Historic church restoration takes big step

Chris Adams, and Scott Harper of Marshalls Creek demolish the second floor of the parsonage addition to the Little Bethel Church in Stroudsburg on Wednesday. The addition was added in the late 1950s and it's destruction will help make way for the reconstruction of the original church's roof.

For the
Pocono Record
June 22, 2006

STROUDSBURG — The site on Third Street looks like just another construction eyesore. But Robert Hillman, 63, of East Stroudsburg has his own vision what the ground, freshly covered in bits of broken building, looks like.

"It's like flowers," Hillman said. "Just to see this going is like heaven, because, I swear, it just seemed like we'd never get it."

On Wednesday at 7:30 a.m., demolition finally began in the restoration effort of the historic Little Bethel AME Church. The church is owned by the Stroudsburg
Little Bethel Historical Society. Wednesday marked the first day of physical work toward restoring the 1867 church as a museum, historical site and education center.

"It just seemed so deadly slow getting the paperwork done, paying everything off and going ahead from that point," Hillman said. "Now we're actually tearing it up, which is the best thing I've seen in years."

"I was thinking I'll be dead and this place will still be sitting here," Hillman said. "But now that they're really going on it, it's pretty good."

Little Bethel AME was founded by former slaves and is believed to be the oldest black church in Pennsylvania. The site is also believed to be a stop for escaped slaves on the Underground Railroad.

According to Hillman, the vice chairman of the historical society, the first step of the project is to tear down the parsonage next door and repair the roof of the church itself. Two volunteers began demolition by tearing down the top story of the parsonage to create easier access to the church roof. The parsonage is scheduled to be down by the end of the week, so the roof repairs can be started and then completed by the end of next week.

"I think it's really important we get a roof on here," Hillman said. "I keep thinking this will never make it through another winter, but it's aged extremely well. Just think, with all the water and snow, and since 1972 there's been no heat in the building — if this was my house it'd be a pile of ash."

After finishing the roof repairs, the restoration will change focus to the building's interior. Hillman said the next steps would be to dry out the interior, redo the floors, the walls, the windows and the rest of the intricacies on the inside.

Hillman estimated that the cost of the restoration project would be near $380,000.

How close is the historical society to that figure?

"Well, we're not," Hillman said. "We've got enough to do the parsonage and do the roof. Then we're pretty close to broke, so we have to start raising money and we really need donations."

Hillman said the historical society plans to pursue grants, register as a national historic site and continue to fund money in order to meet the cost of the project. The task ahead is daunting, but Hillman and the society remain both optimistic and passionate.

"Getting donations isn't that difficult, but they just have to be large donations," Hillman said. "But everyone in the community really seems to love this project."