Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Significance of Built Heritage - Ada First United Methodist Church

Yesterday, while working at Fanshawe Pioneer Village, I was reviewing some  archival boxes filled with information about the buildings in the Village.  I was particularly impressed with the documentation regarding the efforts of a congregation to preserve their church building by raising funds to have it moved to the Village, as the congregation had vacated.  There were numerous fundraising letters, newspaper articles, and photos.  This was clearly a community effort, they saw this structure as an important part of their built heritage.

Ada First UMC
Today, that point hit home for me.  Shortly after noon, a fire broke out at 301 North Main Street, Ada, Ohio.  In a matter of minutes, the entire Ada First United Methodist Church building was engulfed in flames.  This is the church I was raised in, am a member of, and still consider home.  Let me put it this way - I lived in three houses growing up in Ada, I only attended one church.

Photo by Anna Guillozet
Being in another country, I found out about it the way I get much of my news these days - through Facebook.  Almost immediately my news feed was full of photos and even videos of the building consumed by flames.  I contacted my parents - who were amazed that I knew about it already - and they passed on what information they had.  Everyone was safe, the fire was still burning and the damage extensive, and though nearby buildings had sparked from the ashes fire crews had the blaze under control.

Memories of a community member

Responses to the fire on my Facebook news feed were urgent and emotional.  I was also feeling emotional watching it all unfold on social media.  There were comments and memories from fellow congregants, which I expected - but what struck me was the attachment that other members of the community had to the church building, even if they did not regularly attend services.  This structure, dedicated in 1899, was definitely an important part of Ada's built heritage.

Community Blanket featuring Ada First

Built heritage is defined as the unique and irreplaceable architecture with historic background that merits preservation for future generations.  In small towns especially, it is an important part of the residents' sense of space.  In a village the size of Ada - about 5,800 people - nearly everyone has a connection with a church building like Ada FUMC.  It sat on a prominent corner of Main Street.  Numerous community organizations used the basement: Head Start, 4-H, Girl Scouts, Kiwanis, Red Cross, and those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.  This is a case where not only is the church an significant part of the community identity and heritage, but the structure itself as well.  This experience has quite literally brought home the importance of preserving our built heritage.

My 6th grade Sunday School Class
I’m the second from the left

On a more personal note, I would like to stress that as devastating a loss this is to the architectural heritage of Ada, the damage was only to the structure and thank God no one was hurt.  As the song goes, "the church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people."

For more information on the history of Ada First United Methodist Church - congregation and building - see Celebrating a Century: Reflections of Faith 1899-1999.


  1. beautifully written. A place is like a friend. When lost you think you will never feel a sense of connection again. But you will always have that with you.

  2. Hope they keep some of the stonework and incorporate it into the new building! It's beautiful.