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Maintaining its rich history

  • The steeple of Christ Hamilton United Lutheran Church in this picture taken from the 250th anniversary booklet is covered with wood shingles. The ball on top received a new coating of gilt as part of the most recent restoration.
    The steeple of Christ Hamilton United Lutheran Church in this picture taken from the 250th anniversary booklet is covered with wood shingles. The ball on top received a new coating of gilt as part of the most recent restoration.
Published April 30. 2010 05:00PM

Each year the Monroe County Historical Society holds a preservation contest for buildings with categories of residential, commercial and non-profit.

For 2010 the non-profit chosen was Christ Hamilton United Lutheran Church and Cemetery, Hamilton Square near Sciota. It is the "Preserve, Enhance, Promote Historic Resources Award."

John Field, church historian, said preservation has always been important when making changes in the church. Necessarily there has been some modernization such as a heating system and electrifying the chandelier rather than using candles. The church is listed on the state National Register of Historic Places.

The steeple and front entry needed restoration and, with the help of Janet Weidensaul, a Monroe County commissioner who had experience working with the state, the church received a grant of $65,000 of a total planned expenditure of $225,000.

"People asked why we did not do it with aluminum, but we had to do it with what was there when the church was new and that was wood shingles (on the steeple)," said Field.

Bennington and Associates won the bid for the restoration work - a specialty for the company.

The congregation recorded its first baptism a Weber child, in 1752. Congregants met "down the road" at the Bossert farmhouse for 20 years. A log church was built in 1775 behind the present church in what became the cemetery. A monument shows its actual site.

John Adam Eyer, known for his work as a fractur painter, was a member of the church, and made the birth and other certificates for local people.

The cornerstone of the stone church was laid in 1829, a date also memorialized on the weather vane. The church was completed in 1830.

The church, as were many of that time, was a union church with Reformed and Lutheran congregations. Services were in German until 1870.

Because of dry rot and wood mites a few beams had to be replaced. "You don't know what those huge old beams are like," said Field, talking about previous maintenance work.

Since the church roof is slate, care had to be taken since bats can pass through a slate roof. In fact guano had to be cleaned before the work could be done.

Painting, done in 1955 and again 10 years ago, needed a specialist because it was found there were 50 hues of paint used and they were kept the same - not a job for a weekend painter, Field said.

The stained glass windows were replaced in 1929 for the 100-year anniversary of the building.

Burials are no longer held in the cemetery. The most recent is in the 1800s and many of the gravestones are written in German. There is no longer an active cemetery associated with the church. The area has poor drainage and Field thought that might be why burials were stopped. Rumor says Indians are buried in unmarked graves in the back of the cemetery.

There is a Revolutionary War monument. A Boy Scout is earning his Eagle Badge by locating all the graves on a GPS.

In 1974 the Reformed and Lutheran congregations of the Union church merged to form a United Lutheran Church.

"Our gist has been to maintain the historical aspects," Field said.

Dowels around the front of the church were, according to word of mouth, to prevent the dogs that accompanied their farmer owners to church from going up to the altar or pulpit. Field points to the left-front of the church and said there was a stove there where people could heat their footwarmers before going out to the sleighs to return home.

The present pastor is Brett Jenkins. The wife of the former pastor, Ralph A. Boyer IV, was an expert about the organ, which is located at the center back of the upper level. The choir is to the player's right and to the front. In order for her to see the choir, a mirror was installed. The organ was bought from Stroudsburg Methodist Church in 1930. The pipes were carefully wrapped to keep dust and possible paint splashes from getting into them while work was being done.

The Covenant House was added in 1987. It had Sunday school rooms and a kitchen. Now the Ark II nursery school uses it.

With the purchase of the Lotz property in 1994 there was plenty of room to expand. The Lighthouse was dedicated in 1999. It has a kitchen, classrooms, a music center and a large hall with a stage. When it is expected a crowd will overflow the church, services are held in the larger Lighthouse.

The Lotz farmhouse has been turned into office space and the barn is used by Boy Scouts. There is a ballfield and picnic pavilion.

But one thing remains the same as Field reiterates, "We still maintain the historical features." Christ Hamilton Church celebrated its 250th anniversary of worship in 2005.

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