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First Church Oberlin to renovate Meeting House

  • Overhead-jpg

    This overhead view shows what the chancel of First Church in Oberlin United Church of Christ will look like following a proposed renovation.

    PHOTO PROVIDED

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    First Church in Oberlin United Church of Christ’s chancel is seen Monday.

    STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE

  • Altar-jpg

    This artist's rendering shows what the chancel of First Church in Oberlin United Church of Christ will look like following a proposed renovation.

    PHOTO PROVIDED

  • Footprint-jpg

    This architect's rendering shows the footprint of the meeting house of the First Church in Oberlin United Church of Christ.

    PHOTO PROVIDED

  • First-Church-Oberlin-2-jpg

    First Church in Oberlin United Church of Christ’s chancel is seen Monday.

    STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE

  • First-Church-Oberlin-1-jpg

    First Church in Oberlin United Church of Christ is seen Monday.

    STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE

  • First-Church-Oberlin-4-jpg

    First Church in Oberlin United Church of Christ is seen Monday.

    STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE

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OBERLIN — First Church in Oberlin United Church of Christ is looking to give the old Oberlin Meeting House and the church makeovers and needs $500,000 to do it.

Laurel Price Jones, co-chair of the fundraising campaign, said both structures will be addressed, but the key part of the project is revitalizing the Meeting House, an important part of Oberlin’s history.

“It was the witness to so much of what makes Oberlin a community committed to justice and equality,” she said. “It’s an important building to maintain and preserve for all generations, and we hope the community agrees with us and wants to support it too.”

The history of the Meeting House

The Meeting House was designed by Boston architect Richard Bond and construction began in 1842. It was created to be a gathering place for the local communities.

Renowned evangelist Charles Finney spearheaded the projected and, at the time of its construction, it was the largest public gathering structure between New York and Chicago, she said.

The Meeting House is one of Oberlin’s most historic buildings, visited by more than 1,000 people annually who are interested in the city’s history of abolitionism, civil rights and women’s rights. Some speakers who stood in the meeting house include famous figures like Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr.

The Meeting House was used by not just Oberlin but other surrounding communities. It continues to be used for community events, concerts and church services for First Church.

The project plans

The project for the Meeting House will include preserving the structure for another 100 years — restoring the 12, triple-hung windows with storm windows with screens and repairing the original stairs to the east-facing front entrance to the house with a better foundation. The project also will restore the inside of the meeting house with a renovation of the chancel to return it to its original design, making the space more open with a lower platform.

A large change to the property will be making the east-facing front entrance more accessible to disabled guests by elevating part of the ground and adding a ramp to enter the meeting house. Currently, the only wheelchair-accessible entrance is in the back of the building.

Other additions will include a new patio area on the same east-facing side, north of the front entrance as well as new carpets, a sound system and new pew cushions to replace the ones from 1908.

The project cost and funds

The project for the Meeting House has a campaign goal of about $500,000 for the total cost of about $800,000. About $300,000 of the cost will be provided by grant money from the Ohio Historic Preservation Office and the National Fund of Sacred Places.

The National Fund of Sacred Places has a 2:1 challenge grant that will give $250,000 for the $500,000 the church raises as its goal. The state grant will match the $60,000 already raised.

The other project to improve the facilities of the church has an additional cost of about $700,000, with $400,000 covered by the church’s funds and the $300,000 covered exclusively by the church’s congregation. The total cost of both projects will be about $1.5 million.

The church usually funds the upkeep of the Meeting House, but Jones said the church wanted to use the grant money it recently obtained to make some greater changes.

The church is working with The Feve, a local bar and eatery, to host an event in the coming weeks for the campaign. If the church reaches its goal by a projected date of May, Jones said the project will start by June and be completed within a year to a year and a half. For more information, call campaign co-chairs Jones or Bill Barlow at (440) 775-1711.

Contact Bruce Walton at (440) 329-7123 or bwalton@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Facebook @BWalton440 or Twitter @BruceWalton.


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