Pious 19th-century churchmen might not approve of the source of funds, but much-needed repairs began earlier this month on a 170-year-old building, formerly used as a sanctuary, thanks to those who gamble at The Meadows Casino.
“This check presentation has brought smiles to our faces,” said Peggy Strain, secretary of the Jefferson Township Historical Society, who came to the Washington County commissioners’ meeting Thursday to accept a check from the Local Share Account of casino gaming for work at the White Church.
“We did not want to lose this building. Siding and wood had deteriorated.” Gutters and downspouts also are undergoing repairs, and windows are being replaced.
Names can persist for a long, long time. The White Church, for example, hasn’t been used as a house of worship for nearly a century and a half.
According to the Jefferson Township Historical Society website, the building was constructed in 1844 by an abolitionist church group under the direction of Wesleyan Methodists who felt the local churches were pro-slavery.
The outcome of the Civil War and President Abraham Lincoln’s executive order known as the Emancipation Proclamation ended the institution of slavery, and in the 1870s, the congregation disbanded and its members went back to the churches from whence they came.
The White Church was used as a private residence until the historical society bought it, along with another Eldersville site, in 1990.
“It is the only abolitionists church building still standing in our area,” the website notes.
The Washington County History and Landmark Foundation designated it and Heritage Hall, another significant Eldersville site, as historic landmarks.
This is quite a year for anniversaries in Eldersville, where Thomas Ward settled 230 years ago. It’s also the Eldersville bicentennial. Established as Wardsville in 1814, the village was a center for farmers and coal miners. The White Church’s sister building, Heritage Hall, was built in 1876 at what is now 493 Eldersville Road, Burgettstown. It housed the Eldersville Normal School from 1881 to 1915, when it became a lodge for members of the International Order of Odd Fellows. The club sold the building to the Jefferson Township Historical Society in 1990 for a dollar. The museum on the second floor is open by appointment to small groups, but due to structural deficiencies, it will not be open during the annual “Christmas in the Village’ celebration, scheduled this year for Nov. 7-9, Strain said.
The Washington County Redevelopment Authority, which administers the local share program for Washington County, awarded Faul Construction of Sheffield, Warren County, the $69,200 construction contract, which came in lower than the expected cost. The Jefferson Township Historical Society provided money for architectural services.
The commissioners approved $78,000 for the project. Nathan Voytek, community development specialist, said framing around all seven windows and the main entrance door had to be replaced.
“If that’s not needed, we can return it to the grant pot,” Voytek said Monday.
Jefferson Township Historical Society meets monthly there, and the White Church building and grounds is also the site for community picnics, annual ceremonies for Sept. 11, Veterans Day and Memorial Day remembrances, Scout troop and auxiliary meetings, and Christmas in the Village, which is the Jefferson Township Historical Society’s major fund raiser. The former church stands at 11 Fire Road, Burgettstown, off Eldersville Road. “Fire Road” is so named because what’s known locally as the White Church is across from the Jefferson Township Volunteer Fire Department in Eldersville.