Sunday, January 13, 2002

Church receives $3,000 toward renovations




By Stephenie Steitzer
Enquirer Contributor

        COVINGTON — The first of many prayers has been answered for members of the Ninth Street United Methodist Church. The 142-year-old church was awarded a $3,000 planning grant by the Kentucky Heritage Council this week to determine what kind of work needs to be done to the building and how much it will cost.

CHURCH NOTABLES
  Notable past community members who have been connected to the Ninth Street United Methodist Church include:
  • Songwriter Haven Gillespie, who wrote “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.''
  • The Rev. Matthew Claire, one of the first two African-Americans to become a bishop in the United Methodist church. Communities in Africa bear his name. The Rev. Claire lived in Covington and was a communicant of the church;
  • Elizabeth Gooch, a music teacher for black youth in Covington. Ms. Gooch was an organist at the church for 60 years.
  • Amos Shinkle, who contributed land and money to the construction of the Roebling Suspension Bridge. Mr. Shinkle helped the first black congregation purchase the church from the Presbyterians.
  • James McLaughlin, who designed the Cincinnati Art Museum and the former Shillito's Department Store. Mr. McLaughlin designed the church.
  • Charles Edward Jones, who was a mortician and prominent businessman in Covington. Mr. Jones was a member of the church.
  • Dr. J.E. Watkins, one of the first black physicians in the community and a church member.
    For information about donating money or helping with fund-raising, contact preservation consultant Alexandra Weldon at 581-1335.
        The church is part of the Covington historical district and is connected to many famous community members of the past, including songwriter Haven Gillespie, who wrote music for the church choir. Mr. Gillespie is famous for the song “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

        Obtaining this grant is the first of many hurdles ahead of the primarily African-American church. Members realize that with a dwindling congregation, raising money for a serious renovation will be a challenge.

        “The church, like most urban churches, is declining in membership,” church member Mary Northington, 72, of Covington, said. “A lot of the maintenance work that has needed to be done has not been done.”

        Ms. Northington said the church was built by Presbyterians who worshipped there for about 20 years before selling the building to the black Methodist Episcopal Church congregation. James McLaughlin, who designed the Cincinnati Art Museum and the former Shillito's Department Store, designed the church.

        There is speculation that because the church is so close to the Ohio and Licking rivers it may have been part of the Underground Railroad. Ms. Northington said not enough is known about the Presbyterians who established the church to determine whether that is true.

        Only a handful of people braved last Sunday's weather to attend service. While many of the 80 official congregation members are unable to show up regularly be cause they are elderly or shut-ins, Ms. Northington said the 3-inch snowfall kept some away.

        Corryville resident Clara Lytle, who has been a member for 56 years, said the dwindling congregation is upsetting.

        “It's tragic really. We do not have what we had when I was a child,” she said.

        While the low attendance is disappointing to some, those who showed up last week said they will continue working to build membership and restore the building.

        “We need to focus on bringing souls to Christ,” Newport resident Patricia Fann, 54, said.

        Covington resident Marcia Johnson, 38, added: “We need a total renovation to bring it back to speed structurally.”

        The inside and outside of the red-brick church need work. A tornado damaged the steeple in 1986, and the balcony ceiling caved in in 1989. Members said those problems weren't fixed as well as they should've been.

        The ceiling inside the church was lowered to conserve heat, but members want to restore it to its original height.

       



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