NEW KNOXVILLE — People who attend the New Knoxville United Methodist Church have been celebrating their building all year long.
On May 21, they marked the 100th anniversary of its construction. The Rev. Barry Burns, of Ottawa, the Northwest Plains District superintendent of the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church, was the guest preacher. A luncheon for 112 people followed the traditional worship service. And the Auglaize County Swing Band entertained after the luncheon.
Perhaps the most interesting event of the day was a presentation by parishioner Jerry Wellman, of rural New Knoxville. The former church trustee works in the construction industry and had collected a piece of flooring and several pieces of brick and slate that had been part of the church’s original roof and walls. He discussed how the brick was made and how the slate was split for use.
Church leaders were the ones who broke ground in March 1916. Trustees actually dug the basement. Minutes of trustee meetings carefully documented each step of the construction process that followed. The handwritten records were discovered two years ago and had to be translated, because they were written in German. The names they include, like Katterheinrich and Auferhaar, are still recognizable in New Knoxville today.
“One thing we don’t have in the minutes is what day they had the dedication. We kind of had to do some guessing,” said the Rev. Dennis Gaertner, who has been the New Knoxville UMC pastor for nine years. “In April, (the minutes) talked about a program for the dedication, but they didn’t say when.”
Relating what was happening each month 100 years ago became part of Gaertner’s services during the last year. Each first Sunday of the month, he included what he called a “founder’s flashback” moment. Through those moments, the congregations tracked what had been done “one hundred years ago this month,” he said. He also chronicled the century-old building progress in the “Parish Visitor,” the church’s newsletter.
Next year, parishioners will celebrate their 175th anniversary as a congregation. But this year was about appreciating the building, itself.
“We had the wrong impression of when the building was built. The cornerstone says 2016. But it took a whole year to finish,” Gaertner said.
Wellman, in discovering fragments of building materials, was able to piece together information about how it was done.
“They bought brick from five different places,” he said. Some came from Minster, some from Berlin, Ohio, and some from Fort Loramie. There were hard bricks, used for the outer walls, and soft brick for inside.
“You can see the soft brick on inside walls of the attic,” he noted. During his presentation, he used a slate hammer and punched holes in a piece of slate to show his audience how workers cut slate a hundred years ago. Wellman thinks the slate for the church roof was not new when it was installed: it probably came from a previous church.
In a summary compiled by Gaertner, he notes that “the brick for the building was obtained from Webster Brick Co. in Chillicothe. The roof was slate and installed by a local company, H. K. & K. Roofing (now New Knoxville Supply). The trusses were supplied by New Bremen Bridge Co., and Smith Brothers of Wapakoneta did the electrical work. Much of the lumber was purchased from Hoge Lumber in New Knoxville. The stained glass windows, numbering more than 60, were acquired from Rossbach Art Glass Co. in Columbus.”
Wellman led a “did you know” session, Sunday.
“Did you know you can ring the bell from the basement? Did you know they had a coal chute, they had wood stoves and they put in a boiler when they built the church? They had three ways to heat. They had gas, coal and wood. We don’t know why. They probably wouldn’t want to fire up the boiler when they just needed a little heat,” he said.
“The floor plan chosen was the Akron floor plan, complete with wooden folding doors (that still function), a balcony, class rooms designated for Sunday School teaching and one large Sunday School room that could be partitioned off with large pull-down wooden doors,” Gaertner wrote in his summary. “The sanctuary features a sloping floor in theater style … and two large stained glass windows, one portraying Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane and one depicting Jesus standing and knocking at the door.”
An unusual feature of the church is a set of heavy wooden doors in the ceiling of the sanctuary. They can be lowered to divide the room into two spaces.
“The expanse can be be pulled down from the ceiling,” Gaertner said. “They built counterweights into the walls. They’re giant, wood pocket doors.”
Anyone who visits the church — which is open seven days a week, 24 hours a day — notices the woodwork, he added.
“But the first two things that catch your eye are the stained glass windows. There is not a single regular window anywhere on the first floor. The other is the organ. A big pipe organ was built right into the church. It’s still used every Sunday,” Gaertner said.
What people won’t see that was part of the original edifice is horse stables.
“They were just west of the building, but somewhere in the first 10 years, the barn went,” the pastor said. In a photograph dated 1926, the barns are not there.
“In April 1917, before the church took occupancy, an insurance policy for $15,000 was purchased through Jacob Fritz of New Bremen. In today’s dollars that amount would be over $362,000,” Gaertner said. But the value of the building goes way beyond any price.
“We are blessed and humbled to think of what God did through men and women in this church 100 years ago,” Gaertner told his congregation. “Their dedication and sacrifices have given us a gift that we could never repay.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.