STAFFORD – Township employees fixed up the Old Baptist Church on Route 9, in the hopes that the historic building will continue to have a place in history.
The sign outside the church dates it to 1758, although the exact age is unknown. It started as nondenominational, but later became a Baptist church.
“It’s said that under the floorboards, there’s blood from Revolutionary War soldiers,” said Jason Hazelton, the president of the Stafford Township Historical Society. This part of the story comes from the church being a makeshift hospital in the revolution. However, he suspects that the hospital in question was actually elsewhere on the property, and has long since disappeared. There is one spot in the cemetery where no one is buried, and the building might have been there.
The church has been a focal point of the community for centuries. After at least 250 years (some would say closer to 300), some serious wear and tear has begun. Two chimneys were in the building, although neither of them were in use. They had started to pull away from the walls, making it a bit dangerous. The foundation also had to be shored up.
“You used to feel the floor moving,” Hazelton said.
Therefore, some serious reconstruction work had to be done in order to make the building safe, and to make sure it could be preserved. And, it all had to be done while keeping the character of the old building.
Much of the work was done out of sight. For example, the foundation was shored up, so that the floor is much more secure.
On the outside of the property, the asphalt had to be graded away from the church. That way, rainwater would sink into the soil farther away, and not erode the foundation. Cedar shakes were woven in seamlessly, Hazelton said. The chimneys were removed in such a way that it is hard to tell they were ever there. Even the new paint matches the old paint.
All of this was done in-house, township Business Administrator James Moran said. If this kind of work had been put out to a vendor, the cost would have been a great deal more.
The public works employees did a great job, Hazelton said.
“I cannot praise them enough. They treated it like their home,” he said. In fact, the foreman of the work had his wedding here. Hazelton thanked the mayor, council, and administration for their support of the project.
The church still hosts, on average, two weddings a month. People like the classic feel of the building, and the fact that they can also get pictures by the nearby lake, he said.
Some things have changed in the old building over the centuries. It now has heating and air conditioning. And the electrical outlets aren’t original to the building, obviously.
There are some features that are not being used anymore. There was a baptismal pool that opened from a trap door in the pulpit. Now that area is for storage.
Amazingly, the pews are still original and are still able to be used for seating. The tin ceiling is original, as well.
The building also hosts artifacts that have been collected by the historical society. A Bible sits in a prep room behind the altar. The age is unknown, but there is a marriage program stuck inside from 1916. The book is huge and solid, and the cover has the kind of thick ornamentation that only classic books had.
The graveyard beyond the property also has its share of stories. There are graves dating back to the Civil War, and some as recently as the late 20th century. Some of the families in Stafford have been here a long, long time.
An architectural firm came in to do an evaluation, and it would be a $500,000 undertaking for a more permanent solution to the maintenance of the building. There’s a grant available for $250,000, and the society would fundraise for the other half.
Meanwhile, Councilman Paul Marchal has been working with the historical society to set definitions for historic properties, to give incentives to keep and maintain historic properties. That way, people owning these buildings will see them as an opportunity rather than a hardship.
The church also serves as a meeting room for the historical society. They meet at 7 p.m. on the third Wednesday of every month, except July and August. However, the concerts at the lake nearby have served as a historical society event. They are currently looking for volunteers. To be a member, you don’t have to have history in Stafford, you just have to love history.