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Historic church restoration begins

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By Tracy Harris

After 117 years, DeHaven Baptist Church is getting a facelift.

The historical structure, located in downtown La Grange, is undergoing major exterior renovations beginning this week to restore the masonry and protect the structure.

Keith Bradford, chair of the church’s property and space committee, said the restoration will help protect the building for future generations.

The project will cost about $240,000, Bradford said. Crews will be tuckpointing the brick — cutting out the mortar between stones and replacing it.

The main building shows gapping between many bricks where the mortar has worn away over time.

Bradford said it’s not just a cosmetic repair. 

Because the walls are made of stucco, not wood studs, water could seep through the mortar cracks and destroy the stucco.

The project also includes removing shingles from the bell tower roof and replacing it with copper. 

The church has needed the repairs for a number of years, Bradford said, and he’s happy to see them finally taking place.

Restoration crews will likely be on site for about two months, he said.

While this week marks the most extensive renovation the church has undergone, keeping the century-old building going takes constant upkeep.

In 2008, the lead in all the stained-glass windows was replaced, Bradford said, and storm windows installed to protect them.

Efforts to maintain the church — built in 1895 — protect not only the building but its lively history.

It started as Lick Branch Baptist Church in 1802 and was renamed the Baptist Church of La Grange in 1826.

The congregation moved several times since forming, including a log house and two brick churches, built in 1843 and 1879.

One of the churches still stands at Washington and Cedar streets.

The congregation moved for the last time in December 1895 when a church member, Bettie Russell DeHaven, gave the current building as a gift — with a year’s worth of supplies — in memory of her husband.

To most, that sounds like a good thing — but the gift split the church’s congregation.

A number of members were uncomfortable with the funding, according to a history of the church written by Verna Ratcliff and preserved at the Oldham County History Center.

Judge DeHaven, Bettie’s husband, is thought to have acquired his fortune through gambling — and many members “thought it wrong to accept as a house of worship a building built with ‘tainted’ money,” Ratcliff wrote.

It then became DeHaven Memorial Baptist Church.

Eventually, most members of the church returned, although many left in 1999 when La Grange Baptist Church opened on Commerce Parkway. The remaining group chartered a new church in the old building and dropped “memorial” from the name.

Bradford said the congregation dropped to about 50 members then, but is now up to more than 200 attendees most Sundays.

The building is a mix of Victorian Gothic and Richarsonian Romanesque styles. 

Victorian Gothic — or Gothic Revival — is a popular style often used for churches and university buildings. Richardsonian Romanesque building style is less well-known but exemplified by Trinity Church in Boston, built in the 1870s.

The sanctuary is an octagon shape, with an intricate wooden ceiling that Bradford points out was entirely handcrafted.

Wooden ribs cross the ceiling to a central point, forming a spoked circle from which hangs a chandelier. Between the ribs are diagonal boards that fill the ceiling.

In recent years, the chandelier and other pendant lights in the sanctuary have been restored with handblown glass, Bradford said.

He — and other members of the church — hope the project will help preserve the church for future generations.