Chillicothe uproots historic church

After sitting on Henry Street for over 150 years, the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church will have a new home.

Posted: Sep 19, 2018 9:11 AM
Updated: Sep 19, 2018 12:26 PM

(Chillicothe, MO) Tuesday morning the Chillicothe Grand River Historic Society coordinated with work crews and local law enforcement to move a 150 year old church.

The Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church is one of the oldest buildings in Chillicothe and after sitting vacant for nearly a decade, the historic society stepped up to preserve the building.

Marvin Holcer, President of the Grand River Historic Society Board of Directors, said the building was one of the most historically significant churches in northwest Missouri.

"It was built in 1868. It was the first black church built north of the Missouri River and west of the Mississippi after the civil war," Holcer said.

According to the historical society, prior to the American Civil War AME churches were limited to free states and almost exclusively established in larger cities.

Bethel has been vacant since 2010 and the property was purchased by Brent Kline to be redeveloped as a parking lot for a car dealership. Kline donated the building to be moved from 202 Henry Street to a new property near the existing museum on McNally Street.

"We are saving it to take to the museum, which is about two miles from here, and we're going to make the building part of the museum,"Grand River Historic Society Museum Curator Pamela Clingerman said.

The original building will be preserved as a church, but be used for a different purpose.

"The church itself will be a historic site and it will have exhibits on black history. The new basement that we put in for it will serve as classroom and exhibit space for the museum," Clingerman said.

The project has cost approximately $127,000 so far. The restoration project has received grants from the Livingston County Community Fund, The Lambert Fund as well as donations from the Ronald Wilder family and multiple donations from the community.

The church will be restored with all of its original elements except for the trusses.

"The trusses were settling down, pushing the walls of the church out, so after we got those out we were able to pull the walls back in to where they should be,"Holcer said.

The buildings roof will need to be rebuilt with the new trusses, but major facets of the building including the church steeple will be restored at the new location.

"There is a mural of Jesus on the back wall and we hope we've got enough stuff over it to keep from cracking or dropping off. I can't help but think that Jesus will take care of Jesus,"Holcer said.

Moving the church from its original location took approximately two and a half hours, but before the church could be placed at the new location. Crews expect to have the church completely secured on the new foundation by Friday, September 21, after the structure is placed on the new foundation, crews can begin work on the church roof.

The historical society still needs approximately $55,000 to complete the project. If you would like to make a contribution to the rehabilitation of the church, contact Pamela Clingman at the Grand River Historic Society Museum. 

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