Restoration of the Bethel AME Church is now underway.
Restoration of the Bethel AME Church is now underway. The church has a long rich history on Chillicothe, beginning in 1868 when parishioners built the church originally located on Henry Street it was the first African-American Methodist Church north of the Missouri River.
“When you think about it the people who built this church had been slaves not long before,” Pam Clingerman, curator of the Grand River Historical Society and Museum said. “They didn’t have much money, no engineers, no architects but they still built this beautiful church.”
In 2010, the church closed its doors and in 2018, a local businessman donated the church to the museum after purchasing the lot it was on, on Henry Street. In September 2018, the church was moved across town to its current location near the museum on McNally Street.
In hopes of preserving the history of the building itself and the impact the church and its members have had and continue to have on the Chillicothe community, Clingerman said they plan to make the building into an African-American History Museum and also use it as a community center.
“It is not going to be used as a church but we will open it up to weddings, meetings, and other community events. We want it to be a type of community center - where can come and gather,” she said. “Just as it was for the congregation.”
The church has a new basement which will house three classrooms, two bathrooms, a small kitchen area and additional room for exhibits. The former sanctuary will have the original pine wood flooring, church pews and will also feature some exhibits along a long blank wall.
“The church project is proceeding well, with electric and water lines run into the building
and preliminary grading finished in the parking lot,” Clingerman said. “The sanctuary ceiling is being insulated in readiness for plaster and paint. When the old paneling was removed the
original wood trim around the windows was uncovered and the windows promise to look
amazing when they are restored. It is a time consuming job but it will be well worth it
Clingerman said careful work is being done to restore what plaster they can while applying new plaster in other areas. Rustin Simon, lead contractor, with, Plaster Works is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, South Dakota. The company is a Minority Business Entity headquarters in Kansas City, has done additional work to reinforce the roof baffles, insulation and then will plaster the walls and ceiling.
Since it is a museum a heating and air conditioning system and humidity control will be installed.
While several fundraisers are planned in the fall, Clingerman said any donations to help repair and restore the building are appreciated.