Ag museum’s restored church dedicated

The completely restored St. Thomas Methodist Episcopal Church was reopened to the public on the grounds of the Delaware Agricultural Museum and Village Saturday. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — The completely restored St. Thomas Methodist Episcopal Church (circa 1857) was reopened to the public Saturday before a large audience on the grounds of the Delaware Agricultural Museum and Village.

Originally nestled in a wooded preserve near present day Shortly, St. Thomas Methodist Episcopal Church served the religious, social and educational needs of rural Delawareans in that area from the 1850s until the 1920s when religious services were discontinued.

The abandoned church was moved to the Ag Museum grounds in 1994, where it was to become the “heart and soul” of the Delaware Agricultural Museum’s historic 1890s village.

Exhibiting all of the design elements of churches of its vintage, St. Thomas, even in its years of disrepair, presented itself as a beautiful representation of rural 19th century church architecture with its steeply pitched roof, arched windows and stained glass. The pews, chairs, pulpit and cast-iron stoves are original while the doors once graced the entrance of Conley’s Chapel (circa 1838) near Angola.

The doors, tossed aside and destined for the trash heap following one of the chapel’s many renovation projects, were salvaged by Iilda Bookhammer and were stored in her family barn.

Upon reading that St. Thomas Church had a mismatch set of “temporary” doors (at the time the building was moved to the Ag Museum), Mrs. Bookhammer stepped up to donate the doors from Conley’s Chapel for use in St. Thomas Methodist Episcopal Church.

As with most all historic buildings, preservation efforts present enormous time and cost challenges. But, determined to save St. Thomas as a special symbol of Delaware’s rural history and heritage, in 2019 the museum’s board of trustees allocated funds to restore the church to its former glory.

Museum volunteer and honored rededication ceremony guest, Arthur Gene Carlisle, donated $25,000 under the museum’s “Adopt-A-Building” program (www.agriculturalmuseum.org/adopt-a-building) to support the costly preservation work. Other financial support has come from the state of Delaware grant in aid as well as donations from private citizens and businesses.

The museum’s St. Thomas Church “Sponsor-A-Pew” initiative has also generated much needed financial assistance.

Now structurally sound with new framing, roof, cypress siding and repairs to the windows, walls, doors and floors, St. Thomas Methodist Episcopal Church is now available for religious services and wedding ceremonies.

The St. Thomas Methodist Episcopal Church rededication event kicks off a monthlong celebration at the Delaware Agricultural Museum and Village focusing on the Museum’s historic buildings and collections to include the display and sale of original artwork by local artist Natalie McIntyre of Lewes depicting scenes from the museum’s village and from its vast collection of antique farm machinery.

Ms. McIntyre’s one-woman show also includes a variety of scenes from across rural Delaware.

For more information, visit https://www.agriculturalmuseum.org/artist-showcase.