• 79°

Good to see a renewal project going on at the Bethlehem Church Cemetery

It was really sad to see the historic Bethlehem Church come down. Although services hadn’t been held there in many years, it was a highly significant historic structure. Located near the junction of Whitesmill and River roads, it was the oldest church building in Valley.

According to the Valley Historic Preservation Commission’s list of historic buildings, it’s thought to have been built in the early 1870s.

It would have been great could the church building undergone some renovation work to sustain its presence in the local area for many years to come. Realistically, though, it just wasn’t possible. A feasibility study to see if that could be done was commissioned some 10 or 15 years ago. A structural engineer who looked at it estimated that it would cost well over a million dollars to firm up the foundation.

By the start of this year there were two options, take it down and salvage its materials or wait for it to fall in.

It’s been interesting to talk to John and Thomas Bush about their taking down the building. It was a small miracle for it to still be standing. The combination of wooden pegs and mortar was in an advanced state of decline. It was only a matter of time something would give way and the whole thing would likely come down. It was a more graceful exit to take it down board by board, which was what was done.

There is a good side to this story. With the church building having been removed, there’s more space for the Bethlehem Church Cemetery to undergo a top-notch upgrade. That’s taking place now. Landscape specialist Chuck Rudd has come up with a fantastic plan to make the historic cemetery a really nice place to visit. Some graves that had sunken in have been repaired as have been some head stones. The site is now surrounded by a very attractive ornamental gate, a new drive way and parking area is going in and a new 2o-by-25-foot-wide structure known as a pergola is going up. It will be a much-visited spot with some historical markers about the church and the surrounding community once known as Glass.

I’m most impressed with the plans Rudd has come up with. Obviously, much thought went into it. The pergola will be surrounded by 22 azalea plants, four bigleaf hydrangeas and 135 liriopes.

Inside the cemetery gates will be an abundance of plants that will be changed out as the seasons change to maximize the appeal of color. They include azaleas, border forsythia, burning bushes, Chinese snowball bushes, purple beauty berries, variegated liriopes and a plant known as Hearts a Burstin.’

No doubt about it, Rudd really did his homework on this project. It should be something really special, something that can help ease the pain of losing the beautiful old church.

We must acknowledge one man’s thoughtfulness in having this all come about. The late Donald Williams was a really fine man. I used to see him a lot only visits to Valley Senior Center. I will never forget him giving me a photo he wanted us to run in the paper. It was something very rare and something he was most proud of: twin cows.

Mr. Williams raised cattle not far from the church and was very frugal with his money. He left several hundred thousand dollars in his estate, directing that it be used in the restoration of Bethlehem Church. It was something that was well intentioned but just not possible.

It’s my understanding that around $125,000 from the estate will be used in the renewal of the cemetery with the remainder being used in the new Senior Center.

I believe Mr. Williams would have liked that. He was a very devoted member of the center. I think it would be fitting if the city were to put up a plaque in his honor when the new center opens later on this spring.