As a photographer, I find beauty in decay. Rust, chipping paint, falling apart buildings have fascinating colors, textures and shapes. I often wonder what they used to be and what they’ve been through. And then I go to Marc from the Historical Society and he always has the answer. Such is the case with Bethlehem Presbyterian Church. Enjoy the story, written by Marc.
Eleven years ago last month, a vandal threw a torch into the historic limestone Bethlehem Presbyterian Church structure, located between Washington and Union, rendering all that was not stone a pile of ash. The four stone walls, at this writing, still stand. Many folks not knowing the history of the building have speculated, “What was that place?”
The Bethlehem congregation organized in 1845 and shortly thereafter erected a log church which stood very near the location of the stone church ruins. In 1866 construction of the stone building began. A manse was also built on the property though it was razed many decades ago. The Hollmann family donated land for the church and cemetery and included a stipulation that should the church cease to function; the land would revert to the Hollmann descendants. That is precisely what happened around 1920. Three unmarried Hollmann sisters fell heir to the property and maintained the church as best they could. A tornado in the late 1950s ripped off the steeple which was not rebuilt. For another forty years, the vacant building helped create a pastoral setting and was the subject of many an artist’s brush.
Following the fire, the property was purchased by three investors intending to create a subdivision. Their intention was to rebuild the church as a community center and they even dug into their pockets to make some repairs to the semi-neglected cemetery. However, this did not materialize and since then the property was again sold. A large modern home has been discretely built on a partially hidden portion of the property.
A kerosene chandelier and a portion of the pump organ used in the church are displayed at the Washington Historical Society Museum.
Story: Marc Housman, Washington Historical Society
Photos: Slava Bowman Photography