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Lancaster City Council has stepped up to the plate with its decision to authorize $200,000 from its hospitality tax funds to help restore Old Lancaster Presbyterian Church on West Gay Street. City Council voted unanimously March 10 to allocate the funds to help restore the historic church – the second-oldest brick structure in the county.
Here, many people refer to the quaint church as Old Presbyterian. Services began at the church in 1862 – the first full year of the Civil War. There are many war veterans buried in the cemetery behind the church, including 53 Civil War veterans and two veterans from both the War of 1812 and the Spanish-American War.
Worship services ceased at the church in 1935 when the building was sold to Jackson Masonic Lodge No. 53. Today, the church is owned by the Lancaster County Society of Historical Preservation, a local nonprofit group that promotes historic preservation.
Old Presbyterian is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s a Lancaster County treasure, but it needs some tender, loving care.
First and foremost, that care is needed to preserve the structure from deterioration. You might not notice it from just passing by the pretty, little church, but the building has some major problems. The roof, windows, ceilings and floors are all in need of repairs. The building is also infested with bats. Sometimes, outward appearances are deceiving.
City Administrator Helen Sowell touted some other benefits of renovating the building when council discussed giving financial support to the restoration project. The restored building would make a great addition to the city’s downtown walking tour, and once restored, the church could be used for meetings, parties and other events.
Sowell is right, and City Council was right to get behind the restoration of the church.
But City Council’s support isn’t going to be enough. A 2005 assessment estimated the cost of restoring the building at $455,000. The city considered footing the entire bill for the restoration with hospitality tax funds, but decided against that idea. Mayor Joe Shaw said it best when he said, “It ought to be a joint effort countywide.”
Restoring Old Presbyterian needs to be a community-wide project. Now that City Council has taken the lead on the project, we hope other groups and individuals will come forward with the needed financial support to preserve and revitalize this treasured piece of our shared history. If we care enough, we’ll succeed in this endeavor.