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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

CTMHV’s 1885 Bethel Church was originally built on Arner Townline

by Sylene Argent

The 1885 Bethel United Church is one of several homes and buildings of local historical significance nestled along the winding path at the Canadian Transportation Museum & Heritage Village (CTMHV).

  The Elford family began building the structure on the corner of the Arner Townline and the 6th Concession as a place of worship in 1883. Nearly a century later, in 1978, the Bethel United Church was donated by the women’s group as it was no longer in use.

  “One of the nicest things about the church was the connection to the Elfords. Until his death, Robert Elford used to come by all the time to ‘checkup’ on the church and make sure we had enough brochures for visitors,” Lisa Wacheski said, who is the Curator and Manager of Education at the CTMHV.

  He passed way on Christmas Day in 2016, at 91-years of age. Robert was still making those visits up to one month before he passed. He sometimes would make a donation to the church to help with maintenance.

  She added the Elford Women’s Institute used to bake pies in the church basement for the CTMHV’s special events years ago, and the Women’s Institute used to hold its monthly meetings there. The members later moved into the lobby of CTMHV to host its meetings.

  “It was really neat to see a community of women, or rather such great women, who represented and cared for their community, reciting their pledge, singing “O Canada” and “God save the Queen” (if I can recall correctly). I remember having just started working at the Museum and thinking ‘what great role models those women were,’” Wacheski said, noting many of those members at that time were up in age and so dedicated.

  In 2018, Museum volunteers noticed the cedar shingles on the Bethel United Church needed to be replaced, and a metal roof was selected as the replacement. At the time, Museum volunteers noted that was a material available when the church would have been originally constructed.

  Wacheski noted the roof was repaired, thanks to generous contributions from the community. A GoFundMe campaign was launched to help raise the necessary funds. In addition, the interior of the structure was repaired and repainted, after receiving water damage. The exterior doors have also been repainted to match the new roof and the exterior. It has been scraped and painted on two-sides, with the remainder to be completed this year.

  The CTMHV was able to raise the nearly $20,000 needed to cover the cost of the new roof and the interior water damage. This fundraising goal was reached because of the volunteers at the CTMHV, Historic Vehicle Society of Ontario (HVSO) members, and community members.

Donations were also received from individuals who were tied to the Church while it was an active congregation.

  The CTMHV then set out to raise another $20,000 to have the exterior of the Church painted and cover the cost to complete needed exterior repairs.

  The CTMHV stills plan to host an open house for all who donated to the roof repair project, but wanted to wait until all the repairs had been completed before doing so.

  In the future, it is hoped the CTMHV will be able to freshen up the basement, which is used for school field trips for lunch, Wacheski said.

  The Bethel United Church is used as part of the CTMHV’s Children’s Education Program, where thousands of students get a hands-on history lesson. Wacheski used the church for the Christmas Pageant portion of its Christmas Traditions program for grades 2 and 3 students, when it was able to host school trips prior to the pandemic.

  Annually, several area couples also choose to get married in the church.

  To learn more about the CTMHV’s events, programs, or volunteer and donation opportunities, log onto

Historical Highlight

Since the Coronavirus pandemic has restricted access into local museums, a local display or area of historical significance will be featured in the next few editions of the Essex Free Press to honour the area’s rich and interesting history.

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