ANSONIA – Tioga County’s oldest surviving church building is slowly disintegrating, but a former resident hopes to save it.
Gordon Gross, formerly of Wellsboro and now living in Raleigh, N.C., once attended the church with his grandmother. Two summers ago, he went to visit the cemetery behind the church and noticed the church roof was deteriorating, wood had fallen off the building and several basement windows were broken. The following year it was worse and this year he observed a “huge hole” in the roof.
“Oddly enough, when you drive by, it looks fine,” he said.
The church, built in 1838 by lumberman William Dodge as a chapel for the wood hicks and their families, is the oldest surviving church building in the county, according to the First Presbyterian Church of Wellsboro’s website.
Gross said the church was built on the site called the Meeting Tree, where the Iroquois tribes would gather each summer to camp, grow crops and trade.
The holes are allowing water, wildlife and snakes to enter the building, rotting the wood walls and floors, creating mold and, ultimately, damaging the foundation, said Gross.
The challenge is determining who is responsible for the building, he said. The last time the building was used as a church was more than 20 years ago. A group planned to use it, placed a new roof on half of it, then abandoned their plans and the building, Gross said.
Shippen Township supervisor Bob Confer said there is no owner per se; rather oversight of institutional properties like churches is provided by a board of directors. Attempts to locate those serving on the board have not been successful.
Gross is also stymied in his efforts to learn more about and save the structure. He posted photos and information on the “If you were from Wellsboro, PA you’d remember…” Facebook page. That generated a lot of comments, but not much more information.
While he continues to research who is responsible for the building, Gross said the first step is to prevent further damage. He hopes to get enough interest to place a tarp on the roof and prevent wildlife from getting inside.
“The focus right now is to button that roof up,” he said. “I would like to see it restored, but you do have to put horse before the cart.”
The building’s location at the juncture between the two canyon lookouts is ideal setting for a future as a museum to early settlers in the county, the lumber era and Native Americans.
“That church is being pelted and it is killing me because it’s such an integral part of our history,” said Gross. “We’ve lost so much of our history when the mansions in Wellsboro were torn down. I just hate to see the last bit of character torn out of the area.”
If interested in saving the church, Gross invites people to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.