History on the move
by Holly Davis
“History on the move,” was an appropriate phrase used by Frank Shrimplin at the Valley Falls Historical Society board meeting last Thursday. Historical society members held a meeting at the Kendall State Bank Community Hall and the topic of discussion was moving the historic Shrine Church that sits off of Highway K-16 downtown.
For better access to the church, Gary Coleman, Valley Falls, had the idea of moving it next to the Historical Society Museum.
With a full board in agreement, it is planned for the building to be moved the first of October.
Before the move, however, there is much to be done.
The chimney inside the church must be taken down, new bricks need to be laid, and dirt and concrete work for the foundation of the new location must all be done prior to the move.
The cost of something like this is still unknown, but a fundraiser is surely needed to cover even the basics.
“To get this done, we want to find the quickest and easiest way,” Coleman said. “We’re not sure what it’ll cost and everything is still up in the air.”
The church is planned to be moved all in one piece with the pews and organ inside by Randy Hupe, owner of Valley Moving.
Hupe and his company move one building for charity every year, the Shrine Church being this year’s project.
The cornerstone brick that now sits at the bottom of the church and reads “Second M.E. Church, 1890,” will be displayed as a separate monument after the move.
A new sign will also be needed considering the old one says, “originally four blocks North,” putting the church in the river.
A permit is needed to move the 24’ x 30’ building down Highway 16, onto Sycamore Street, and then to the designated Broadway site.
Westar Energy will also require a route map due to the power lines that run along those main streets.
Plans for possible storage space underneath the church were also discussed at the meeting, but the biggest priority right now is getting money for the project.
Roz Jackson, Historical Society Vice President, stressed that a fundraiser was needed and had the idea of selling engraved bricks to businesses. The bricks would be laid in front of the Shrine Church and would lead up to the building, she said, encouraging that every business in Valley Falls should leave a mark to go down in history.
Betty Jane Wilson, president of the Valley Falls Historical Society, is very passionate about the history of her town and is a big supporter in getting the church moved next door.
“It will benefit Valley Falls and the historical society by making it more accessible and far more convenient for sightseers,” Wilson said.
She hopes that in the future, the building could be used for small wedding parties or receptions.
“It’s an added attraction for the city and it will be easier to see its historical value in relation to what we (the historical society) have,” she said.
Wilson, having access to many historical documents, compiled some history about the Shrine Church.
St. Paul’s, Valley Falls, is the oldest Lutheran congregation west of the Missouri river. The congregation was organized in 1857 as the English Lutheran Church of Grasshopper Falls, Kan. by the Rev. J. B. McAfee, a licensed preacher from the Maryland Synod – Lutheran Church.
Pastor McAfee and men of the community built the 24’ x 30’ original building in 1857 from walnut lumber that came from local timbers. The building stands today, the first permanent Lutheran Church built on Kansas soil.
The structure served the Lutherans and several other denominations as a place of worship and was also used as a public schoolroom and community meeting hall at Grasshopper Falls, later known as Valley Falls.
In 1877 the Lutherans sold the property to the United Presbyterian Church for $300. The Presbyterians held services in the building several years. In 1890 they deeded the property to Dr. J. T. B. Gephart, who planned to build a home on the lot which is now the 500 block of Elm street.
Dr. Gephart gave the little church building to the African Methodist Episcopal congregation after the church they were constructing was blown away in a windstorm in 1890. The building was moved from the Gephart lot to the AME lot where it still stands on Highway 16. A corner -stone inscribed “Second M.E. Church 1890” was found during the renovation of the church in the 1970s and was reset in the foundation.
The AME Church was the last group to use the building. The deed was returned to the Central States Synod, Lutheran Church in America, after the AME congregation disbanded in the 1960s.
The Valley Falls Historical Society received the deed to the property from the Central States Synod in 1970 and that group, with volunteers from the community, renovated the building as a bicentennial project. The building was designated a State Historical Shrine. A community worship service and celebration was held there July 4, 1976.
The furnishings of the building include a piano, a potbellied stove, a lectern, and the original walnut pews. A 100-year-old Story and Clark reed organ from the church was restored by Emile George, Valley Falls. It is on display at the Valley Falls Historical Society Museum, 310 Broadway, Valley Falls.
Although it will be a strange sight for many to not see the little white church sitting off of K-16 Highway, members hope that more people can get use out of the piece of history at the new location.
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