Historical Shrine Church Relocation to downtown nears completion

Shrine Church- Gary Coleman

Valley Falls Historical Society treasurer Gary Coleman had the original idea for moving the Historical Shrine Church and has overseen the development of the new downtown location for the society.


by Clarke Davis
The relocation of the Historical Shrine Church to its new home in the 300 block of Broadway is nearly complete with the exception of some interior work.
Built in 1857 and reputed to be the first Lutheran Church west of the Missouri River, the little frame building has just completed its second move in its 158-year history.
The building had rested on the southeast corner of Highway 16 and Elm Street since 1890 where it had served an African Methodist Episcopal congregation from that date into the 1960s. It was originally in the 500 block of Elm Street.
While the Valley Falls Historical Society had assumed responsibility for the preservation of the building since it was formed in 1967, the church sat abandoned for most of the time. The Central States Synod sent a quit claim deed to the society in 1970.
At least once a year the St. Paul’s Lutheran congregation would hold services in the church, but there was neither parking nor the comforts of heating and air conditioning.
It was during a meeting of the historical society officers that treasurer Gary Coleman suggested moving the church downtown next to the museum.
The idea caught hold especially after Keith Jackson acquired a promise from Valley Moving, Wamego, in 2012 to add the church to its list of charity moves, which it does once a year.
“That’s when the society officers began to sketch out a plan as to how it would look,” Coleman said. “That’s when the community really started to come together to help, also.”
Located across the alley west of the museum, the shrine church rests on lots where once stood the newspaper office and print shop, a tavern, and a hair salon. A couple of the lots were donated to the society by the Kendall State Bank.
Rosalind Jackson headed a campaign to sell bricks engraved to honor or memorialize people in the community. Those bricks now border a concrete walkway from the street to the door of the church.
Jerry Heinen and Bob Heinen rolled in to do the dirt work for the foundation, Butch Burdiek did the concrete work, and Keith Powell Masonry did the foundation stonework and built a tower to hold a school bell that had been donated.
The school bell once summoned children to class at the Pleasant Hill School District 82 southeast of Valley Falls. It was donated to the society by Frances (nee Williams) Trapp along with the funds to build the bell tower. Her children, Kathleen Turnage, Waller, Texas, and Bruce Trapp, Newton, Iowa, also contributed.
Society President Betty Jane Wilson and Keith Jackson oversaw the moving of the building that took place in April 2014.
President Wilson wanted to preserve the cornerstone from the foundation dated 1890. It was enshrined as a centerpiece in the stone tower that holds the school bell.
Grahem-Herbers Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3084, the women’s auxiliary, and the American Legion Riders Post 242 provided the flag pole and flag.
Larry Heinen created a galvanized sign that was lettered by Dale Erhart. The sign carries a photo of the Rev. J.B. McAfee, the abolitionist preacher who founded several Lutheran congregations in the area during those early territorial days.
Coleman said the list of people involved gets pretty long from James Brown and J.R. Conser, who laid the bricks, and Pat Herring and Garret Lacey, who did the sod work, to directors Denise Coker and Anita Stutesman, who painted, scraped and repaired, and Robert Tharp and Wayne Ferrell, who power washed, caulked and made exterior repairs. Robbie Maddox hung a new door and did some trim work. Barry Wells helped with some tree trimming. Dan Lange and Marie Lange mow and water the grass and plants.
“We still have some work to do inside the church,” Coleman said.
The society intends to restore a rock flue and add electric lights.
The church will be available to the public to hold services or a wedding.
Coleman said he has written checks totaling $27,000 this year and that included $8,600 for air conditioning in the museum and heating and air in the church. He did not have a complete tally of all costs, but that’s most of it.
“What really helped us with the finishing touches and made possible the heat and air was a bequest from the Mildred Hefty estate amounting to $29,112,” Coleman said.
The historical society does not receive tax money and operates off donations. The late Arthur Strawn left the society a gift in excess of $150,000 of which the principle cannot be spent.
Coleman said the interest income amounts to about $4,800 annually, which pays for the daily operation of the society.
“I believe moving the church has brought a nice attraction and added to the aesthetics of the downtown,” Coleman said. “It’s an attraction the community can be proud of.”
Following is some additional history of the building along with mention of the society’s work to restore and preserve the building. The following was mostly all written by the late historian Art Strawn and published in society newsletters:
In 1877 the Lutherans sold the property to the United Presbyterian Church for $300. The Presbyterians deeded the property to Dr. J.T.B. Gephart in 1890. He planned to build a home on the lot and gave the church building to the African Methodist Episcopal congregation after the church they were constructing was blown away in a wind storm in 1890. Dr. Gephart kept the lot and built his home (500 block Elm) there.
The building was moved to the AME lot where it still stands on the southeast corner of Highway 16 and Elm Street.
The AME congregation 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.
A 100-year-old Story and Clark reed organ from the church was restored by Emile George, Valley Falls, and is on display at the museum.
(May 26, 1970, Newsletter)
Members of the historical society have begun the work of repairing the little old Lutheran Church to provide the community with a historical shrine.
The members, including Dale Irwin, Keith Jackson, Ron Frakes, Walter Hamon, and Arthur Strawn, have restored the south side of the roof. This entailed the removal of the old roofing and sheathing and laying bare the rafters. Many of the rafters had bowed badly and new rafters were cut and placed alongside the old rafters giving added strength to the finished roof. New sheathing was put on and the job was completed with the application of new wood shingles.
In connection with this phase, mention should be made of the fact that Mr. Walter Hamon not only provided his labor but also provided the lumber for sheathing the roof. Another generous donation was made by Mr. Neil Schoonover of six bundles of wood shingles, which would have the value of $30.
I might mention a few observations which were made during the work on the roof. In the attic of the building we found a cut rafter, which had never been used, and was used by Mr. Hamon as a pattern to cut the new rafters; they fitted perfectly. Also there were pieces of the original walnut siding in the attic. One interesting find was that the chimney of the building had been near the center of the building and the rafters and sheathing showed that there had been a fire around the chimney at one time.
The committee in charge of the repair, restoration, and preservation of the building has decided that since we now have a tight roof (the north side does not leak) that the next important step should be the foundation work. This phase is by far the biggest job of the whole project. It will be necessary to have experienced help to place the timbers under the building and raise the building while the underside is being reinforced and a new footing and rock foundation laid. After the foundation work is completed, the rest of the roof will be completed. Then work can be undertaken to restore the interior and exterior walls. The gingerbread will be replaced around the edge of the roof.
(June 29, 1970 Newsletter)
Mr. Roy Allen has undertaken the task of raising the building so that a new stone foundation and the repairing of the underside of the building can take place.
In connection with the work of restoring the little church, our society is indebted to many people already for donations of time and materials—from Ted Montgomery’s removal of the four trees to Mrs. Wm. Vandenbos for the use of her electrical outlet and storage of materials in her basement.
The donations of money are coming in, all of it completely voluntary at this point. The total amount received is $776.50. We have spent $171.53 to date for repairs on the building. The completion of the project will take much more money, but the foundation work will be the most expensive part of the project.

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Posted by on Nov 19 2015. Filed under The Vindicator. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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