The history of Prairie Grove Chapel, a little white church on Old Trail Road in Waynedale, is a little fuzzy.
Exactly when the church was built isnt clear, but it was before the Civil War, sometime in the 1850s, according to the few documents that have been found. Surrounding the building is a cemetery with graves from the Civil War and before.
Among the people who worshipped there was the father of Orville and Wilbur Wright, though its not clear whether he attended as a member or as a circuit preacher, a job he held for a while in eastern Indiana in the late 1800s.
About 20 years ago, though, someone locked the door for the last time and the building fell out of use. It just stood there, looking old and quaint, with its Gothic windows and bell tower.
Then, in 2008, vandals set fire to the building. A hole was burned in the back wall and fire damaged some of the windows, melting the Plexiglas that filled some windows.
Early this year, volunteers committed to restoring the building, repairing the damage from the fire, replacing clapboards, repairing the windows and painting the smoke-damaged interior.
Progress has been slow.
You cant go to the lumber yard and buy what you need, said Glen Ellenberger, who has headed up the effort. You have to make all the pieces.
A little at a time, though, the chapel has taken shape. The pews, once covered with upholstery that was damaged in the fire, have been stripped of the padding and will be refinished. But thats not done yet.
The floor will be sanded and stained and sealed, but that hasnt been done yet either.
The place is habitable enough that its usable, though, so the group that is restoring it will hold a series of candlelight Christmas services there from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 18, 19, 20 and 24.
The non-denominational services will be open to anyone, but people will need tickets to attend. Tickets will be available for free at Umbers Do it Best on Lower Huntington Road and at Broadview Nursery on Winchester Road.
The tickets, Ellenberger said, are just a way to control attendance, so we dont get 200 people one night and zero the next. The chapel, Ellenberger figures, will hold about 100 people.
The candlelight services will be simple, starting with a brief explanation of the history of the church, a brief sermon, and then attendees will sing Christmas carols. There will likely be some refreshments, cookies, hot cider and coffee. It wont be a formal affair.
Ellenberger hopes to make the Christmas-carol services an annual event.
I hope it will become a tradition, he said. The church needs to be open.
He also hopes the historic building can be used for weddings and small gatherings after funerals in the cemetery.
Restoration of the church is far from finished, though.
We just came sliding in to the finish, said Ellenberger, getting enough work done to make the chapel usable. We still have to continue the restoration. This just brings us to the next level.
One volunteer is repairing holes in the floor, and one company has agreed to do finish sanding and seal the floor if volunteers can do the rough sanding. The pews still need to be stripped, some windows still have to be rebuilt, and vinyl siding on the bell tower has to be removed and replaced with real wood clapboards.
How long all that work will take is unclear, but, it ought to look good when its done, Ellenberger said.
The chapel, however, will lack one amenity – one that wasnt available in the early 1850s. It wont have a bathroom. Theres just nowhere to put one.