Because  You Asked . . . .

Our Savior Episcopal Church, built in 1896, existed from 1877 until 1932 in Galena 
- Photo owned Howard Bricker

Churches Cooperate on Land Deal 
in Galena
by David A. Simmons, January 2003

Nails marking property lot corners have recently been pounded into the pavement of Church Street in Galena and wooden stakes have appeared in the parking lot next to the administration building for the Big Walnut School District. All this surveyors' activity is the result of a recent land agreement between the United Methodists and the Episcopalians. When was an Episcopal Church in Galena?

Although long forgotten today, the Episcopal faith dates back to the pioneer settlement days in the Big Walnut area. The mother church for the area was erected at Berkshire in the 1820s through the influence of Philander Chase, Ohio's first and foremost Episcopal bishop, and is thought to have been the second oldest Episcopal church in the state. But the most impressive church of this denomination in the area stood in Galena for half a century. This congregation began in 1875, and two years later they built what was characterized in the 1880 Delaware County history as "one of the handsomest brick edifices in the county." Located in Galena on the corner of Walnut and Church Streets where a parking lot is now located, it was built from the plans of a New Jersey architect and cost $1,750. Named Our Savior Episcopal Church, it was considered a mission congregation by the Diocese of Southern Ohio in Cincinnati that had jurisdiction over central Ohio.

By the summer of 1895, the early Berkshire congregation had dwindled and all the original families were gone, their farms sold to members of other faiths. The Diocese decided to sell the Berkshire church and furniture and use the proceeds to help support the Galena church. Along with this financial windfall, the Galena congregation was given the bronze bell from Berkshire and erected a tower to house it. This was the first time that a second church bell had been heard in the village, joining the nearby bell in the Methodist church belfry, and the two reportedly "harmonized beautifully."

Late in October 1895, the Galena Episcopalians held nightly services in preparation for a Confirmation Sunday that would be presided over by the bishop. The plans came to naught when a fire started and completely destroyed the roof and interior of the church. Thoughts of repair were quickly replaced with the idea of a totally new building. The congregation had no insurance, but the necessary funds were raised in very short order, and C. A. Howell, an architect from Westerville, was hired to design a new church. Construction began in the spring of 1896 and was completed that year. Predominantly frame, the church had an elevated basement of brick that housed a social hall and lecture rooms.

The new church served the Galena Episcopalians admirably for several decades. But just as with the Berkshire group, family members gradually began to die and the congregation's membership dropped off .By the 1920s, the church stood vacant and in 1925, the adjacent school began to use it for overflow classrooms and the Methodists occupied it for Sunday School. Two years later , the Diocese offered to sell it to the village board of education. While they debated the purchase price, a woman from New York City who had grown up in Galena and whose father had helped build the church, offered to buy the property with the intention of tearing the building down. By 1933, the lot was cleared.

In the meantime, the land was supposedly sold to George DeVore who operated a funeral home across the street and needed it for parking. He, in turn, was said to have donated the land and an adjacent lot to the school with the understanding that the Methodists would have access to them for parking during evening hours and on Sunday. Long-time residents in the village recalled all these details, some established on the basis of gentlemen's agreements. Unfortunately no one had ever thought to record these transactions in the courthouse.

At the turn of the 21st century, as the Methodist congregation considers expanding their building, investigation of the legal status of the parking lot was necessary. At best, records were muddled. One office at the courthouse listed the Episcopal church as still owning the end of the parking lot. While the church archives in Cincinnati referenced the land being sold to the New York woman, the deed itself had disappeared and no legal record of the transaction could be found. Another county office even showed the land belonging to the Methodists!

To clarify this legal uncertainty, the Episcopal Diocese agreed to deed the land to the Methodists in exchange for lawyers' fees. Thanks to their generous gift, the Big Walnut schools and the Galena United Methodist Church have now begun discussions about jointly paving their mutual parking lot.


. . . .And Now You Know
by Polly Horn


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(04/01/2006 )

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