Press Release: Delavan Enterprise, August 7, 2014

Woman aims to restore church ancestors founded 160 years ago

Cemetery Association members among first to meet there since building was vacated 90 years ago

Newspaper black and white photo of the church at East Richmond Cemetery

The church at East Richmond Cemetery, which dates to the 1850’s, is undergoing restoration begun by a descendant of the church’s Norwegian-American founders.
Photo by Vicky Wedig, Delavan Enterprise

By Vicky Wedig

EDITOR

The Walworth County Cemetery Association had its summer meeting in a church that hadn’t been used in 90 years. The church at East Richmond Cemetery  –  hidden behind foliage off a gravel frontage road along Highway P less than a mile north of Highway A  –  was falling apart until about seven years ago. The secluded church built in the 1850’s had been vandalized over the years, and young people had had parties there, said Georgia Kestol-Bauer, whose descendants were among the original members of the church.

Kestol-Bauer said the church’s pews were gone, windows were broken, the organ was missing, the floor was riddled with holes and the boards of the ceiling were falling down. The church had been boarded up and could not be entered, and the Town of Richmond was considering demolishing it because of safety concerns.

Kestol-Bauer knew if something weren’t done with the historic church, which lays claim as the second Norwegian-American Methodist-Episcopal church in the world, it would collapse from disrepair or be razed.

“It was  just  something that was always in the back of my mind that it would be nice to have it restored,” she said.

Church’s beginnings 

The church was founded in the 1850’s by three of Kestol-Bauer’s ancestors who sailed to America together from Norway and settled between Delavan and Whitewater  –  her  great grandmother, Anna Steenson Kestol, and her great-grandmother’s brother and sister, Christopher Steenson and Caroline Steenson Johnson. Kestol-Bauer lives on the Territorial Road homestead her great grandparents, Anna Steenson Kestol and Peder Kestol established in 1851  –  presumably around the same time they established the church.

Kestol-Bauer said the church is unusual in that it was founded by Norwegian immigrants, who are typically Lutheran, in a Methodist-Episcopal denomination. The first pastor of the church was a “circuit rider,” meaning he rode his horse around to conduct services at various locations, Kestol-Bauer said. The Rev. Christian Willerup was based out of Cambridge where the Willerup United Methodist Church, which lays claim as the first Norwegian-American Methodist-Episcopal Church in the world, still operates. The Richmond church is believed to have operated as a parish from the 1850s until around 1900. “We don’t know exactly,” Kestol-Bauer said. Handwritten pen-and-ink ledgers from the late 1800s, which have been in Kestol-Bauer’s family since the early 1900s, show X’s through the names of members who moved or died. Several members relocated to Cambridge, Kestol-Bauer said. and she believes  membership might have begun to dissipate when the Richmond Methodist Church was built on Highway A in 1872.

Despite the dissolution of the parish, Kestol-Bauer’s uncle, Joey Kestol, she said, recounted social affairs being held there in the early 1900s. She said women would make box lunches, men would bid on them and the winning bidder would  dine with  the lady who brought the lunch. She said the church was likely last used around 1920.
Original grandeur

Kestol-Bauer said she would like to restore the church to its original likeness to use for weddings, baptisms, meetings and even church ser- vices from time to time.

“My whole goal is to have this be restored historically to the way it was as much as possible,” she said.

She began the effort around 2006 when she decided to establish a cemetery association for the plots surrounding the church on the one-acre lot. Kestol-Bauer said her family had sold cemetery plots and maintained the site since the church stopped operating, and that responsibility fell to her when her uncle, Joey Kestol, died in 1995.

Knowing nothing about cemetery operations – her uncle had been charging $50 a plot at the time when the going rate was around $300 – Kestol-Bauer attended a meeting of a group in Elkhorn where veterans’ headstones were discussed. Kestol-Bauer suggested to others in attendance that a group of people from various cemeteries get together to discuss their practices. She said the late Charlotte Gates, of the Walworth County Genealogical Society, took the reins and established the Walworth County Cemetery Association, which has operated ever since. When Kestol-Bauer formed an association for the East Richmond Cemetery around 2007, she gauged the interest of area residents who attended the inaugural meeting in restoring the church. “So that’s when we actually got the ball rolling here,” she said.

