Champaign County group hopes to restore historic Millerstown Church

A Champaign County group is working to restore the historic Millerstown Church with hopes of using it as a community resource and bringing new life to the small town.

The church has been standing in Millerstown, north of Saint Paris, since the 1880s, said Mike Rogers, a member of the non-profit spearheading the building’s restoration efforts. The building has been empty since the Millerstown Church congregation closed nearly 15 years ago, but it was recently recognized as a public charity by the federal government.

A group of five families in Champaign County, including Rogers’, decided in 2020 to pay $3,5000 of the church’s back taxes when it went up for sheriff’s auction, and the group took ownership of the building. The group feared that the church would be purchased by someone who would gut it or demolish it, Rogers said.

The Millerstown Church has been “a light in the community” since its construction, said John Volgemore, co-owner of the building. He grew up in the small church and has fond memories of vacation Bible school and his mother playing piano on Sundays.

For a one-room, schoolhouse-style church, it saw large crowds each week, boasting an attendance of roughly 100 people in its heyday of the 1960s and 1970s under the leadership of the Rev. Jack Wiltheiss, Volgemore said. The church lacked a parking lot, so people would park all over the town to attend Sunday services.

Volgemore left the area for college at Ohio State University, and over the years he saw the church say goodbye to preachers and congregations, with periods of sitting idle in between new leadership and members. The surrounding town, which used to be home to a general store and gas station, saw little growth over the decades.

Efforts to restore the church started in December 2020 when the first public event was held showcasing the lighting of the windows and the ringing of the church bell. The building was rededicated in a ceremony last May. Two oak trees were planted at the church to commemorate the event.

The overall fundraising goal remains $100,000 for restoring the building. Improvement efforts include the installation of a new metal roof, bell tower repairs, ceiling and floor repairs, HVAC installation and electric service. Rogers said the group also hopes to create a non-attached restroom and wash area for the building.

So far, roughly $7,000 has been raised, and the group has a GoFundMe established for the church.

The vision for the church after its renovations and needed maintenance is to open it up to the community as a house of worship, as well as possibly a space for groups to hold meetings or use as a venue space for celebrations, Rogers said.

The group is planning to hold periodic events at the church as repairs are underway, providing an opportunity to share progress made and to bring the community together, according to a press release from the group.

Rogers said he and others in the non-profit have bumped into several passersby who have stopped at the church while people were working in its front yard to tell them about their memories at the church.

“We want it to be a reason why Millerstown sees a comeback,” Rogers said.

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