EATON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — Charamy Cleary will be the first person to vouch for the 133-year-old church that sits in the middle of Center Eaton Cemetery.
The Eaton Township clerk was quick to point out as she gave a recent tour of the historic Eaton Center United Methodist Church that the last 100 years or so have actually been kind to the building.
“The inside of the church is in really good shape,” said Cleary, walking up the aisle between both sides of wooden pews in the sanctuary. “It’s been well-maintained.”
The historic church was built in 1881 and listed on the State Register of Historic Places in 1987. The township bought the church and adjacent parsonage in November 2012 for $80,000 in a preservation move.
“It made sense for the township to own them,” Cleary told the Lansing State Journal. “It had the potential to be a bad thing for preserving the quiet and peace of the township cemetery if the wrong person moved in.”
The township made the move after Cleary visited the Narrow Lake Road property in fall 2012. She was checking on some work that was done at the 6-acre cemetery the township owns.
The “For Sale” sign at the church and parsonage next door stood out. The couple who owned the structures, which take up about an acre in the center of the cemetery, were moving. Cleary asked the township to buy it a few weeks later.
Although it hasn’t served as a church since the 1990s it has been an important place of worship over the last century.
Luren Dickinson, Michigan’s 37th governor, from 1939 to 1940, worshipped there, bringing a significant spotlight to the church at the time.
“Attendance for the year that he was governor doubled here,” Eaton Township Treasurer Becky Dolman said.
Dolman attended vacation Bible school at the church in the 1970s.
“I grew up around the corner from the church so we played in the cemetery and on the property there a lot,” she said. “It really looks to me as it did then. It’s like time stood still.”
The property isn’t without needs, though. Dolman said the church needs a new roof and an updated heating system.
“There’s definitely things that could be done but as far as when you walk into the church there aren’t any issues with it deteriorating,” she said.
Dolman said the township’s $1.5 million fund balance will allow for some investment in the property.
What will become of the church will ultimately be up to the township’s Board of Trustees. In December, officials invited the community to an open house at the church.
Fifty to 75 people attended, Cleary said, many of them sharing stories of when they attended services there years before.
Dolman said an advisory committee should be formed by spring to recommend how to utilize the property.