Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project

 

 
Old Bethany Meeting House

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Institution Name: Bethany College (WV)
Original/Historic Place Name: Bethany Meeting House
Location on Campus: Church St.
Date(s) of Construction:
1831-1835original construction; original church
1852original church destroyed by fire; rebuilt
1984-1986restoration
Designer: Steve Paulls
Type of Place: Individual building
Style: Greek revival (Glossary)
Significance: religion
Narrative: see below
References: see below
Materials:
Foundation: sandstone found locally, fitted together with mortar
Walls: brick
Roof: standing seam terne coated stainless
 
Function:
1832-present (2006)chapel
 

Narrative:
In "The National Register of Historic Places Inventory--Nomination Form," Bethany Historic District, entered April 1, 1982, the church is described as "brick, 1 storey, 5 bays, gable roof with broken pediment, lunette window in pediment, double entrance on gable end, stone lintels. Simplified Classical Revival. 1852." It is a plain rectangular building with large, unstained, double hung, 12 over 12 windows. Two entrances open into a narrow vestibule, which forms a corridor across the entire front of the church. This was used for hanging muddy riding skirts, etc, in early days. From the vestibule one enters the sanctuary by either of two doors located on either side of the pulpit. The congregation faces the entrances. A handmade pulpit on a raised platform is located between the front entrances. In front of it there is a table, the center of worship, where the Lord's Supper is served. Handmade straight-backed pews are arranged along two aisles with a divider down the middle that separated the men and the women in Alexander Campbell's day. At least three times before 1915 the church was repaired, modified, or renovated, and at some time prior to 1897 a small wooden belfry was added to the roof at the West end. The length of the platform was changed during one of the renovations, the original being about nine inches high with semi-octagonal ends which extended into the worship area about 15 feet and with a second platform placed against the end wall where the pulpit was located. The second platform was two risers high. In 1897, a metal-lined baptismal pool was added and the length of the platform shortened. A rough plank fence across the front of the building was replaced by a hitching rail, and early in the 20th century, a white picket fence was installed. In 1919, contracts were let for repairs on the Bethany Meeting House, and the work was completed in April 1920. At that time the building was repointed and reroofed. The belfry was removed, the chimneys were rebuilt, and the interior was renovated. In the summer of 1984, historic restoration began on the old church. May 18, 1986 marked the day of dedication of the fully restored church, an undertaking funded by Mr. and Mrs. Robert H. Rountree of Fort Worth, Texas. Since the restoration, it has been used for occasional services, during the summer months for the congregation of Bethany Memorial Church, and to commemorate special occasions.

The foundation of the building is sandstone and mortar. Around two sides are cut sandstone blocks that may have come from the original foundation. Geologist Gregg Eddy believes these may have formed the foundation cap for the original stone church in 1831, which if true would mean the church built in 1852 would be twice the size of the old one. In Restoration of the Old Bethany Meeting House, prepared by Grigg, Wood, Browne, Eichman & Dalgleish, the sandstone foundation is described as rubble stone, and the foundation cap is described as dressed stone.

The church was used for regular worship services from 1852 until 1915. It was a simple, rectangular building without adornments. Curator George Miller estimates that the church had a seating capacity of about 300. The pews were divided down the middle with a wooden partition. It was the custom for single women to sit in the left side and for single men to sit on the right side of the preacher. Family groups were encouraged to sit together. In 1912, the congregation voted to tear the old church down. Meeting resistance to this plan, it was finally decided on February 1, 1914, to abandon the idea of demolishing the church out of deference to the wishes of Decima Campbell Barclay. When the new Bethany Memorial Church was built in 1914-1915, the meeting house ceased to be used except occasionally.
 

References:

Browne, Henry J. Bethany Historic District [including Bethany College (WV)]. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1982.

Harding, James E. Bethany Church of Christ [Bethany College (WV)]. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1976.

Power, Frederick D. The Life of William Kimbrough Pendleton, LL.D., President of Bethany College. St. Louis: Christian Publishing, 1902.

Woolery, William Kirk. Bethany Years: The Story of Old Bethany from Her Founding Years through a Century of Trial and Triumph. Huntington, WV: Standard Printing and Publishing, 1941.

 

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