MECHANICSBURG – For the past 14 years, the Champaign County Preservation Alliance (CCPA) has dedicated the majority of its resources toward preserving the oldest church building in Mechanicsburg – the Second Baptist Church at 43 E. Sandusky St. While renovations near completion on a structure constructed in 1858 as the Mechanicsburg First Methodist Church before being sold to the Second Baptist congregation in 1894, the CCPA is working with a local group interested in using the historic building as a community venue.
“When the CCPA agreed to take the church over from the remaining Second Baptist Church members in 2002, the building wasn’t being regularly used,” CCPA President Dusty Hurst said. “With so very few church members left at that time, their fear was the building would have to be sold, demolished or would sit unused, so they asked the preservation board to take it over.”
Since taking ownership of the building, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985 and issued an Ohio Historical Marker in 2005 by the Ohio History Connection, the CCPA’s focus has been on getting the church to the point where it can serve as a usable space for the community.
“Our goal as a preservation board is to preserve and protect the historical parts of the county and make the necessary updates so they can be utilized,” Hurst said. “We are currently working on finalizing a deal with a group here in the village that would essentially take over scheduling events and holding fundraisers to help pay for the maintenance of the building, while the CCPA would continue to own the building and oversee major decisions.”
While renovations have been ongoing for the past decade, it hasn’t prevented the church from being used by the community. Not only has the CCPA and village hosted events here over the years, but the church has also hosted receptions, funerals for former Second Baptist Church members, and even a wedding.
“We’ve also had a few bands and musical groups perform in here, and the acoustics in this building are absolutely phenomenal,” Hurst said. “We are open to hosting any events one might want to have here as long as it doesn’t destroy what we’ve done.”
Keeping history alive
Preserving a 158-year-old church has not been cheap for the CCPA.
“We are well in over $100,000,” Hurst said. “We did receive a HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) Special Project grant in the beginning stages, and in 2005 or so we had an insurance claim that fixed the ceiling in the sanctuary, but everything else we have put into repairs and renovation work has come from the CCPA Home and Garden Tour, the train trip we used to have, and other small various fundraisers.”
The list of repairs and improvements made to the church since 2002 is long and began with securing the building and installing a new roof and gutters.
As for the first floor of the two-story church, renovations are wrapping up on a space that contains two bathrooms, a kitchen, office and storage space, and a larger room that will serve as a social hall.
“We’ve tried to keep everything as original as possible,” Hurst said. “All the electrical throughout has been redone, and we are in the process of updating the kitchen.
“Both bathrooms have been done since we acquired it, and we are updating them again,” he added.
As for the second floor, which consists of the sanctuary and a choir loft, most of the renovations have been made, and the focus has shifted to cosmetic issues.
Besides touch-up painting here and there, Hurst said, the plan is to paint the floor of the sanctuary and replace the carpet that runs down the center aisle to the stage area. The pews will be re-situated where needed.
The ceiling underwent a complete remodel over a decade ago after lightning caused a main support beam to split. Now the ceiling needs repair work to fix an area damaged by a leaky roof.
While the CCPA has set aside funds to finish renovating the kitchen and social hall, and for all the cosmetic issues that need squared away, the nonprofit organization didn’t anticipate the need to address the roof for a second time since taking ownership.
“We are going to have to do the roof again soon, along with the gutters, which will be a huge expense,” Hurst said. “We are going to have to try to find grants or donations to cover this work.”
Also on the horizon is CCPA’s desire to restore the church’s steeple to its original grandeur.
While funds are available to carry out this project, the CCPA awaits one item: a photograph showing what the original steeple looked like prior to a fire in 1936.
“We’ve tried to find pictures of the old steeple, but nothing exists,” Hurst said. “There was an artist rendering done of what they thought the steeple might have looked like originally, but we can’t find an actual photo. We’d love to find someone who has a photo of the steeple, even if it is far off in the distance, so we can see what it looked like and can restore it.”
Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-652-1331 (ext. 1774) or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.