By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
When Liz Shivel snapped a photo of the dilapidated Faith Baptist Fellowship Church in New Stark back in 1999, she never expected that she’d still be trying to piece together the building’s history 20 years later.
“It stuck in my head because I couldn’t find an answer about it to begin with,” she said.
Shivel has worked on the mystery on and off since then and thinks she now knows some of the church’s story.
“It’s been like putting together the pieces of a 500-piece puzzle,” she said.
Always liked old buildings
Shivel grew up near San Francisco and started taking pictures of old buildings and graveyards with a small instamatic camera.
“When I was working for a software company, most of the four years I worked for them I worked on projects on the East Coast,” she said. “I was usually somewhere where I couldn’t travel home because I lived too far away.”
On Saturdays, she’d grab a map and her camera and go exploring.
In the winter of 1999, Shivel was working in Ottawa. One weekend took her to New Stark in southern Hancock County, where she came across a deteriorating building that reminded her of an old, Western-style church. A sign above the front entry read “Faith Baptist Fellowship Church.” In front of the weathered, two-story church stood an old wooden buckboard wagon and two rusty bicycles.
A few years later, Shivel contacted the Ohio Historical Society to offer them a copy of the photo and ask if they knew anything about the church. Staff members at the society were delighted to receive the picture, but didn’t have any information to share.
The photo was included in a special exhibit at the Ohio Historical Center in 2004 called “Moments in Time: Images From the Ohio Historical Society’s Collections.”
Shivel went on to work at Warner Brothers Studio and then Walt Disney Co. before retiring two years ago. Throughout the years, she never forgot the little wooden church in Ohio. But whenever she made inquiries, she always got the same answer: there had never been a church by that name.
“And I’m like, yeah, it’s right there. There has to be something,” she said.
Finally, Shivel started asking about any and all churches that had been located in New Stark.
“Then people were saying, ‘Well, it looks like it might be the old Mennonite church.’ And then somebody else would say, ‘Well, it’s probably the old Presbyterian church.’ I thought, ‘Could it be the same church?'” she said.
It was confusing, said Shivel, until she learned that there had been two churches in town.
“I kept taking all the bits of information about the Mennonite church and the Presbyterian church and merging them together, trying to make them fit together into one church,” she said. “It didn’t work.”
She made connections with Don Steinman, a lifelong resident of southern Hancock County and a member of the Eagle Creek Historical Organization. In 2014, he sent her a newsletter he had written that contained a picture of the New Stark Presbyterian Church from 1863. It matched the church Shivel had photographed.
“But by then I kept getting information about this Mennonite church. Then I wondered what happened with that building,” she said.
Shivel contacted archivist organizations with both the Presbyterian and Mennonite churches, asking for photos or drawings.
“I kept finding bits and pieces, but still nothing on Faith Baptist Fellowship Church,” she said.
Someone suggested she check old issues of the Ada Record newspaper, the predecessor to today’s Ada Herald. The Record included snippets of church announcements and services dating back to 1893.
“The last things from the newspaper were from the late 1960s, early 1970s,” Shivel said. “And I’ll be darned if there wasn’t an announcement that said ‘church services in 1968 at Faith Baptist Fellowship Church in New Stark.'” She’d finally found a reference to the name on the sign.
New Stark Federated
But the church she photographed was actually the second church. According to historical accounts, the Presbyterian congregation was organized in New Stark in 1840 and a church was built between 1856-57. That building was destroyed by a storm in 1892, said Shivel, and a second church was constructed.
Meanwhile, a Mennonite church stood on the outskirts of town. Shivel learned that this building was damaged in a storm in 1940.
“I thought that meant it had been destroyed,” she said.
Last December, Steinman told her that the church was still standing. It was purchased in 1941 by the Redd family and turned into a barn.
Shivel said the Mennonite, Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian congregations in the area merged together after the Mennonite church closed, and the name was changed to New Stark Federated Church. Services were held in the building, and the congregations pooled their resources to pay the bills.
Shivel said the congregation wanted to buy the building from the Maumee Valley Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church.
“Whatever they wanted for the church, the congregation thought, that’s too much money for an old church building. By then the church was, like, 100 years old. They were out of luck,” she said.
The very last service for that group was held Dec. 31, 1961.
By checking rural directories, Shivel learned that a Baptist congregation later used the church for a few years. Steinman told her a neighbor purchased the property in 1984 and that the round stained-glass window above the front door and the cornerstone were preserved. Previous owners had already taken the pews, some of the other windows and the church bell.
Church building razed
The church was torn down in 2000, the year after Shivel took her photograph.
“Don told me they hired some folks and they dug a big ditch, knocked the whole church over and shoved all the wood into the ditch,” she said.
A storage building was erected on the site.
“So I finally found the last two things that I thought I couldn’t find: a photo of the Mennonite church just to kind of end my story a little bit, and an actual posting of information as the church was called when it was a Baptist church,” she said.
Shivel said she’s enjoyed the search, but never expected it to take so long. She still admires the building as she photographed it.
“I tell myself, ‘Once upon a time this was brand new’. It had just been painted and some congregation was so excited to go to their new church,” she said. “It didn’t always look like this.”
Shivel plans to write a story that includes a history of the two churches, how they merged into one and tried to keep it going, and then the demise of the building.
“That’s my little pipe dream,” she said.
She’s looking for anyone with old family photos or stories they could share about the church.
“With all of the research I’ve done, I’ve never come up with any family histories or anything with photographs. I would love it, even if somebody said, ‘You know, my great-aunt so-and-so got married at the New Stark Presbyterian Church and I have a picture of them standing in front of the church,'” she said.
Most importantly, Shivel doesn’t want this history to be lost.
“Today you drive through New Stark, which again, not very big, three or four buildings, houses. You wouldn’t even know a church was ever even there,” she said.
Shivel can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org