Former congregants have faith they can clean up, protect unused Wood County church
PARKERSBURG — Those connected to a local church are working to protect the historic building as it has been continually vandalized in recent months.
Mt. Moriah Methodist Church was built in 1874 and has held services at its location off Old St. Marys Pike outside the city limits of Parkersburg for many years with the last organized service held on Sunday, June 28, 2015, with many people traveling into town to be able to attend.
However, since closing the site has been frequented by people who have vandalized the main church building as well as an adjacent fellowship hall, thrown trash about, abused drugs and more, said Joe Kincheloe, owner of Kincheloe Motors in Parkersburg and whose family has had a longstanding connection to the church which also has a cemetery on its property with 365 gravesites.
A number of local families have connections to the church and its cemetery as well as the surrounding area where many people were from and grew up, Kincheloe said.
“This was a church many people attended,” he said. “It is now closed and we want to preserve it and the cemetery.”
Kincheloe said he has found trash, debris, used drug needles and more around the site and inside the buildings.
Graffiti has been painted outside the main church building. Someone has removed the many of the doors off of the buildings, knocked out all of the windows and have torn up the interiors of both. An old piano in the fellowship hall was torn apart.
Kincheloe believes the people doing this are probably local people.
Although some contend the local area is experiencing an increase in the local homeless population, Kincheloe said it would be a long hike for anyone within the city limits to make it out to the church. Every time he has come out and found people on the property, he has usually found cars parked nearby leading him to believe it is probably local people coming out and doing the damage.
Going up recently, he said it wouldn’t surprise him to find someone up there on the property.
Kincheloe said they have called the Wood County Sheriff’s Department who have responded and helped. In fact, one call lead to an arrest of someone who had a warrant out for them, Kincheloe said.
He has not found any proof that would indicate people may be living on the property. He believes many of the people who come up to the property may be using it as a gathering spot to do drugs or drink alcohol.
“I have found needles where people are up here doing drugs,” Kincheloe said. “It is very sad.
“I care for these people, but as far as fixing them, I don’t know what the fix happens to be. I am not the only one stumped on that one.”
He doesn’t understand the needless destruction of the property.
In looking at the graffiti on the back of the church, Kincheloe said he has no idea what any of it means.
“I would almost hate for the people who know of this place to see it,” he said.
A work day will be held 9 a.m. today (July 25). Organized by Rocky Peck, volunteers will paint and board the broken windows and secure the doorways.
“It will be mainly neighbors and people from around (the church’s area) and anyone interested in helping,” Peck said.
They will be pick up trash and debris as well as securing the building. The doors were apparently kicked in or torn off their hinges and left inside the church, Peck said adding they have plans to rehang the doors and secure them.
Volunteers have already put up a board fence and a gate up by the church building to deter possible trespassers.
“We are going to put plywood over the windows where they had busted them out,” Peck said. “We are going to put padlocks on the doors.
“We are going to paint the plywood, paint the fence and paint over that awful graffiti on the back of the church. That is what we are expecting to get done on Saturday.”
Peck visited the cemetery on Memorial Day to place flowers on the graves of his grandparents and saw where the church had been vandalized.
“I got fired up about it and talked to a lot of the neighbors about it,” he said. “They have been upset about it too.
“All of our people are buried up there and it seemed like the right thing to do.”
After contacting the Mt. Moriah Cemetery Association and the Methodist Conference, he was able to put together this effort to try to clean up the property.
“That is what we are doing,” Peck said.
Local resident Joe Johnson had family who attended church at Mt. Moriah and he went to Vacation Bible School there when he was younger, although he attended another church nearby. He also has some relatives who are buried in the cemetery there where he places flowers and such annually on Memorial Day.
“The damage I have seen out there has been a continual downgrading and disrespect of church property,” Johnson said. “It seems the people doing this can’t visit the property without doing some damage to anything they can find.
“It has just been continual.”
The remoteness of the property and no one living in the immediate area has made it difficult for anyone to keep watch over the property.
Johnson commended Peck for his efforts this weekend.
“It is a noble effort,” he said. “It is something that has been needed done for awhile.
“I am just happy that he has taken the bull by the horns and is going to get some stuff accomplished and make it more secure.”
Local resident Frank Kesterson talked about how a number of his relatives, including his grandparents (Nathanial and Harriett Wharton) and great grandparents, attended church there for many years. He had many relatives who were involved with the Wharton Dairy.
“They were part of the community for a long time,” Kesterson said. “They were good church people who went to church there for a long time.”
Kesterson has a number of relatives buried in the cemetery at the church.
Recently, people have been going up to the church causing damage and trashing it.
“We don’t want to see that happen to it, because it means so much to so many of us,” Kesterson said. “It is terrible to see all of that destroyed.
“We are trying to save it.”
Kesterson believes those going up there are probably abusing drugs, because it is remote, but still not too far from town.
The church was the center of the community for many years. It was where people gathered and met together and so on.
“They met together and it helped keep their community together,” Kesterson said. “That is what we need now, more community involvement.”
There is a lot of history there as people got married, had families and lived their lives. He wants to see that history saved.
“It has been part of the community and part of our family for as long as I can remember,” Kesterson said.
Efforts like what is being done this weekend are what they need to do if they are going to save the building, he said.
Kesterson used his tractor and posthole digger to help dig the holes to set the new fence posts. He will be doing more work today.
“I will be helping with it as well,” he said.
The property itself has no official historical designations, said Jane Kincheloe, Joe’s daughter.
They have received donations from people to do the fence and gate which was overseen by Peck.
“Many others have also been faithful to send donations for the care and upkeep of the property,” Ms. Kincheloe said.
Joe Kincheloe bought 10 gallons of paint for the effort and other cleaning supplies.
They have around 12-15 people lined up to help this weekend with the possibility of more and a relative of Kincheloe’s is planning to put together a meal for those who will be working. They will also be picking up trash in addition to securing the buildings.
“Hopefully, it will deter what we have been experiencing,” he said adding in time, they will be taking additional measures to secure the property.
“I would like to keep it standing as long as we can,” Kincheloe said.
Contact Brett Dunlap at firstname.lastname@example.org.