Historic Marietta church to reopen

Photo by Janelle Patterson Kate Fagan, left, and Tom Fagan open the doors of the Church of Christ at Second Street in Marietta as they continue preparing for the church’s official first services in the first weekend of May.

MARIETTA — It’s been a little more than a decade since the humble structure was filled with gospel song.

But 713 1/2 Second St. will have songs once again filling the small church on May 4.

“We don’t really want to draw any denominational lines, we want to keep it simple,” said the church’s evangelist Tom Fagan, of Lower Salem. “The Bible gives us the principles to found our lives on, for everything from our financial situation to how we dress.”

Fagan has served as a traveling evangelist for the last decade to small country churches, but in recent years has also facilitated a Bible study in Marietta.

“I preach at four to five different congregations, and we’ve liked it, getting to know all of them but most are an hour to an hour and a half away,” he explained. “And I’ve been studying with several individuals in Marietta… There was an interest expressed in starting a group here.”

Photo by Janelle Patterson Sixteen pews and a pulpit fill the auditorium of the former Wesleyan church on Second Street. The church is now under restorations for a reopening as a nondenominational church in May.

The group’s sights were set on a formerly Wesleyan church that was predominantly attended by black residents. The church sits tucked between houses on Second Street and last held services in late summer/early fall 2008.

“There are still some old records in here which I’ve found interesting, and before each family that was here had bought their own pew,” Fagan said. “You can still see where the plaques were on them, though the only plaque left is for Joseph and Helen King and James and Donna King.”

While some old church records are remaining in the building, the oral stories of its history vary.

“One story I was told was that it had been a refurbished firehouse from before the Civil War,” described Fagan. “But another said the structure used to be a church at the corner of Fifth and Washington where the library has their genealogy building now, and it was auctioned off the property and moved.”

Regardless of its origins, the structure still holds the character of a traditional church as restorations continue.

Photo by Janelle Patterson Artifacts from the past of 713 1/2 Second St. are found in the former Wesleyan church building, which is now gaining new life with a nondenominational congregation in May.

“The original auditorium goes halfway back the lot and behind it was a parsonage that later on was connected to the main building and converted into restrooms and classrooms,” said Fagan. “It’s a very narrow and short piece of property.”

Narrow and short, there is only 2,300 square feet of usable space on the property which was purchased by Tom and his wife Kate just after the new year, for $35,000, according to the Washington County Auditor’s Office.

The building boasts not only an auditorium but also a nursery, three classrooms, bathrooms and an upstairs office with 16 pews and a pulpit from the 1970s.

“And we’re in the process of cleaning and installing a PowerPoint projector,” said Kate Fagan.

Restoration of the building will include updating the front steps and wheelchair entrance, ensuring fire safety as electrical routes are traced and making cosmetic repairs to walls damaged by water in past years.

“The city has been very helpful in getting the permits we needed thus far,” said Tom. “And the (Southeast Ohio Building Department) was helpful in getting us going as we get this back to the original use as church.”

Tom said the couple doesn’t plan to resurrect the church spire which fell off the building a couple of years ago since it wasn’t original to the building.

“But a later goal is to place baptistry up here behind the pulpit,” he added.

Asa Spaziani, GIS specialist for the auditor’s office, said the property is 0.051 acres, about half to a quarter of the size of other neighborhood lots–most of which utilize on-street parking.

Next-door neighbor Cathy Harper said she’s excited to see the building put back into use.

“For as long as we lived here that was always a church, and we bought our house 31 years ago,” said Harper. “When we first moved in, Mike Taylor was the pastor there and then Karen Bates, who worked for The Marietta Times, and then the last one was there about 2005 until the end and really worked on building its membership.”

The final leader of the church before it closed was Rev. Russell Wooten, of Vienna.

He is memorialized in a dusty frame still present in the church alongside other artifacts including the “Negro Spirituals” by John W. Work, published in Pennsylvania, and two yellowed artifacts found together.

“There’s this postcard that I found with this photo,” pointed out Tom as he searched through gathered papers in the attic space, which will become the church office.

The postcard is written to Rev. A. M. Gilman, of 713 1/2 Second St., from a Pauline Winan, of Zanesville.

It reads: “Rev. Gilman, I’m writing to you to ask you the start date of the General Conference. Please write back immediately and let me know.”

The postcard is dated December of 1947.

“And the history of the properties, both our house and the church, are intertwined,” said Harper. “John Selby purchased the land to the right of the church and behind it because his wife wanted views of the gardens in 1927 when she was very sick. So the Selby family moved the parsonage that was there behind the church to the back of our property.”

Harper said the parsonage is now used as housing for a renter of her family’s and the land has been used by the family for pickup baseball games.

“And the last pastor that was there he would always have the neighborhood kids over,” described Harper of Wooten.

With the building’s planned return to worship, Steve Hodge, 68, of Lower Salem, said he is excited to see fellow members of the Bible study group have the opportunity to gather on Sundays in worship.

“I can think of six or seven families so far that have expressed interest, but it will start small,” he said. “It’s a little auditorium but one that has an interesting history and whether we have a building or meet under a tent or tree we’re following the precept where we’re told to assemble.”

Hodge said he hopes to see many visitors as the church grows, hoping to share the group’s Bible-based faith.

“God is on the lookout for people who love him so much that they’re going to be faithful to him no matter what,” he said.

Fagan said the building will hold between 60 and 65 parishioners and will host a sing at 7 p.m. May 4.

“Then our first Sunday services will be the next day,” he said. “We’ll start with 9:30 a.m. Bible study followed at 10:30 by worship. And there will be Wednesday evening Bible studies, too, at 7 p.m.”

And for those hoping to check out the service?

“Just look for the red doors,” said Fagan.

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