A Piece of History: Restoring Big Springs Church

Big Springs Church, Marengo, Indiana

It’s just a small church, tucked into a scenic setting west of Marengo Cave, and adjacent to the cemetery in Old Town Marengo. However, the 163-year-old Big Springs Church embraces a vast amount of history and holds a wealth of memories.

“It is truly a historic treasure that needs to be preserved,” said Pam Poe, who, with her husband, Dave Poe, is a member of Friends of Marengo Big Springs Old Town Church, a committee spearheading its restoration. Other members include Wayne and Debbie Larimore and Jerry Hanger. Wayne Larimore has also served as treasurer and trustee of the church for several years, having replaced the late Charles Taylor.  

While it began as a Christian church, several denominations worshiped there over a period of years, including Methodist and United Brethren before moving to larger buildings.

In 1935, the structure was turned over to a board of trustees and dedicated to the use of “Memorial and Decoration Day and other public gatherings of a patriotic or community character,” with no denomination having predominant ownership or use, according to its bylaws.

An annual Memorial Day service took place there until the structure was deemed unsafe in 2017.  

Stepping into the church is a look back in time. There are several original pieces, including the pews and stoves. Neither electricity nor plumbing were added. 

Stepping into the church is a look back in time. There are several original pieces, including the pews and stoves. Neither electricity nor plumbing were added. Memorial service attendees got a glimpse of what church attendance was like in an earlier time as they tried to stir up a breeze with cardboard fans or donned warmer clothing, depending on the May weather. 

The restoration project recently took a big step forward when it was awarded a $2 match for every $1 donated through the Community Foundation of Crawford County’s “Making Generosity Last Forever” fund.  

“This is wonderful news,” Pam Poe said. “The CFCC is IRS-approved, so donations will be tax-deductible.”

Christine Harbeson, executive director of the Foundation, is pleased that the CFCC can offer this incentive.

“That area of Crawford County is so rich in history. I hope the community, and all those who used to call Crawford County home, will join in and help.”

“As a person who has witnessed the loss of numerous historic treasures in Crawford County and Southern Indiana, I am encouraged by the efforts of Pam Poe, and others along with her, to save Marengo’s Big Springs Old Town Church,” Harbeson said. “That area of Crawford County is so rich in history. I hope the community, and all those who used to call Crawford County home, will join in and help.”

Earlier this year, Indiana Landmark’s Grant for Endangered Places awarded $2,500 to help pay the cost of the restoration study with matching funds partially paid from a 2014 fundraiser organized by Marie Greathouse, Mary Wiseman, Kari Hendricks and Janice Eastridge Conklin. 

The study was done by David M. Allen with Michel Allen Ritz Architects in New Albany. John A. Weest is project engineer.   

Dave Poe (of Dave Poe Construction Inc.) and Wayne Larimore (of Larimore Electric Inc.) have met with the contractor slated to do the foundation work. They believe that the structural problems can be fixed if enough money is raised, Pam Poe said. 

Larimore explained that the work would be done in stages. “The first stage is to stabilize,” he said. “The church will have to be raised up, beams laid for support, then the rock foundation can be rebuilt. That will likely cost $40,000 to $50,000. Then we can move on to other stages, maintaining the 1858 look, but using more durable material. Later stages will include work on the walls, chimneys, roof and shoring up the bell tower.”  

The last service was held at the church on May 29, 2016, with Pastor Eric Satterfield speaker, Larimore said. “The following year, we could no longer get insurance on the building and it wasn’t safe. I had to announce that the service couldn’t be held until improvements were made,” said Larimore, who remembers attending the memorial service with his parents and brother as a young boy and keeping the tradition as an adult.

The need for major work has been there for some time, he said.

“We have always wanted to do what was needed to repair the church. It has always been about the need for money. The only income was from the offering at the one time a year service,” he said, “and that was never more than $200.” 

Janice Eastridge Conklin has worked in earlier fundraising efforts. Conklin, a descendant of Samuel Stewart, brother of Dr. Lewis Byrum Stewart, who was instrumental in building the church, regularly attended the annual service. “It was just something our family did. It was important to us.

Dr.  Stewart’s autobiography tells about the first service held in the building in May 1858, describing the building as “enclosed with one coat of plaster, seats and two pot-bellied stoves.” A pastor named Goodson delivered the message. Construction was completed by the following May.

Dr.  Stewart’s autobiography tells about the first service held in the building in May 1858, describing the building as “enclosed with one coat of plaster, seats and two pot-bellied stoves.” A pastor named Goodson delivered the message. Construction was completed by the following May. 

Many families in the area have relatives who worshiped in the church and/or are descendants of the founders, including Stewart, Byrum, Taylor, Jones, Miller, Huff, Weathers, Meriwether, Baylor, Pierson and Van Meter/Van Metre families. (This writer’s second great-grandfather, Enoch Weathers, was a deacon in 1858 and late father, Robert Batman, was named trustee in 1946, replacing C.G. Balthes.)

Larimore said that if the renovation campaign is successful, it is possible that community services could be held for Christmas, Easter and other special times, as well as Memorial Day. He warned that the project won’t come cheap. “It takes special skill to renovate a structure of this age,” he said.

“We would like to add HVAC and a security system,” Pam Poe said, “so that the meeting house could be used year-round and we could keep some historic items on display.” 

The committee is hoping to rally community support. •

Want to help save the Big Springs Church? Go to facebook.com/MarengoBigSpringsOldTownChurch.

Story by Sara Combs  // Photo by Janice Conklin

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