia tone
2018
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Here’s to catching happiness this Fourth of July

We interrupt our storytelling to bring you this holiday message.

A version of this quote is attributed to founding father Benjamin Franklin, who said, “The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.”

If we’re splitting hairs, the U.S. Constitution does not explicitly call out citizens’ right to pursue happiness, but the Declaration of Independence that we celebrate today and which was signed by Mr. Franklin as a representative of Pennsylvania, did describe life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as unalienable rights.

I changed “you” to “we” in Franklin’s last line because I think catching happiness is better achieved in community rather than by oneself.

May you find yourself among other happy revelers today. Happy Independence Day!

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Tomorrow: If you think choosing paint was a trick, try trim. Read about it here.

Tale of two buildings

Our story so far: Over the course of six months, we’d made good progress first demolishing then building inside the 126-year-old Methodist church we were intent on turning into our home. When spring arrived, we began work on the garage and yard.

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Chapter 25

When we closed on the church in November, we were consumed with our own little construction project, blithely unaware of one occurring right across the street.

Sure, we could see something was going on over there in the elementary school, but to our uninitiated and self-centered eyes, it was just another remodel or addition or whatever it was, just steer clear of our construction vehicles, we’re doing important work over here.

Of course, school construction projects are enormous community affairs given they are publicly financed and ultimately house a precious commodity: Children. Whatever was going on over there was a big deal to everyone but us.

I learned later from local folks who took an interest in our project and toured the church that the only original part of the school that was left—built in 1908—was razed just a few months before we moved to town (imagine the circus surrounding that! We filled two dumpsters; the school probably filled fifty!). The construction workers we saw coming and going were working on a building to replace the decrepit structure. The people who mentioned it to us were a little bit nostalgic about the demolished building. First the school got torn down, then somebody purchased the old church with plans to do who knows what to it. The wistful ones were kind to us, but a little sad.

school
The lawn in front of the new school building looked ready to be seeded or sodded.

Just as we chipped away, little by little, on our renovation, the school district made steady progress on theirs. By springtime, we could see workers paving a parking lot, surely a sign they were nearly done. A monument of sorts containing what looked like the old school bell was erected. Ah, another historic bell. This one had probably been used to begin many school days long ago. So the district was paying tribute to what had gone before, just as we were.

school bell
Ring my bell. No ladder required.

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Tomorrow: Tyler makes a score. Of something. Read about it here.

All power corrupts, but we need the electricity

Our story so far: My husband Tyler and I purchased a 126-year-old Methodist church to turn into our home, we demolished the interior over the course of two months, and now we were in the midst of the mechanicals phase of reconstruction.

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Chapter 22

Benjamin Franklin may have proved lightning was electrical by flying a kite in a thunderstorm in 1752, but it wasn’t until 1879 that Thomas Edison invented the electric light bulb.

Twelve years later, our Methodist church was built. It surely was not lit with electricity until at least the 1930s when President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the national electrical grid to bring electricity to rural areas.

Perhaps the church was lighted with gas at some point, we couldn’t tell. We found evidence of early 20th century knob-and-tube wiring and cloth-covered wiring behind some of the walls in the church, but none of it was operational, and the remaining wiring was a mix of flexible armored tube copper wire, Romex and a little conduit.

What wiring was operational was flaky. Tyler learned this when he connected uncounted power tools to various outlets. The dependable outlets soon were favored and extension cords employed when electricity was needed in far-flung church locales.

To be safe, Tyler decided to rewire 100 percent of the church, no matter how old or new(ish) were the wires. Our electrician was the first contractor we chose; he’d worked on the church in the past so he already knew what was wrong in a contemporary way and what was antique in a knob-and-tube way. By the time the HVAC guys finally finished and Glimfeather the plumber was nearly done, our walls were framed. So our electrician could go to work.

Of course, in order to get to work, the electrician needed direction. Where to put outlets? Where to switch the lights? What kind of lights? How many?

Welcome to a world of arcane terminology like amps and volts, poles and pucks, cables and circuits, cans and dimmers, GFI and GFCI.

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Tomorrow: Our first real fight about the church. Read about it here.

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars

Our story so far: Deliveries of nails and lumber were evidence that we were now building things inside the old Methodist church we were turning into a home instead of tearing things down. 

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Right around that time, the gutter guys showed up to upgrade the rain gutters on the front of the church. Thanks to a few warm days in January, Tyler determined the occasional water in the basement was seeping through a seam on the front wall of the basement. The way the old gutters were arranged allowed a significant portion of roof run-off to drop into one area in front of the church. Tyler suspected he would also have to do some excavation in front of the church at some point to improve underground drainage there, but that project could wait until spring.

