Galena’s new council chambers a special space
By LENNY C. LEPOLA
News Assistant Managing Editor
Myers Inn curator Polly Horn likes to remind folks that in 1803, “Go West” meant right here in Delaware County; and when pioneers came west, Horn says, Galena got the lawyers and doctors, while Sunbury got the hippies.
Whether that’s true or not, the Gilbert Carpenter family immigrated to the area from Pennsylvania in 1809. Carpenter, the first Methodist clergyman in Delaware County, was a miller by trade who chose to settle in Galena because the drop from the Big Walnut Creek to the Little Walnut Creek made an ideal location for a gristmill.
Galena was platted by William Carpenter in 1816 under the name of Zoar. Early settlers from both Galena and Sunbury had to travel further west to Berkshire for mail service.
In 1834, the residents of Zoar wanted their own Post Office, but the name Zoar was already taken by another Ohio town. Names went in a hat and one name was drawn to select a new name for Zoar. Nathan Dustin, who was born in New Jersey, suggested Galena. The Galena Post Office was established, the mail came, local barber Will Campbell was the first Galena postmaster, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Churches were an important element in early settlements. The Galena United Methodist Church (GUMC) building at the intersection of Harrison Street and Church Street served the congregation between 1828 and 2008, when GUMC members occupied their new Sunbury Road home.
Because of the historic nature of the former GUMC church, and a desire to maintain it as a community resource, Galena Village Council members purchased the building. The plan was to convert the historic church building into a Galena Administration Building and sell the existing administration building, the old 1906 Galena Bank building at the corner of Walnut Street and Old 3-C Highway.
Following the 2008 collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market and subsequent recession, plans to convert the former church into village offices were shelved and the building was put on the market. When no reasonable offers were made for the building, Galena Council members decided to proceed with converting the building for village use and sell the former Galena Bank building.
Fast forward to Monday, October 22, when the Village of Galena held its first Village Council meeting in its new Galena Village Hall, the former Galena United Methodist Church at 109 Harrison Street.
Galena Village council member Dave Simmons, who also serves as the de facto village historian, was available last week for a brief tour of the new Galena Village Hall and shared information about how the building grew into the gem it is today.
Council chambers are located in the old church sanctuary, known for its restored circa 1910 pressed metal ceiling, Simmons explained; and the sanctuary is also the building’s original 40-foot by 60-foot footprint.
“Around 1910 a major benefactor made a major building upgrade possible,” Simmons said. “Opalescent glass windows were installed, the sanctuary floor was sloped and seating done in a modified Akron plan. The centerpiece of the building, the pressed metal ceiling, was installed, along with a steeple and bell.”
The steeple was eventually damaged by lightning, a split is still visible in the attic; the bell was placed outside in front of the church for many years and went with the congregation to the new church building.
Simmons called the former sanctuary, now council chambers, one of the great interior spaces in Galena; but the church sanctuary hadn’t been much of an interior space since the 1960’s when church trustees were having trouble keeping paint on the pressed metal ceiling.
“That was around the time lead was removed from paint for environmental reasons, and non-leaded paint would not adhere to the metal,” Simmons said. “There was no insulation in the attic, energy conservation wasn’t a concern then, and that made the problem worse, so a dropped ceiling was installed. When I became chairman of the trustees I said: Couldn’t we explore restoring the ceiling?”
Around the same time the congregation was putting a new roof on the building, Simmons said, and while the roof was open several of the 4x4 four-foot dropped ceiling panels were damaged.
“Then we were faced with a whole new dropped ceiling. They didn’t manufacture the 4x4 panels anymore; or we could restore the pressed metal ceiling,” Simmons said. “The question was: How would we address the problem of paint not sticking to the metal ceiling? We hired a woman from an architectural restoration firm in Columbus; she told us to treat the ceiling as an exterior surface and use a different paint that would be more amenable to moisture and temperature change.”
Simmons said that set the wheels in motion. In February of 1998 local fix-it guy John Bland, now retired, was awarded a $4,000 contract to restore the pressed metal ceiling; Bland’s contract stipulated that he would complete the project by April of ’98.
“The first challenge was how to fill the hundreds of holes created by the dropped ceiling wires,” Simmons said. “John used a template and a liquid wood and liquid metal mixture. Then we found a company to clean and insulate the attic.
“It turned out to be a pretty dramatic space that no one had seen for more than 40 years,” Simmons continued. “The restoration had an immediate impact on the congregation. They had a church and a space they could be proud of. The congregation felt really good about it; it was like a new building.”
Today, as Galena Council chambers, that pressed metal ceiling remains a dramatic space that members of the community can view with pride, Simmons said; and because the village would like to use the space as a wedding chapel, the sloped floor and Akron Plan pews have also been left in place.
“Converting the church building into a village administration building is a work in progress,” Simmons said. “We’re doing things as we have the money; but the new space will be nice after working in cramped quarters at the old administration building. There’s room to stretch our elbows, room for visitors – and using the old bank basement for council meetings was always a challenge.
“We’re anxious to use the old front room for community events,” Simmons added. “When it’s ready there will be an open house. But as an example of historic architecture, and historic use in the community, it’s important that this building will be a village asset that will be used for many years to come.”