CATAWBA ISLAND, OH – May 8, 2021: On opening day for the 2021 season at the museum, Catawba Island Township Trustees and Trustees of the Historical Society unveiled the plaque commemorating the recent inclusion of Union Chapel on the prestigious National Register of Historic Places. The plaque has been installed in the foyer of the museum.
CATAWBA ISLAND, OH – April 26, 2021: The Catawba Island Volunteer Fire Department will display a vintage fire engine at the May 8 opening of Union Chapel Museum
When Catawba Museum at Union Chapel opens for its 4th season on May 8, 2021 local history will be displayed outside the building as well as inside the 133-year-old former sabbath school and non-denominational house of worship.
Thanks to the Catawba Island Volunteer Fire Department, a 1953 Ward LaFrance fire truck will be parked on the grounds of Union Chapel and available for “hands-on” inspection. It was the first new piece of major fire-fighting equipment purchased by the CIVFD. Their first truck, a used 1929 American LaFrance, was acquired from the City of Toledo.
“We are happy to add a little extra fun to the Museum’s opening day,” said Catawba VFD Chief, Kevin Gibbons. “Visitors – kids in particular - will be welcome to climb up on the truck to explore. Although the hoses have been removed, original ladders give it the appearance of being ready for action at a moment’s notice. We are currently recruiting new volunteers so we will have a member of the Department there to answer questions and tell stories about how we do our jobs.”
There is a long and close relationship between Catawba’s volunteer firefighters and Union Chapel.
“The first meeting to explore forming the Island’s volunteer fire department was held in the basement of Catawba School in 1949”, recalls long-time resident, Don Rhodes, who attended that gathering and subsequently became a six-decade member of the group. “Even back then the State had rules requiring the rigorous training of a VFD crew. Union Chapel helped us improve our ladder, rope and rigging skills. They let us practice by climbing up and down from their roof. We could thank them by painting the bell tower and cross while we were up there.”
Upon establishing the department, a social event called “Wives Night” was also organized. It was a gala to honor spouses for supporting the difficult and dangerous efforts of their husbands. Today it takes place annually at the Catawba Island Club, but initially the site varied from year to year. Sometimes the dinner was held at Union Chapel, prepared and served by members of the congregation and other appreciative community volunteers.
Another special occurrence to mark the Museum’s 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. opening day will be a brief ceremony with Township Trustees and Trustees of the Historical Society commemorating the recent inclusion of Union Chapel on the prestigious National Register of Historic Places. That will happen at noon.
There is no admission charge to visit the Museum. Its operating cost is principally underwritten by dues to the Historical Society whose yearly membership drive is currently underway. Those who are signed up by May 8 will be included in an opening day drawing for a signed print of the Chapel by award-winning watercolor artist Patty Cable Wildman. Also included as part of the drawing prize is a guided private group tour of the exhibits and displays.
For questions about becoming a member, helping as a volunteer, or general historical topics, please call 419 967 5363 or email the Historical Society at firstname.lastname@example.org. Catawba Island Historical Society also has a webpage which is www.catawbaislandhistoricalsociety.com
CATAWBA ISLAND, OH – March 2021: National Park Service awards prestigious National Register status to Union Chapel home of Historical Society museum
When Samuel and Louise Armstrong donated property at the north end of Catawba Island for the 1887/1888 construction of a “Sabbath School” for area children, they could not have known the building would still be standing more than 130 years later, let alone that it would be selected for inclusion on the prestigious National Register of Historic Places. But it is. And it has.
Barb Powers, Department Head, Inventory and Registration of the Ohio State Preservation Office provided notice that Union Chapel was added to the Registry on March 8, 2021. Application for being listed was submitted jointly by the Catawba Island Township Trustees and the Catawba Island Historical Society in late September 2020.
Jeff Brown, a member of the Historical Society Board of Trustees, coordinated submission of the application. Brown is the retired Historic Preservation Administrator for Stark County and spent more than 20 years as a Regional Coordinator of the Ohio Historic Preservation Office. He noted that investigating the possibility of National Register status for the Chapel dates back almost 3 decades, but that detailed research and formal application didn’t begin until last fall.
“Catawba Island Township deserves a great deal of credit for electing to maintain the building rather than razing it when they assumed its ownership in 1992,” observed Brown. “They even put a new roof on the structure rather than allow it to fall prey to time and the elements. In my experience I didn’t often see this type of foresight and recognition of historic value by municipal governments.”
In 2017 the Catawba Island Historical Society was formed to help preserve and protect local heritage. Island residents Don and JoAnn Rhodes offered to donate a variety of representative artifacts if a suitable home for their collection could be secured. The Township put $50,000 into renovating Union Chapel and leased it to the Historical Society for opening a museum there to curate and display such antiquities.
The Chapel itself is as historically significant as the antiquities it houses. Jeff Brown observed in the NRHP application that, “Religious education played an essential role in the life of Catawba Island’s peach-growing community, and the nonsectarian Union Chapel, constructed as the expansion of peach orchards on the island accelerated, was the center of Catawba Island social and religious life. It is today the sole surviving religious and community building representing the formative years of Catawba Island’s history.”
There are now 3 Catawba Island properties on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to Union Chapel they are the Gideon Owen Winery building - which was listed when called Mon Ami Restaurant and Historic Winery - and the Betsy Mo-John cabin. The Union Chapel application was unique because of being made by a municipality rather than a private owner.
The National Register of Historic Places was established in 1966, with passage of the National Historic Preservation Act, as a planning tool to insure that federal funds were not used to adversely affect historic properties. It is a listing of buildings, sites, and structures, either individually or as parts of historic districts, that are considered significant for their association with broad patterns of history, association with historic people, architecture, or archaeology. Being listed on the Register has since acquired a measure of prestige as designating the properties most deserving of recognition and preservation.
According to Craig Koerpel, President of Catawba Island Historical Society which operates its museum at the Chapel, a brief ceremony to commemorate the building’s new status will be conducted there at noon on Saturday, May 8, 2021. That is the date the museum opens for its 4th season.
Koerpel also noted that the Society has begun its 2021 membership drive. “We are hopeful,” he said, “that attaining National Register status will attract new members, as well as raising awareness that Catawba Island has a unique and significant story to be told. Dues from Society membership provide Museum operating funds that allow us to share that story with residents and visitors.”
Although establishing precautionary operating practices because of the COVID pandemic caused a delay in its 2020 opening, Catawba Museum at Union Chapel still hosted more than 500 guests before closing for the season in mid-October. For those who were unable to visit last year both an “introduction” and a “comprehensive” video tour are available at the “Events” tab on the Historical Society’s website which is www.catawbaislandhistoricalsociety.com. Additional information about becoming a member is also on the website or can be obtained by calling the Museum at 419 967 5363.