Kestol-Bauer waged a fundraising campaign, collected donations including a $1,000 contribution from one family and accepted memorials to the restoration effort when her father, James Kestol, died in 2004. With the contributions and Kestol-Bauer’s personal funds, the church’s foundation was repaired  and a new roof was put on in 2007.

She said nothing more was done toward the restoration effort until last fall when another contractor looked at the building and said it needed to be stabilized or it would collapse. Contractors removed the church’s ceiling and installed truss supports and replaced the ceiling and floor with boards like the ones originally used. The wooden altar was also rebuilt at that time,  Kestol-Bauer said.


Work to be done

Work remaining, Kestol-Bauer said, is to replace the windows, build a railing that once was around the altar, install pews, repair plaster and paint.

To do that, Kestol-Bauer said, the project needs funding and manpower. Her daughter, Allison Kestol-Bauer, of Janesville, has created a Web site where people can learn about the project and find out how to donate. The website is www.namech.org, which stands for Norwegian-American Methodist-Episcopal Church. 

Carol Cartwright, from the Whitewater Historical Society, is applying to have the site listed on the National Register of Historical Places. The designation could provide grant opportunities and would require historically authentic renovations, Kestol-Bauer said.

Her goal is to make people aware of the effort and gather “a group of people who think this is a good idea, who are interested in historic preservation,” she said.

Kestol-Bauer invited the Walworth County Historical Society to meet at the church July 23. Being able to step in- side was a milestone.

“We’re  able to go in,” she said. “I was so excited.”

She notified  area media of the event, and a story appeared in the Janesville Gazette on July 29. After that article, a man from Milton called to offer pews to the church, and a Whitewater woman stopped by the cemetery to ask Kestol-Bauer what she could do.

“I want to support it,” said Nikki Knudsen, whose Norwegian family has traveled throughout Wisconsin and to Norway to see Norwegian churches and homesteads.

Kestol-Bauer will have an open house from 1 to 4 p.m. Aug. 24 at the church, N7372 Highway P, where people can come to see the church and the cemetery. For more information, contact Kestol-Bauer at (608) 883-2858.

Donations can be made to East Richmond Cemetery Church Restoration Fund, First Citizens State Bank, 207 W. Main St., Whitewater, WI 53190.

Press Release: Whitewater Banner – August 8, 2014 – Church Restoration and Open House Announcement

(August 8) Norwegian American Methodist Episcopal Church at East Richmond Cemetery Open House – Georgia Kestol-Bauer is a member of the Richmond United Methodist Church. She is restoring the Norwegian American Methodist Episcopal Church, off Cty P in the township of Richmond. It was built sometime in the early 1850s. Georgia’s great-grandparents, Peder & Anna Kjostolsen (who later shortened their name to Kestol) worshipped at this church. It is the second Norwegian Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States. (Cambridge boasts of the first; now Willerup United Methodist Church.) It is believed the church closed its doors around 1920. Georgia began restoration in 2006, after the township considered demolishing the building because of safety concerns. She has invested her own time and money and is determined to finish the restoration as soon as possible. Her goal is for the church to be used for meetings, weddings, baptisms, or even summer worship services. For more on the progress and pictures .

Press Release: Janesville Gazette – July 30, 2014 – Church Restoration Project

Hart Prairie Methodist-Episcopal Church stands just off County P in the town of Richmond.The historic church,which is believed to have been built in the 1850s by Norwegian immigrants, is undergoing restoration thanks to a Georgia Kestol-Bauer, a descendent of two of the church’s original members. The church is the second (Norwegian-American)  Methodist-Episcopal church built in the world, Kestol-Bauer said. The first resides in Cambridge, Wisconsin.

Hart Prairie Methodist-Episcopal Church stands just off County P in the town of Richmond.The historic church,which is believed to have been built in the 1850s by Norwegian immigrants, is undergoing restoration thanks to a Georgia Kestol-Bauer, a descendent of two of the church’s original members. The church is the second Norwegian-American Methodist-Episcopal church built in the world, Kestol-Bauer said. The first resides in Cambridge, Wisconsin.

