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Restoration on Bethel AME Church Underway
By Angie Talken, CT 06 24 19

Restoration of the Bethel AME Church is now underway. The church has a long rich history on Chillicothe, beginning in 1868 when parishioners built the church originally located on Henry Street it was the first African-American Methodist Church north of the Missouri River. "When you think about it the people who built this church had been slaves not long before," Pam Clingerman, curator of the Grand River Historical Society and Museum said. "They didn't have much money, no engineers, no architects but they still built this beautiful church."

PHOTO: Restorations and renovations are currently ongoing at the Bethel AME Church. The original hardwood pine flooring is covered by plywood to prevent further damage throughout the process but will be restored. Crews are currently working to finish reinforcement of the roof and are working on baffles and insulation. The large mural was painted by a former Bethel AME Church member in the early 1980s and plans are to also have it restored and then covered by plexiglass to preserve it. [Angie Talken / CT PHTOTO]

In 2010, the church closed its doors; and in 2018, a local businessman donated the church to the museum after purchasing the lot it was on on Henry Street. In September 2018, the church was moved across town to its current location near the museum on McNally Street. In hopes of preserving the history of the building itself and the impact the church and its members have had and continue to have on the Chillicothe community, Clingerman said they plan to make the building into an African-American History Museum and also use it as a community center. "It is not going to be used as a church, but we will open it up to weddings, meetings, and other community events. We want it to be a type of community center - where people can come and gather," she said.

The church has a new basement which will house three classrooms, two bathrooms, a small kitchen area, and additional room for exhibits. The former sanctuary will have the original pine wood flooring, church pews and will also feature some exhibits along a long blank wall. "The church project is proceeding well, with electric and water lines run into the building and preliminary grading finished in the parking lot," Clingerman said. "The sanctuary ceiling is being insulated in readiness for plaster and paint. When the old paneling was removed, the original wood trim around the windows was uncovered and the windows promise to look amazing when they are restored. It is a time consuming job but it will be well worth it when complete." Clingerman said careful work is being done to restore what plaster they can while applying new plaster in other areas. Rustin Simon, lead contractor, with, Plaster Works is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, South Dakota. The company is a Minority Business Entity headquarters in Kansas City and has done additional work to reinforce the roof baffles, insulation, and then will plaster the walls and ceiling. Since it is a museum, a heating and air conditioning system and humidity control will be installed. While several fundraisers are planned in the fall, Clingerman said any donations to help repair and restore the building are appreciated.

Family Donation Hopes to Carry on History of Bethel AME Church
By Angie Talken
04 24 19

Since Chillicothe's Bethel AME Church was built and the congregation formed in 1868, the Crain family has been an integral part of the church community. Despite the church closing in 2010 and being moved from its original Henry Street location to McNally Street in September 2018, the Crain family still feels a deep connection to the church, and recently decided to make a donation to help ensure the church's legacy lives on for years to come. Rodney Crain, son of Charles and Betty (Parker) Crain, said recently his family donated the lot their home was on, on Liberia Street to the Grand River Historical Society and Museum. "The home we grew up in was only two blocks from the church," Crain recalled. "We wanted to do something to ensure the legacy and importance of this church and its role in the history and culture of our hometown could continue."

PHOTO: Rodney Crain in front of the Bethel AME Church in its current location on McNally Street. Crain's family has a decades long history of involvement in the church. [ANGIE TALKEN/CT PHOTO]

Rodney is one of nine children raised by Charles and Betty, and each of them had a role in the church, even when membership began to diminish when Rodney was in high school. "By the time I was in high school it had become quite a small, but connected and dedicated congregation," he recalled noting that it was a family tradition to be involved in the church. "My grandparents and great aunts and uncles were on the church boards, led Sunday School classes, and so much more." In 1960, Charles became a trustee at Bethel AME Church and served in that capacity for over 45 years. Rodney, following the tradition served as Sunday School Superintendent for a time.

None of the Crain's children live in Chillicothe anymore; Charles died in 2014 at the age of 96 and Betty died in 2015. Rodney said that left him and his siblings the task to decide what to do with the lot on Liberia Street. "When we learned the Grand River Historical Society and Museum had an interest in the church and heard about all of the work that had been done to ensure the church was preserved, we knew this was something we had to do," he said. Recently, the Crain family, gave ownership of the Liberia Street lot to the historical society.

