A historic building in Newton is about to go on the auction block — called the 1877 Meeting House by its (now deceased) owner, a church building at the intersection of 12th and Logan Street is scheduled to be sold on auction.
"I have been in contact with the historical society and its members, and they do not have the funds to maintain or buy it," sand Vern Koch of Midwest Land Specialists, which will auction off the building April 28.
The property was owned by Pastor Vern Bender, a local pastor who died last year.
A small congregation met at the facility until Bender's health failed. Bender ended up in and out of hospitals and nursing homes — and as a result the state of Kansas became owner of both his house at 1219 N. Logan and the church at 1221 N. Logan.
In 2014 Bender was looking for help to restore and renovate the building, then his health began to fail. Bender died July 14, 2017.
“This is a building that really needs some help,” said Keith Sprunger, a past member of the preservation commission and Bethel College history professor. ”... It’s one of the three oldest churches that we have in Newton that are still functioning.”
Koch said the building will need paint inside and out, and a new roof, for starters. He told The Kansan there is cleanup work that needs to happen inside. The building will be sold with all contents — church records, pulpits, fixtures, furniture and everything inside will go with the sale.
"I hope that someone will buy it that will maintain it," Koch said. "It needs work. They will spend a lot of dollars to refurbish it."
Of the historic churches, the meeting house is the one that is the most original in design and has been modified the least, Sprunger said. He calls it an example of the “prairie Protestant, simple Gothic” style.
The meeting house began its history as a Baptist church. Materials for the structure cost just $250, and the structure was built by members and volunteers. According to research by Sprunger, it provided a contrast to the rowdy cowboy days of Newton, when Buffalo Bill Cody called it the “toughest” wild west town he had seen. The Baptists built a new, more elaborate building in 1884.
The “old church” changed hands over the years and seemed destined for demolition in 1968. Then, the building was purchased by the People’s Bible Baptist Church, led by Bender. The building was moved across town to a new location.
The meeting house has been listed on a Local Register of Historic Places since 2000. Wilson hopes to expand this list to bring awareness to significant properties in the area, and also increase programs to help local buildings.
"It has a lot of opportunities. There are things that can be done with it," said Kelly McElroy, assistant city manager who has been in charge of historic preservation for several years.
The building will be sold, regardless of how low or high the bids come in, at 1 p.m. April 28. Bender's home will also be sold. Also on that day a home at 226 Southwest Third and a home at 323 W. First will be sold.