Taking care of history at LaFayette Church
LAFAYETTE TOWNSHIP — For decades, Patrick Kulas, a Civil War re-enactor and a member of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, D.K. Pier Badger Camp #1, has collected scraps of the past: battle-scarred 19th-century bullets found in the woods and fields of Virginia and Pennsylvania, a muster sheet of Union soldiers from a unit in Ohio, even a Confederate flag that briefly flew in protest over a capitol building in South Carolina in 1989.
Then a few years ago, Kulas became the caretaker for an even bigger piece of history.
He first heard about the LaFayette Church, located at W3466 Church Road on County Highway ES, from a friend, a We Energies technician who'd driven past the abandoned building for 15 years while working in the area.
Kulas remembers his first sight of the church's aging wood siding, deteriorating front porch and sagging roof, topped by a simple cross.
“It was doomed,” he said. “There was talk at one time that they were going to tear the building down and turn it into a crematorium.”
It would have been a sad end for a building that got its start as the First Congregational LaFayette Church on July 4, 1855, when it was indentured for $1 from landowner James Bishop. Generations of congregations worshipped at the church, and in 1955 held an anniversary rededication ceremony.
But by the early 1980s, services ended. In 1982, the building was under new ownership through the PIP Foundation a nonprofit overseen by William Wuehrmann Sr., of North Carolina, whose family, including his daughter, Kyle Reed, owner of Reed Furniture in Elkhorn, has longstanding ties to the area. Under the foundation, the building was used for weddings, Thanksgiving services and other occasional events for a few more years. Some basic maintenance continued, but the church more often than not stood empty.
Kulas and a fellow Sons of Union Veterans member thought the building would be an ideal meeting place for the group. They worked out a deal with Reed to lease the space in exchange for restoration work.
Surrounded by picturesque wooded farm fields, the church is adjacent to White Oak Cemetery, which dates back to 1848.
One day in late fall while working outside the church, Kulas spotted something dark in the ground in the cemetery. Investigating, he discovered a metal star-shaped grave marker of the Grand Army of the Republic, indicating a Civil War Union veteran. Kulas said he's found other Civil War veterans buried there, and even someone born before the Revolutionary War.
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