The Crain family recently made a donation to the Grand River Historical Society and Museum that will help preserve the history of the Bethel AME Church.

Since Chillicothe’s Bethel AME Church was built and the congregation formed in 1868, the Crain family has been an integral part of the church community. Despite the church closing in 2010, and being moved from its original Henry Street location to McNally Street in September 2018, the Crain family still feels a deep connection to the church, and recently decided to make a donation to help ensure the church’s legacy lives on for years to come.

Rodney Crain, son of Charles and Betty (Parker) Crain, said recently his family donated the lot their home was on, on Liberia Street to the Grand River Historical Society and Museum.

“The home we grew up in was only two blocks from the church,” Crain recalled. “We wanted to do something to ensure the legacy and importance of this church and its role in the history and culture of our hometown could continue.”

Rodney is one of nine children raised by Charles and Betty, and each of them had a role in the church, even when membership began to diminish when Rodney was in high school.

“By the time I was in high school it had become quite a small, but connected and dedicated congregation,” he recalled noting that it was a family tradition to be involved in the church.”My grandparents and great aunts and uncles were on the church boards, led Sunday School classes, and so much more.”

In 1960, Charles became a trustee at Bethel AME Church and served in that capacity for over 45 years. Rodney, following the tradition served as Sunday School Superintendent for a time.

None of the Crain’s children live in Chillicothe anymore; Charles died in 2014 at the age of 96 and Betty died in 2015. Rodney said that left him and his siblings the task to decide what to do with the lot on Liberia Street.

“When we learned the Grand River Historical Society and Museum had an interest in the church and heard about all of the work that had been done to ensure the church was preserved, we knew this was something we had to do,” he said.

Recently, the Crain family, gave ownership of the Liberia Street lot to the historical society.

“This was quite a nice donation,” Marvin Holcer, president of the Grand River Historical Society and Museum Board said. “The proceeds from the sale of the lot will go back into the Bethel AME Church to restore and refurbish it, at its new location.”

There is a list of repairs the historical society hopes to be able to do to the church, including: replastering the walls, refurbishing the windows to their original appeal; changing the front doors and refinishing the floors are just a few items. Holcer noted after the sale of the lot and cost estimates for the repairs they will choose a certain project and earmark the funds from the sale of the Crain’s lot for that use.

“We want them to be able to see what they have been able to do for the church,” he said.

Making sure the history of the church continues, is a priority of the Crain family, Rodney said. “We want to make sure the history isn’t lost,” he said. “This church and the Chillicothe community were such a big part of our lives and we want to continue that history in our hometown.

“We are thankful that our family and all of the other families whose lives and perspectives were shaped in that church, had that opportunity. And seeing it have rebirth is exciting and we are hoping with the actions of the historical society this very significant part of our community and family history is going to continue.”

Chillicothe’s Bethel AME Church is believed to be the first African Methodist Episcopal Church located north of the Missouri River after the Civil War.

Since 2010, the church had been empty and remained on Henry Street until it was purchased by a car dealership for additional parking space. The owner donated it to the Grand River Historical Society and Museum, because, Holcer said, he wanted to ensure the history lived on.

There has already been interest in renting the church for weddings and group events, Holcer said. Once the church has been refurbished the group plans to use the basement for classrooms, and hand-on learning experiences. Tours will also be available by appointment. Holcer said the lot on Liberia Street is available for purchase and anyone interested should contact the Grand River Historical Society and Museum.

Being able to make this donation has reaffirmed the strong connections to the community the Crain family experienced while living here, and Rodney said served as a great reminder about what makes this town special.

“Dana Macoubrie, Marvin Holcer and others like them represent the exceptional, caring people who make me proud to call Chillicothe my hometown.”