Freeport church gets new life

| Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, 12:16 a.m.

After sitting empty for more than five years, the Trinity Episcopal Church in Freeport has new life.

The Freeport Renaissance Association has teamed with the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh to rejuvenate the church into a social hall and museum.

Members of the Renaissance Association hope the 144-year-old church, now called Freeport Community and History Center, will be home to wedding receptions, banquets, and any other sort of get-together that a social hall can host.

“We realized the building had sat empty for many months; what a shame nothing was happening there,” said Mary Bowlin, the director of the Freeport-Leechburg-Apollo Group (FLAG). “When we were first pondering the project, we went inside and said ‘Wow — we are smitten by this building.'

“It's really a facility that's worth the elbow grease to save.”

The church, which was built in 1868, closed in 2007 because membership was down to about only 15 people.

The church has a long, rich, history in Freeport.

According to church records, it's built on land that was purchased from James Armstrong for $200. Armstrong was one of the founders of Freeport.

But members of the Renaissance Association want to make sure folks know this isn't just the updating of an old building.

“We wanted to make it a place for people from Freeport, and from anywhere, to be able to use and take pride in,” said Carol Sweeney, a Renaissance Association members. Sweeney, along with fellow association member Marce Urbanski, headed up the restoration.

“So many people have been surprised by the building and how beautiful it is,” Sweeney said. “It will be a great place for events.”

The Community Center already hosts events. Every first Friday of the month, the Renaissance Association holds “Freeport First Fridays,” which provide entertainment and refreshments for a $5 entrance fee.

Urbanski, who owns the Canvas Art & Gift Shop on Fifth Street, said the potential uses of the building are boundless.

“We're hoping to put this building back on the map,” said Urbanski. Along with Sweeney and a team of volunteers, the group worked three to four times a week for almost a year to get the building into working shape. “Its potential is beyond your imagination.”

The building still has the look of a church inside. The windows are made of almost 200-year-old stained glass, the pulpit — decorated with gold — still sits in the front of the church, a cross sits on the altar, and church pews are used for seating around tables set with Valentine's Day decorations.

“This is still a consecrated church,” Urbanski said. “The Episcopal Diocese is just renting us the space.

“We still have to host religious gatherings throughout the year,” she said. “The diocese has been amazing to work with.”

Joan Gundersen, the property administrator and archivist for the diocese, said the church was more than happy to be able to help the Renaissance Association give the old church an update.

“This is one of the oldest buildings in our diocese,” Gundersen said. “We're happy to see it preserved for the good of the community, and for it not be a financial drain on the community.

“We're glad the building and its history will be preserved.”Gundersen said the diocese put a new furnace into the building to help with the rejuvenation.

Along with a reception hall, the Renaissance Association said it plans to add a historical center to the building.

“I'd love for someone to be able to come in and have a cup of coffee and research the history of Freeport,” Sweeney said. “Freeport is such a tight-knit community, people should know about the history.

“I have old pictures (of the town) on glass slides from the 1800s.”

Sweeney and Gundersen said they hope that anyone who has pieces of the town's history comes forward so the pieces can be displayed in the building.

“We love Freeport and we want to see it grow,” Sweeney said. “Hopefully, this will help.”

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