Friday, October 19, 2001

Church becomes a home

Boone Co. structure built in 1851

By Karen Samples
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Without power tools, nails or steel, they built a church that stood for 150 years. On Thursday, their work was reverently dismantled by people determined to save it.

        The hand-hewn timbers, beams and studs of the old Gunpowder Baptist Church soon will become the framework of a home for Ruth Wade Cox Brunings, 67, who was raised on a farm in Boone County.

        Over the next eight months, log-cabin expert Terry Sawyer will painstakingly reassemble the church on Mrs. Brunings' family farm, adding only a few interior features to make it a home.

        “I feel like I'm honoring (our) ancestors,” Mrs. Brunings said as she stood in the shell of the old church on Thursday.

        Around her, Mr. Sawyer's helpers pried up floor joists. Outside, the north fork of Gunpowder Creek gurgled, and sunlight glinted off the yellow leaves of sycamore trees along its banks.

        Gunpowder Baptist Church was built in 1851 and was last used for worship in 1939. In subsequent years, it functioned as a barn. Mr. Sawyer had to remove piles of hay and corncobs before salvaging its parts.

        The old church sits on land now owned by Rhein-Meyer LLC of Greater Cincinnati, which is developing the Carter's Mill subdivision on surrounding parcels. Rhein-Meyer had no use for the old structure, which lies in the flood plain, so it offered Boone County residents the opportunity to save it.

        Mrs. Brunings was drawn into the effort by Bruce Ferguson, a Boone County farmer and former judge-executive.

        “The science of this kind of construction is lost,” Mr. Ferguson said. “They had to cut down trees and shape them by hand with broadax and foot adz. ... This wood came off the very ground where it stands.”

        He approached Mrs. Brunings because she owns 56 acres in rural Boone County. To preserve the land as green space, she gave a conservation easement to the Kentucky Heritage Council, with the understanding that she could construct one home there.

        Mr. Ferguson suggested using the framework of the old church. Mrs. Brunings, who lives in the state of California with her husband, Jay, will live in the finished product as a second home.

        The church's two entrances — one for women, one for men — will be re-created as back doors for the Brunings. Its eight windows, each measuring 8 feet by 4 feet, also will be replicated.

        The church's roof is spanned lengthwise by a 48-foot piece of wood, with a 38-foot piece running in the other direction. To craft them, the builders cut down enormous trees and then chipped the wood away with axes, Mr. Sawyer said.

        The roof system is contained entirely in the rafters; there are no posts supporting it from the floor. Imagining the labor involved, Mr. Sawyer called it “really extravagant.”

        Soon, Mrs. Brunings will call it home.

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