Bygone Building: Unique downtown-area church is up for sale

Photo by JOHN SHELMAN

The First Church of Christ, Scientist on North A Street in Arkansas City is up for sale. Church member Sharon Lind said the congregation is disbanding after declined to the point where it can no longer afford to maintain the building.

The First Church of Christ, Scientist in Arkansas City has served its local congregation for more than 100 years. But the distinctive, historical building in the downtown area now is up for sale and the dwindling congregation is disbanding.

Church member Sharon Lind said Tuesday that membership has shrunk to just five from the 100 or more who once attended services at 201 N. A St.

“Kids grew up and moved away; everybody else has just died off,” she said. “It has just slowly declined over the last 65-70 years. The younger generation just doesn’t seem to be interested in it at all.”

The few remaining members have been meeting in the church annex instead of the main sanctuary since 1996.

“We just couldn’t afford the heating and air-conditioning anymore,” Lind said.

Lind said the church received its charter in June 1888 and purchased the current property in November 1911. The land was purchased and the building was constructed for a combined $12,000.

“It just boggles the mind that they built it for that,” she said.

The building cornerstone says 1915, but the first service was held on July 16, 1916. Lind said the building was completed, but church rules required all loans to be paid off before the building could be dedicated.

The church and a brief history of it are part of the Downtown Historical District Walking Tour produced by the City of Arkansas City. There was talk a few years ago of bringing it and other area churches into the historic district, according to Foss Farrar, chair of the city’s historical preservation board.

“It’s a great building,” Farrar said. “I think definitely  whoever buys it, it should be preserved.”

The structure’s interior and exterior are modeled after the Greek Pantheon in Rome and features a rotunda with a massive domed ceiling. Lind said the same architect designed the First Presbyterian Church on First Street.

“That’s why they both have the large center domes,” she said.

An attempt was made to put the building on the historical register, but Lind said the process was so involved that it was never completed. She hopes somebody might take on that burden.

“I think there would be help in doing so,” she said.

The church also contains a large antique pipe organ. Lind said the organ was put in place when the church opened. It was designed by the Austin Organ Company and built specifically for that building. It is still in pristine condition, she said.

“I haven’t started it up for at least five years,” she said. “But the last time I turned it on, it sounded just as good as it had 50 years ago.”

The organ likely is quite valuable, but Lind said the church does not plan to sell it separately because it would be difficult to move. It is built into the  building’s interior and made up of many separate parts.

“There’s pipes up in the balcony, there’s pipes down in the basement, the pipes have been built in,” she said. “It would require someone with a lot of knowledge to take it out.”

The decision to disband and sell the building has  been heartbreaking, Lind said, but they didn’t see any other option.

“It requires a lot of new maintenance and upkeep that we just can’t do,” she explained.

Parts of interior have serious water damage, especially in the front foyer. Lind said she hopes that someone will buy it at a reasonable price and make all of the needed repairs.

“Our biggest fear is that somebody will come in and just tear it down,” she said. “But we can’t do anything about that — it’s up to them to decide what to do with it.”

Informal services will continue at a member’s houses after the property is sold, she said.

The building has been listed with Summit Realty at $99,900 for about a month. Lind has been advised that the building will likely be difficult to sell.

“The realtor is quite willing to accept any kind of an offer,” she said.

There had been no offers so far, but a lot of people have looked at the building, she said, mostly out  of curiosity.

CourierTraveler Publisher David A. Seaton contributed to this report.

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