Some things were never meant to remain unchanged, even in the Town Time Forgot.
At the corner of Laporte and Allegheny Avenues stands perhaps our best example of adaptation. It has been a church, a museum, and a private residence all in the space of 100 years. Have you reinvented yourself that many times?
It all began with that Eagles Mere visionary, Judge J. Richter Jones who had already purchased the area and changed its name to “Eaglesmere.” (Yay! Much better than Lewis Lake IMHO. ) Then, with his church roots running deep–he was son and grandson of ministers–he felt it was time to add a place of worship to the community. The first minister was a Rev. Boken Oken (I am not making this up). The congregation met in a converted cottage on Laporte Ave. Unfortunately it was destroyed by fire in 1872.
In 1889, a new building was constructed on the current site. Completed in 1890, it was in regular use until it was hit in 1892 by the historic tornado, destroying it just 10 days after the debt was paid.
Two years later, a second church was dedicated on the site. Margaret Wilson, daughter of President Woodrow Wilson, sang to an overflowing crowd here one Sunday in 1913. However, it too succumbed to destruction when it burned down in 1920. (Is this the unluckiest church ever?)
The third –and LAST– building is what we see today, dedicated in 1922. Here is a postcard featuring the church. What we haven’t been able to figure out is : “Here’s the church; where’s the steeple….people?”
But this property persisted! Declining memberships caused the Baptists and the Methodists to agree–a miracle 😄–to sharing the church across the intersection in 1939, leaving the Baptist Church to be used as a parsonage and community hall. How long it remained so is unknown, but by 1987, thanks to the dedication of Raymond “Bud” Watts and Joanne Smith who spearheaded it, the Eagles Mere Historical and Museum Commission was born. And guess what stolid edifice would be appointed to house this museum? Yup.
Still not done.
The dear old building has been restored beautifully by Richard and Carol Johnson of the venerable Johnson Family, who make it available for private venues. It retains elements of its religious past through the Gothic windows, vaulted ceilings, and pendant chandeliers.
And proudly out front, as the ultimate symbol, stands the Bell. Reach under and you can even strike it. When you do, give thanks for all those who have kept this landmark alive.
Bill and Leslie
P.S. Do you have a memory of the Baptist Church/Museum/Bell House’s history? Let us know below!