By Cheryl Conway
Bells should be ringing again soon at the historic Baptist Church in Flanders.
“The exterior is finished,” announces Kathy Murphy, vice president of the Mt. Olive Twp. Historical Society.
The exterior has been renovated to replica the building’s exterior from 1870, painted to look like limestone block, says Murphy. Limestone block, a stone with stucco “was a decorative trend” at that time. The church’s exterior is now stone with stucco and lines that look like the limestone block.
The porch with its overhang was also removed as that had been added to the building in 1906.
“We were taking it back to 1870,” Murphy explains.
An ongoing project since 2007, the exterior renovations were completed within the last month.
“It was so weather dependent,” says Murphy. “It took a lot of work to get it all done. Windows were all replaced, steeple has been renovated and front porch was redone, she adds.
Renovating the interior is the next step in completing the church before it opens to the public.
Grants have been lined up for contractors to come in to provide utilities, fixing floors and adding a single-stall bathroom, says Murphy. All of the contractors selected have been prescreened in the handling of historic buildings, specializing in heating, electric and a historic specialist on floors and beams.
“All the walls have to be prepared and painted up,” she says.
The tin ceiling put up in the 1890s will come down, she notes. Underneath is a “pretty rare” painted canvas, says Murphy. “We don’t know the full extent of damage” to that canvas. That fabric ceiling will come down to protect it and inspect it; another grant will be attained to either replace or restore the one-of-a kind canvas.
For the interior part of the project, Murphy says she hopes to have that all completed this next year.
Upon completion, the historical society hopes to have some displays about the history of Mt. Olive Twp. inside but the historical society will keep its permanent location at Drakesbrook Park where it has been for the past 10 years.
“We don’t want to junk up the church with all that stuff,’ says Murphy.
Instead the town plans to open up the building for rented space such as for small weddings or gatherings, open houses, tours and a community church, says Murphy.
The church was built in 1855 and was utilized by a congregation that had been in existence since 1753. Its neighboring one-room schoolhouse was built in 1837 and is also lined for renovations.
“The little school house is the next project,” says Murphy, that will be used as a museum in which the historical society will help operate.
The church’s adjacent cemetery- “the oldest cemetery in town” – is the burial grounds for most of the town’s early founders including Budd, Stephens, Wolf with some names on headstones dating back to Revolutionary and Civil War soldiers.
Mt. Olive Twp.’s Building and Grounds has been cleaning up the cemetery to maintain the property.
“We don’t want branches coming down on the roof,” says Murphy, “so they’ve been trimmed and taken out and replaced with smaller trees. The stone wall also needs work.”
Improvement plans for the site include fixing the stone wall and painting the cemetery fence, finalized with some landscaping that may require some community volunteers, she says.
Township officials acquired the church in 2003 and it is one of two properties in town listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Efforts to attain grants to renovate the building began in 2007, according to Murphy.
In the end, completed renovations will be hundreds of thousands of dollars, with 80 percent paid by grants provided by Morris County Preservation Trust.
Mt Olive Twp. owns the building and is paying 20 percent of the project, says Murphy.
“The county has been very, very helpful with this project,” says Murphy.