In a few hours, we had new gutters. OK, we had to write a check for it, but it was immensely satisfying when someone else did the work, especially when it was twenty feet off the ground.

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Today’s headline is a quote from Oscar Wilde, one of London’s most popular playwrights in the the 1890s, the decade our church was constructed.

Tomorrow: A delivery like Jimmy John’s: Freaky fast. Read about it here.

Throughout history, small churches do their part

Our story so far: Interacting with folks interested in our church conversion brought us historical information, intel on local contractors and community activities.

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One day just as Tyler finished showing yet another contractor around the church in order to coax a bid out of him, a friendly young woman stopped by and introduced herself as the pastor of the nearby Congregational church. She welcomed him to the village, and invited him to have a look at some of her church’s historical record.

This piqued our curiosity because our Methodist congregation and the Congregational church had been yoked from 1974 to 1985, so we thought the Congregationalists might have some history of our church we hadn’t yet heard.

A few days later, I had the pleasure of enjoying coffee with Pastor Jennie and a couple of friendly parishioners of the Congregational church. They showed me around, and we paid special attention to the historical details of the church (it had been built twenty-six years before ours) and a twenty-foot-long bulletin board detailing the congregation’s history. We also looked into the written record, which provided a few examples of the little churches in our community having to weigh in on far bigger societal and political issues through the course of history.

In one example, the local Congregational congregation (say that three times fast) had been meeting in our village before they built their church and before the Civil War, which stirred up a bit controversy. A newspaper story noted: “In 1857, the American Home Missionary Society decided to withdraw aid to churches whose members were slaveholders. The society paid part of the Congregational church pastor’s salary which prompted the church to go on record against the “sin of American slavery.”

Later, as it turns out, members of the church we were now converting into a home and the Congregational church had started a chapter of the Red Cross in our little village during World War I. Here is the story, as told in the careful handwriting of the Congregational church record:

Year of 1918

With the passing of the year 1918 our church like many others has passed through one of the greatest trials it perhaps has ever had to go through. We can proudly say we have stood the test and are now in as encouraging a position as we have been for some years.

Our pastor with the Methodist minister and a few others were instrumental in getting the Red Cross started here. As the War continued and conditions became more serious more and more people became interested in the great movement until now the village has a fine large auxiliary. In the Red Cross world our church has not failed to do its duty in giving both of time and money. …

We are all very glad we could do as much as we did in a time of great need. We have all learned the lesson of cheerful giving so in the coming year let us do our part.

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Tomorrow: It wasn’t only issues of history our Methodist church had in common with the Congregational Church. They were interested in food, too. Read about it here.

Photos offer insight into the history, soul of the place

Our story so far: A church historian helps us research the history of the 126-year-old Methodist church we purchased to convert into our home.

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basement cross section
The basement walls were sixteen inches thick.

The blueprints shared with me by the church historical society described the furnace room in the basement (the church was heated with coal, which had been converted to gas forced air at some point). They also included a drawing of the cross-section of the sixteen-inch basement walls, which we’d already figured out were quite substantial.

In the early ’40s, according to the newspaper, the church was remodeled to change the seating from east-facing to north-facing, and the new entrance—the one where we now planned to install castle doors—was added.

The archive included a copy of the photo Tyler and I saw hanging in the entryway of the church where the congregation had merged and a grainy picture of the church in 1959. But we were hungry for more.

A few days later, we stopped by the local public library. There we found two more photographs of our church.

Library 1
Did the caption number “19917” indicate a date or something else? Check out that elaborate spire on tip-top the belfry.

The first might have been taken when World War I began. It was labeled “M.E. Church, 19917.” The Methodist Episcopal Church [emphasis added] was founded in 1784; in 1939 it reunited with two breakaway Methodist denominations to form the Methodist Church, so the photo was taken before 1939 in any case. In it, a grand stairway leads to the front doors beneath the belfry; both the stairs and the doorway are gone now. The siding flanking the window in the belfry is hung in a chevron pattern; fancy painted shingles decorate the peaks. In Phase Six or so of renovation, we hoped to return that window to the belfry and return some of that interesting siding to the exterior.

Library 2
Another, newer image of the church hanging at the library.

The second photo hanging in the library was taken sometime after the early 1940s. In it, one can see the former entrance under the belfry and the new entrances to the basement and to the sanctuary. The new sanctuary entrance had French doors (they were replaced at some point with the current red exterior doors); we hoped to install similar French doors inside as an entry to our master bedroom.

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Tomorrow: A conversation at the local watering hole. Read about it here.