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Geneseo Republic - Geneseo, IL
  • Lewistown church gets facelift for 150th birthday

  • LEWISTOWN — "When you get to be 150 years old you need a facelift," according to June Bath of the St. James Episcopal Church in Lewistown.
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  • LEWISTOWN — "When you get to be 150 years old you need a facelift," according to June Bath of the St. James Episcopal Church in Lewistown.
    Otto Baum, who also did work on the courthouse, is currently working to replace the bricks and mortar and will be sealing the entire building. The sealant will have no shine, and the building should look like the original, according to Bath.
    "Some of the bricks are bad on the outside, but when they are taken out the other side is like new," Bath said.
    The architectural firm of Philips and Associates took pictures outlining the specific bricks and areas that needed work.
    "They have been absolutely wonderful to work with," Bath said.
    Dan Bagley, restoration manager for Otto Baum, is the grandson of one of St. Mary's parishioners.
    On Aug. 25, 1863, a cornerstone was laid for a new Episcopal church building in Lewistown.
    The first Episcopal service had been held there in either the fall of 1834 or the spring of 1835, according to a pamphlet on the history of the church by Lee Ewing, officiated by the Rev. Palmer Dyer.
    The next services were not held in the town until the Rev. John Benson returned in the fall of 1854. In the spring of 1857, the Diocese of Illinois made Lewistown a Missionary Station, and services were held once and later twice a month at the courthouse or the Methodist church.
    The church was organized as St. James Church on July 19, 1859, and the congregation decided it needed a place of its own.
    Construction began using the design of 30-year-old architect Edward Tuckerman Potter, who also built Mark Twain's home. The building was completed and occupied on April 30, 1865. The total cost of the building was $7,714.47. The Rt. Rev. William E. McLaren, 3rd Bishop of Illinois, consecrated the church on Dec. 22, 1876.
    In contrast to the prevailing church architecture of the time, which, according to an article by Josephine Chandler in the "Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society," was "unpleasing rectangular structures crudely reminiscent of Grecian temples, and united in a mongrel assortment of domestic and commercial architecture," St. James was an example of 14th Century Gothic church architecture, that according to Ewing, was a reflection of the traditional values of the church.
    The church was constructed at the same time the Civil War was raging, and partisan feelings were strong in Fulton County. When news of Lincoln's assassination was made known, Constance H. Swartzbaugh in her book "The Episcopal Church in Fulton County, Illinois 1835-1959," quoted a local man, William H. Duvall, who said "Workmen who were southern sympathizers stopped their work, many of them getting drunk by way of expressing their views of what had happened in Washington."
    Duvall, however, tempered his statement by noting, "It might well be remembered that during those days the men were always glad for an excuse for such indulgence."
    Page 2 of 2 - The church faced other obstacles over the years. According to Swartzbaugh, only one service was held in 1939, with contributions that year totaling $1.25. During World War II, the church was also broken into and vandalized.
    Restoration of the church began in 1947, and over the next few years an organ was purchased, the carpet replaced, the floor and supporting beams were braced, new wiring and an oil furnace was put in, bricks were repointed and plaster repaired and stained glass windows were restored.
    On Sunday, July 23, 1950, a Patronal Festival was celebrated in the newly restored church, with choirs from Peoria and Havana providing music.
    The church was named to the National Register of Historic Places on Dec. 31, 1974, and a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Consecration of St. James Church was held Nov. 20, 1976. Further restoration work on the windows was done in 2008.
    The last Sunday in Advent, a group from Chicago led by Dent Davidson, Director of Music and Arts of the Chicago Diocese, will be doing the Nine Lessons and Carols, which is done at Cambridge University in England, and every minister is Lewistown has been invited to take part.
    "This is our birthday present," Bath said.
    And this is particularly appropriate since St. James is now part of the Chicago Diocese. In fact, the baptismal font was a gift from St. James Cathedral in Chicago. "It's like it's coming home," Bath said.
    "Our average Sunday attendance is small," Bath said, "but everyone is so excited about this renovation. A couple from Havana has given a very substantial gift for the project.
    "Birthday parties are special, and when you get to be 150, we wanted to have a gift not only for us but for the community. We decided this would be the ultimate birthday gift."

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