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Tour features historic churches

September 9, 2010
By KIM LOCCISANO For The Times Leader

"Pease Township Park District's Historic Churches of Martins Ferry - A Self-Guided Walking Tour," is a top quality locally designed tourism and marketing tool produced through a cooperative effort involving township trustees, member churches of the Martins Ferry Ministerial Association and Dr. John Kramer, D.D.S., whose family has had a healthcare practice on Fourth Street for three generations.

"A Walking Tour - Historic Churches of Martins Ferry," introduces participants to eight historically significant church buildings in downtown Martins Ferry, all of which are a short walking distance of each other.

The unique marriage of religion, politics and history has resulted in a program being developed over the course of this last year which is now, in its finished form, an invitingly simple communications tool in brochure format which introduces tour participants to each of these distinctively unique church buildings.

"Many of the historic churches of Martins Ferry are located on what was once known as Church Street, in Martins Ferry, the street we now call Fourth Street," offered Pease Township Park District Director Don Feenerty, a Martins Ferry area resident, and the man behind the original project idea.

The project has been developed and was successfully led through access to needed financial and other resources with the help of Feenerty and Pease Township Park Trustee Rick Palkovic, also a Martins Ferry resident.

Both men brought more than political connections to the project: Palkovic is a graphics design executive and Feenerty is a professional photographer based in Martins Ferry.

All involved with the project are hopeful it will increase opportunities for people to step back from the constant pressures of life's daily grind, encouraging them to pause long to appreciate important work done by those who came before us," is the deeply personal belief held by Feenerty that many of the positive aspects of life are generally found not too far from home.

The Pease Township Park District along with Drs. Kramer and Associates and the Martins Ferry Ministerial Association have teamed up to provide a self-guided walking tour of Martins Ferry's Historic Churches, designed to capture aspects of the city and each building's unique place in the history of our country, according to Feenerty.

The oldest church on the self-guided tour is First United Methodist, which is located at 307 Clay Street. The congregation was formed in 1814, its first structure was built in 1860. The present building was constructed in 1914. The church is said to have begun its services in the home of Ebenezer Martin.

Grace Presbyterian Church is located at 7 N. Fourth Street. The congregation first formed in 1852, and saw its first home constructed in 1852. That structure was rebuilt in 1901.

"Grace Presbyterian Church is reputed to have served as a stop on the Underground Railroad during the Civil War era," said Reverend William "Bill" Webster, another key supporter of the idea to develop the local walking tour.

"One has to remember that when this church was built Wheeling was part of Virginia, and therefore was a slave state. Slaves were sold in the upper market house in Wheeling," said Feenerty. "Martins Ferry, being just a boat ride across the river into the free state of Ohio, was a logical stop on the Railroad's way North into Canada."

In the earliest days of Martins Ferry's existence as a frontier community, Walnut Grove was often the site selected on which religious services and camp meetings were held. The area is home to giant walnut trees, which resulted in it being considered one of the most peaceful places in the whole area.

But it was not long before residents found the need for locations and buildings which could be used for worship year round.

Famed local frontiersman Ebenezer Martin is reported to have donated three lots on which to house churches.

"All of the churches in the tour were built on the plateau high above the then city of Martins Ferry, which was originally built along the river, with the main drag being First Street," offered Feenerty. "Constant flooding eventually encouraged people to build on higher ground. This higher ground is where the City of Martins Ferry is now located."

"Anyone who questions the importance or positive impact that these historic churches have had on our community, need look no further than East Ohio Regional Hospital," said Feenerty. "For it was a priest at St. Mary's Church, Fr. Mulhearn who along with Dr. R. H. Wilson saw the need for a local hospital in Martins Ferry, and together (they) successfully brought the hospital to fruition."

In 1921, Father Parthenios, using $7,000 of his own money, purchased two lots on which was constructed the Church of Zoodochos Peghe (Life-Giving Fountain). In 1950 it was replaced with new construction.

As a first step in exploring potential support for this project idea, Feenerty met with Rev. William Webster of Grace Presbyterian Church.

It was Webster who suggested involving the Martins Ferry Ministerial Association in the walking tour project.

The next step was to find funding.

"We asked ourselves the question: who has great ties to Martins Ferry, church values and a strong desire to increase the quality of life for the people of the area. It took only one name to fit the part, Dr. John Kramer, DDS," offered both Feenerty and Webster. The two soon met with Kramer, who immediately pledged his personal and professional support to the plan.

"Three generations of Kramers have lived and worked as doctors in Martins Ferry. John Kramer has fond memories of growing up in Martins Ferry, and remembers the important role these churches have had in his life. In business since 1929, Drs. Kramer and Associates provides general dental care and is located at 9 N. Fourth Street, once known as Church Street," said Webster.

"I do feel it is important that all of us take time to pause now and then, to remember where we have come from. This is often very important in helping us decided where we are going, especially during hard times. Who among us has not been knocked around by life at one point or another? Felt the loss of a loved one? The disappointment at missed expectations," offered Kramer. "It is often then that we go "home to our church" for rest, comfort and healing. So, to be able to be part of showcasing all of our great churches in Martins Ferry with a walking tour, seemed a great opportunity to honor the long family history I have had in Martins Ferry."

Within the primary four developers of this niche project, each has longstanding personal and professional ties to Martins Ferry, and by working cooperatively, have seen the project become a top quality marketing tool.

"A lot goes into a project like this," said Feenerty. "I was very pleased Dr. Kramer and Rev. Webster were so willing to give of themselves to make this happen."

"The tour brochure was laid out and designed by Park Commissioner Rick Palkovic, Art Director at Beyond Marketing in Wheeling, WV. Beyond Marketing has agreed to assist in the building of a web based version of the tour to be launched at a later date," shared Feenerty. "Palkovic along with fellow Commissioners Frank Pritchett and Rick Kroflich deserve credit for bringing this project to completion."

A few highlights tied to each church were noted in the brochure, but when it came time to contact a source for virtually every detail in the project's written pages there was only one place to turn: the works and research of "a real powerhouse, one of the true treasures of Martins Ferry, the late great Anne Tanks," he said.

"Anne Tanks is known to generations as the official historian of Martins Ferry. Her essays on Martins Ferry provide us with a wealth of information on our town. Churches and schools have their own section in Anne's writings," he shared, noting that books authored by Tanks are available in the reference section of the Martins Ferry Public Library, and are for sale at the Sedgwick Museum in Martins Ferry.

"St. John's Lutheran Church held services in German and in English up until World War I," he offered.

That church body was formed in 1864, and its building constructed in 1884.

The deed to the Baptist Church at 306 Locust Street records that Ebenezer Martin charged 50 cents for the land, so they could use their money for constructing the building.

"First Presbyterian Church was constructed with bricks which were hand made locally by Moses Porter," said Feenerty. "It was Joseph Blackford who cut local timbers and proceeded to craft hand hewn timbers from it."

St. Mary's Catholic Church was originally housed in a building constructed in 1883. It was replaced by another building in 1889.

The Apostolic Faith Temple is located at 310 South 4th Street it was originally built to house the Welsh Congregation.

It was home to this congregation from 1874 to 1904. The building has also been home to congregations of the Nazarene Church and the Pentecostal Church

Copies of the self-guided Historic Church tour are available free of charge at any of the local historic churches, the office of Drs. Kramer and Associates, the Martins Ferry Public Library, the Martins Ferry Chamber of Commerce, Belmont County Department of Tourism and the Belmont County Department of Development.

For more information, Feenerty can be reached at don@feenerty.com or by calling 304-280-6529.

Loccisano can be reached at kloccisano@timesleaderonline.com

 
 

 

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