Church replaces original roof more than 150 years later

Church replaces original roof more than 150 years later
Teri Stein

Organist Jane Hughes plays the organ during Sunday services.


When members of the First Presbyterian Church of Dennison, also known as the Railway Chapel, found significant roof damage after a bad storm earlier this year, they knew the time had come to replace the original roof of the church.

The slate roof had been in place for 153 years. The church building was completed on April 2, 1871. The village of Dennison was established because it was the home of the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and St. Louis Railroad’s shop complex. From a history of the church, it was the suggestion of the railroad’s superintendent that a congregation be organized on May 12, 1870.

The current pastor of the church is Rev. Carolyn Behrendt. Two members, Michelle Septer and Matt Davis, also serve as lay pastors. The organist is Jane Hughes.

From the start of the Railway Chapel, the railroad was a part of its construction. Railroad employees did much of the work for free. The cost to build the church was $20,000.

One of the most interesting features of the church is its pews. Like the seats on a Pullman railroad car, the backs flip from one side of the seat to the other, making the seat face in either direction as needed. The seats were built in the Dennison railroad shops.

A Shantz pipe organ, installed in 1925, is still in use today. There are only three other organs like it in the world today.

An important historic structure, it is on the National Register of Historic Places and has an Ohio historical marker dedicated to it on the front lawn.

The problem occurred when the storm knocked loose some of the slate on the roof.

“That’s what started this whole mess. Those bad storms rolled in, and all of a sudden, we had slate that was falling,” Septer said. “Then we had people come in, and we found out that there was a little bit more damage underneath than we anticipated.”

The new roof project quickly went from bad to worse.

“When they removed the slate, a lot of the wood underneath it was damaged, so we got another expense. We had to get all new plywood put up there,” said Rick Bloom, a longtime member of the church.

While the church would have preferred to get a new metal roof, the cost was so high they went with shingles. Bloom said it is difficult to find someone who works on slate roofs.

A new shingle roof was put on at a cost of more than $100,000. The work was done by WM Commercial Roofing. It was completed over the Memorial Day holiday.

“You’re going to start seeing a lot of fundraisers from us to try to raise money to pay for it because times are tough and everything is so expensive anymore,” Septer said.

They have planned a bake sale for Saturday of the Dennison Railroad Festival and are putting together other ideas.

“All of our members are getting together and making more homemade, fresh, sweet treats than you can imagine,” Septer said, adding fudge was a favorite in past fundraisers.

As a small church, they could use some help. Donations toward the new roof can be sent to the First Presbyterian Church, P.O. Box 109, Dennison, OH 44621. To deliver a donation in person, the church meets each Sunday for services at 11 a.m. The street address is 301 Grant St. in Dennison.

Septer and her family selected the First Presbyterian Church of Dennison when they moved to the area.

“We went to several different churches around the area, but when we came here, everybody just made us feel like family,” Septer said. “It’s small, but they always have your back. That’s why it’s important to keep this building up and running. You’ll never find another church like it.”

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