Old church's sad condition sparked action
You'd like to get married in a house of God, but you don't want your 25 or 50 guests to feel lost in a giant sanctuary, and you can't afford a fancy wedding chapel.
Alberta Spradling has a deal for you.
She's the 80-year-old firecracker behind renovation of the old St. Paul's Lutheran Church and School in Columbia, which are now available to rent for weddings and other small gatherings.
"The doors are finally open again," said Spradling, who has spent the past eight years holding fundraisers and leading a merry band of volunteer laborers.
The small brick church, built in 1854, can be rented for $100 a day. Add another $100 for a reception in the one-room schoolhouse next door. Costs are prorated for shorter activities, such as baptisms, funerals, club meetings, anniversary parties or baby showers.
The price is right because members of St. Paul's Historical Committee aren't looking to make a profit. They just want to earn enough to pay for utilities and other upkeep.
The committee also doesn't have any outstanding loans to pay back. The renovation took eight years, partly because of Spradling's aversion to debt.
"Everything was paid for as we obtained the money," she said. "Nothing was put on credit."
People interested in seeing the renovated buildings or getting more information on rentals are invited to attend open houses from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 18 and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 19.
Built by German immigrants
The church at 114 W. Liberty St. was built by German immigrants who founded St. Paul's in 1841. It measures about 20 by 50 feet with a 12-foot-high ceiling, tall windows and a Gothic-style doorway.
The congregation built a larger brick church on an adjacent lot in 1928 and used it for 35 years before moving to Goodhaven Drive in 1963. The 1928 church was sold, along with the 1854 church and 1870 schoolhouse.
By the late 1980s, the two older buildings had fallen into disrepair, and the city of Columbia was threatening to condemn. St. Paul's bought them back and repaired them, thanks to ringleader Lester Schneider, a former mayor, now deceased.
"We got (the church) in good enough shape to keep the city from tearing it down," he said in a 2010 interview.
Columbia Heritage and Preservation Commission later designated it a local landmark.
In 2010, Spradling and her husband, Ray, who were relatively new St. Paul's members, heard about the 1854 church and stopped by for a visit. She cried after seeing "God's house" being used as a storage unit for old toilets, lawn mowers, bicycles and other junk.
Spradling began organizing volunteer work days, coordinating material donations and planning fundraisers, such as auctions and trivia nights. Ray, 81, went along for the ride.
"It made her happy," he said. "This is what she wanted to do."
Historic charm, modern facilities
The church and schoolhouse have new windows, walls, floors, electrical wiring, reproduction light fixtures, heating and cooling systems, tuck-pointing, sidewalks and landscaping. Both buildings are handicap-accessible.
The church can seat 60 people in oak pews saved from the 1928 church. It also has a pump organ and other antique furnishings. A volunteer made its simple wooden altar, lectern and cross. A print of "The Last Supper" painting by Leonardo da Vinci hangs in front.
The schoolhouse can seat 40 people at folding tables and chairs. There's a handicap-accessible bathroom and a full modern kitchen.
"It has everything you need," Spradling said, noting people can hire caterers or bring their own food.
Schoolhouse decor includes a few artifacts from its classroom days, including pint-sized wooden chairs and prints of a George Washington portrait and Betsy Ross painting that hung on the wall.
The schoolhouse also has dishes, silverware, tablecloths, napkins and other linens that can be used for an additional fee.
Marilyn Snider, 72, a St. Paul's Historical Committee member who has been helping with renovations since the beginning, thinks local residents will be happy to see the old church and schoolhouse used again.
"Our town has a lot of history, and there's interest in preserving our legacy," she said. "I think that's why (the renovation project) was so well-received and people were so supportive."
For more information, call Spradling at 618-277-1319 or Snider at 618-281-7264 or email to email@example.com.