 

The Hart of History

Woman devoted to restoring Methodist-Episcopal church

By Andrea Anderson aanderson@gazettextra.com

Photos by Jennifer Du Puis/ jdupuis@gazettextra.com

TOWN OF RICHMOND Hidden off County P, up a short gravel road and tucked behind some bushes and a gate sits Hart Prairie Methodist-Episcopal Church.

Above: Georgia Kestol-Bauer stands in the doorway of Hart Prairie Methodist-Episcopal Church in the town of Richmond. Kestol-Bauer is putting a lot of personal time and financing into restoration of the historic church.

Georgia Kestol-Bauer stands in the doorway of Hart Prairie Methodist-Episcopal Church in the town of Richmond. Kestol-Bauer is putting a lot of personal time and financing into restoration of the historic church.

In the middle of East Richmond Cemetery, flowers surround the church with its chipped white siding and plastic-covered windows.

The church, N7372 County P, believed to be built in the early 1850s by Norwegian immigrants, is deceiving to the eye. What appears to be a deteriorating building is a historic part of the town’s history. The church is undergoing a restoration spearheaded by the descendent of one of the church’s original members. Georgia Kestol-Bauer, 72, is the great-granddaughter of Peder and Anna Kjostolsen, who later shortened the family name to Kestol. The couple attended the church when it first opened, and they might also have helped build it, Kestol-Bauer said.

Details on when exactly the church was built are fuzzy, but Kestol-Bauer believes it was sometime in the early 1850s.

During that time, Norwegian immigrants living in the area divided. One group went to a Lutheran church near Whitewater Lake. The others created the Norwegian-American Methodist-Episcopal church named Hart Prairie.

The church is the second (Norwegian-American) Methodist-Episcopal church in the world, Kestol-Bauer said. The other resides in Cambridge, Wisconsin. (Parentheses indicate correction to the original version.)

“That’s what makes this unique,” she said.

Church records listing members indicate the church was active in 1852. In blue ink, delicate and intricate cursive lists the former century’s members. It’s believed the church closed its doors around 1920, Kestol-Bauer said.

It’s not known if services were held every Sunday until its final days, but Kestol-Bauer knows gatherings took place until then.

In 1995, Kestol-Bauer began taking care of the cemetery after her uncle, Joey Kestol, died.

While Kestol-Bauer walked around the partially restored church Tuesday, she pondered why people left and what the church looked like in its heyday.

“I think as time went on, bigger places were built … People moved away and went to a different church,” she said.

Her own family left the church in 1872 to join the Richmond Methodist Church. Kestol-Bauer grew up in Janesville.

The restoration at Hart Prairie began in 2006 after the township considered demolishing the building because of safety concerns.

In 2006, the church’s foundation was replaced and its roof redone.

A letter and photos from the 1850s, including a portrait of Kestol-Bauer’s relatives, hang on the original walls of the church. An original table and chair sit on the renovated church floor.

A letter and photos from the 1850s, including a portrait of Kestol-Bauer’s relatives, hang on the original walls of the church.

In fall of 2013, Kestol-Bauer was told the church was structurally unstable. She poured more money into the building. Beams and tension ropes were added, and the floor, ceiling and altar were restored.

Inside the church, holes speckle the walls and faded marks from furniture and a church organ destroyed by vandalism show impressions of things long past.

Wood nailed into the walls alludes to 10 rows of pews that are no longer—for now.

Left on the to-do list is restoring the church’s original front doors that now lean next to the new altar; fixing the windows; painting; plastering part of the interior walls, and fixing the faded exterior.

Kestol-Bauer, who has invested her own time and money, is determined to finish the restoration as soon as possible. The only snags are finances and community participation, she said.

“You don’t realize it’s going to cost so much to do a little thing,” Kestol-Bauer said, sitting in a chair at the church smiling.

But it’s worth it, she said.

Last week, a group of about 20 people from the Walworth County Cemetery Association gathered at the church for their annual summer meeting. It was the first time anyone had stepped foot in the church in more than 90 years.

“It felt wonderful,” Kestol-Bauer said with a flicker in her eyes. “The church was filled.”

Kestol-Bauer’s goal is for the church to be used for meetings, weddings, baptisms or even summer services:regardless of religious denominations.

When asked why she puts in the effort, her answer is firm.

“I do it to preserve history. I’m in favor of preserving structures that have meaning to the community.”