This is Pastor Tim’s article which appeared in the Evening Leader on Monday, April 25, 2022
On Easter Sunday, a couple of our local churches here in town got together to have our Sunrise Service at the chapel at Elm Grove. I found it very interesting that the more I announced to Wayne Street that we were having that service, the response was mostly “there is a chapel at Elm Grove?”
Yes, I can confirm there is a chapel at Elm Grove Cemetery. It was built in 1901, which means it has been part of the cemetery for over a century. I was in the chapel for the Memorial Day celebration a few years ago, and even as recently as Memorial Day last year, it was being used for storage. Since birds were able to get inside, everything was also covered in the obvious by-product.
I don’t know for certain who cleaned out all the junk so we could have service that morning, but I am suspecting it was the workers for the City of St Marys, and I am very grateful to them. I took a small crew over there the week leading up to Easter scrubbing out as much dust and debris as we could. By the time we were there early on Easter Sunday morning, the chapel was absolutely beautiful. The sunrise that morning was just incredible, and the moon was full the night before. It made quite a setting for Sunrise Service. We were in a cemetery with nobody present. That seemed to be most appropriate for Easter Sunday morning.
I want to thank Beth Keuneke from the Library for doing some research for me. She shared a couple of articles that appeared in the Evening Leader through the years and helped me piece together the history of the chapel.
The date on the front of the chapel says 1901. It was used regularly for funerals until the 1950’s when funeral homes in the area began holding services in their own facilities. There was even a dumbwaiter elevator system so that the caskets could be brought in through the basement and lifted through the floor into the sanctuary for service. To this day, there are vaults in the basement that were used to store bodies through the winter until graves could be dug in the spring.
The chapel appears to have been kept up until the mid to late 1970s, when it became a storage facility. In 1986, a renovation campaign was started which put down a new floor, closed off the dumbwaiter, refinished the original 21 pews, and painted the interior. The Finke family, who were the caretakers of Elm Grove for generations, undertook this renovation. The reason we have such a beautiful chapel and grounds at Elm Grove is due to the work and dedication from generations of their family.
As some point since the last renovation in 1986, the chapel became a storage unit once again. The Ministerial Association in conjunction with the city of St Marys and the Trustees of Elm Grove are in conversation to do some more work on the chapel to preserve it. All 21 of the original pews are still there and the floor is in excellent condition. The stained glass needs some repair work, but part of the 1986 renovation was to seal all the stained glass windows with plexiglass to protect them. That is the only reason they still exist now. There is no record of a new roof being put on the chapel in 1986, so the roof is very old. There are no water spots inside, but there is considerable moss growing on the roof as well as a beehive in the roof. The old doors that lead to the basement are in desperate need of being replaced. Water has run down the steps inside and has eroded those stone steps, which will all need to be replaced.
For the lack of any climate control ever being in the building, and for it being used as storage for most of its existence, the chapel is in amazingly good shape. Proof that they do not build them like they used to. It is my prayer to be able to do some work to the building so that the churches of St Marys can use it as an ecumenical space and possibly have funerals in the facility again as well as special holiday services. It is a sacred space that has meaning to many people. I believe it is a part of St Marys that we should work to preserve, but it is going to take all of us working together to bring it back. This project will be nowhere near as ambitious or costly as the most excellent theater renovation. However, it is another part of our heritage that I would like to present to the community as a part of the bicentennial next year.
Please keep this in prayer and we will be holding open houses for the chapel through the summer in hopes of gaining support of doing some work on the structure.