MIDDLEWAY — The first time Bill Grantham helped work on the restoration of the former Lutheran church here, the church was barely visible behind a nearly impenetrable tangle of weeds and brambles and ivy.
“I remember my dad taking a chain saw and cutting all that growth away,” Grantham said this week.
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Worse still was carting out wheelbarrows of pigeon droppings from the building, he said.
That was more than 50 years ago and Grantham said he’s glad restoration work begun earlier this year on what is now the now-Grace Episcopal Church parish hall along East Street wasn’t quite so involved.
On Tuesday, church members flung open the doors to the parish hall — also known as the Union Church or the White Church — to celebrate its reopening with a pancake dinner to benefit Jefferson County Community Ministries.
Work this time included expanding the main hall by 300 feet, upgrading the kitchen and the electrical and plumbing systems and repairing ceilings and floors The work was completed by Danny’s General Contracting and Cherokee Builders of Middleway and Morgan Construction Company of Hedgesville. Middleway stonemason Raymond Lind made repairs to the hall’s exterior stonework and re-pointed the masonry. The entire project cost about $65,000, Grantham said.
Middleway was home to a Lutheran congregation since before 1783 until 1934 and the White Church, which was built in 1831, stood empty until Grace Episcopal Church bought it in 1964 and converted it into a Head Start school. The building was converted into a community center and parish hall for the Episcopal Church in 1995.
Grantham said about $10,000 was spent to restore the old church’s 1854 bell tower, a project he initially opposed.
“My vote was to take the thing off and get rid of it,” said, Grantham, adding he changed his mind when he realized the White Church’s bell and the bell atop Grace were nearly identical; both are the same age and were manufactured in Troy, N.Y.
“I think their serial numbers were just a couple numbers apart,” he said. “They’re identical.”
The hall is also home to the Lutheran congregation’s original pump organ and other features.
As part of the restoration, Tim Johnson and his work crew uncovered original brick flues and supports for stoves at either end of the roof area. He dismantled part of the flue to show off the original handwork for guests at the pancake dinner.
Johnson, who is currently renovating another old building in Middleway’s historic district, said working up under the roof was when the strangest part of the restoration occurred. He photographed strange orbs that hovered about the rafters as the crews worked.
He said he thinks he has a good idea what those floating orbs were — spirits of long-ago church members hovering about to make sure the work was done right.
“You might not believe in that sort of thing, but that’s what it looked like to me,” Johnson said.
Grantham said he also believes old ghosts inhabit the building and they’re grateful for the work that has gone into restoring it.
“When I was in the old balcony, somebody was up there with us and they were saying thank you for taking care of the place.
“It felt like somebody was there looking over our shoulder,” he said.
This is Middleway, after all.