"This was quite a nice donation," Marvin Holcer, president of the Grand River Historical Society and Museum Board said. "The proceeds from the sale of the lot will go back into the Bethel AME Church to restore and refurbish it, at its new location." There is a list of repairs the historical society hopes to be able to do to the church, including: replastering the walls, refurbishing the windows to their original appeal; changing the front doors and refinishing the floors are just a few items. Holcer noted after the sale of the lot and cost estimates for the repairs they will choose a certain project and earmark the funds from the sale of the Crain's lot for that use. "We want them to be able to see what they have been able to do for the church," he said.

Making sure the history of the church continues, is a priority of the Crain family, Rodney said. "We want to make sure the history isn't lost," he said. "This church and the Chillicothe community were such a big part of our lives and we want to continue that history in our hometown. We are thankful that our family and all of the other families whose lives and perspectives were shaped in that church, had that opportunity. And seeing it have rebirth is exciting and we are hoping with the actions of the historical society this very significant part of our community and family history is going to continue."

Chillicothe's Bethel AME Church is believed to be the first African Methodist Episcopal Church located north of the Missouri River after the Civil War. Since 2010, the church had been empty and remained on Henry Street until it was purchased by a car dealership for additional parking space. The owner donated it to the Grand River Historical Society and Museum because, Holcer said, he wanted to ensure the history lived on.

There has already been interest in renting the church for weddings and group events. Once the church has been refurbished, the group plans to use the basement for classrooms and hands-on learning experiences. Tours will also be available by appointment. Holcer said the lot on Liberia Street is available for purchase; and anyone interested should contact the Grand River Historical Society and Museum. Being able to make this donation has reaffirmed the strong connections to the community the Crain family experienced while living here, and Rodney said served as a great reminder about what makes this town special. "Dana Macoubrie, Marvin Holcer and others like them represent the exceptional, caring people who make me proud to call Chillicothe my hometown."


Plans Advance to Relocate Church

09/17/18 - The Bethel AME Church building that proudly stood at Violet and Henry Streets in Chillicothe for 150 years is ready to travel to its new home. Gingerich, the company hired to move the building, removed the steeple early last week and later in the week removed the roof in preparation for the move. Over the weekend, the building was lifted from its foundation and placed on beams that will carry the structure for the approximate 2-mile drive.

Photo KCHI

The church will begin the move Tuesday morning by heading west on Curtis Street; at about 10:00 am, they will turn onto Washington Street and begin the mile and a half drive north to the Hy-Vee parking lot. The building will cross the parking lot and continue west on Springhill. The plan is to cross part of the old Business College property and make the corner onto McNally, heading toward Irving Avenue. If all goes without any issues, the move should take less than 30 minutes.

Photo KCHI - Steeple 09/17/18

The Chillicothe Police Department has requested no parking on Washington Street Tuesday morning from Curtis to north of HyVee until after the move is complete. Traffic on Washington Street northbound will be stopped at Ryan Lane and will be limited to a single lane southbound beginning at Springhill.

09/07/18 - A church built in Chillicothe about 150 years ago will be moved next week. The Grand River Historical Society will move a church to the property across from the museum Wednesday, September 12, 2018, sometime between 9:30 am to 3:30 pm.

Photo KCHI

CT 05 03 18 - Plans were put into action last week to move the Bethel AME Church from 202 Henry Street to a new location next to the Grand River Historical Society and Museum. The church, which was dedicated in 1868, is believed to be the first AME Church built north of the Missouri River post-Civil War.

Brent Kline, owner of Woody's Automotive Group, purchased the property the church sits on to expand parking for the dealership. Museum Curator Pam Clingerman approached Kline about the fate of the church and expressed an interest in preserving the structure for the museum. Kline, a history buff, did not want to see the building destroyed because of all the history it held. After listening to ideas for repurposing the building, he donated the church to the museum, Clingerman said. The project will be completed in three phases beginning with moving the church building to the new site and re-installing on a new basement/foundation. With the help of two area foundations, the Lambert Foundation and the Livingston County Community Foundation, the museum has raised enough funds to move the building.

Museum president, Marvin Holcer, last week presented Dave Gingerich, of Gingerich's Structural Transfer, the signed contract and a check. This is going to be a large undertaking, and the museum needs to raise an additional $45,000 to complete phase one. Phase one includes a new foundation with plans for three classrooms, bathrooms, kitchen and meeting area, and the actual move from Henry Street to the museum site, a new roof, heating and cooling, as well as preparing the lot including additional fill dirt, drainage and walkways.

Anyone who would like to help the museum save this piece of Chillicothe history may make donations payable to the Grand River Historical Society and Museum, AME Church Moving Fund. Contributions are tax deductible.

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