The future of Italy’s First Christian Church

Image: First Christian Church is being saved from demolition.

First Christian Church is being saved from demolition. (Karen Mathiowetz)

In 2003, the members of First Christian Church in Italy dealt with the reality their congregation was so small they could no longer worship together and maintain the building. They approached the City of Italy with an offer to donate the historic building to the city for a museum. The city agreed and took possession of the church.

Since 2003, several times the city council discussed restoring the church to house a museum. Citizens donated items for the museum which were placed in the church. As time passed, even though the city’s desire was to restore the building and house a museum, the realization of the cost to restore the historical church became reality. It was not feasible or possible.

Safety became an issue with the deterioration of the building. It had gone from a beautiful part of Italy history to an eyesore, especially to the people living on and around Poplar Street. Vandals began breaking the stain glassed windows and damaging the structure. For the good of the citizens and the city, the council voted to sell the church. Paul Shearin was the only bidder, so the building was sold to him with the stipulation the historic stained glass windows that could be saved would be removed and given to the City.

“We would have loved to be financially able to to restore the church, but that is not possible so we planned to tear it down,” said Shearin.

Because he loves history and historical structures, Shearin wanted to save the historic building. He contacted someone he knew that might be interested in moving the church to another location for restoration, The person told him it was a larger project than he wanted to undertake, but suggested getting in touch with Stephen Hidlebaugh and Logan Gaddis. The men have moved and are restoring three buildings to Midlothian for the Founders Row project. They plan to eventually have 10 structures moved and restored to complete the project.

Hidlebaugh and Gaddis were very interested in moving the historic church to Founders Row, but they wanted the windows to stay with the structure. Mr. Shearin addressed the council and requested they allow the windows to stay with the church. The council agreed. The bell located on the outside of the church will also stay with the church. The historic church will be saved.

Moving a structure the size of First Christian Church will be a month long process. Depending on the weather, it is possible the process will begin on April 1st. The cost to move the structure is sizeable. It takes a special moving company. The building will be cut into four separate pieces to move and reconstructed when it arrives in Midlothian. Once the church is moved and the lot cleared, Shearin plans to build a house on the property.

Several Italy residents donated items for the museum that were housed in the church. Shearin has tried to insure the items be returned to them. Anyone that donated items to the museum should contact Mr. Shearin at (972) 342-9481 to make arrangement to remove them.

When the Shearins moved to Italy, they became involved in the community. He explained they are not “sitters” they are “doers.” He said they love Italy and want to see it thrive. He said that Italy’s potential for growth is a positive thing. He plans to stay involved and help in any way he can. He believes that buildings like the First Christian Church and the historic Colored City Hall should be preserved if at all possible.

“History that is not preserved is not history at all,” Shearin explained. “If we don’t preserve history, no one will ever know it. I would love for the church to be able to stay in Italy, but that is not possible. The next best thing is for it to be saved and moved to Founders Row. Not just Italy citizens will be able to enjoy it when it is restored. Everyone that visits Founders Row will experience it. I am happy the church will be saved.”