Denton County abandons costly project
At the corner of Mulberry Street and Carroll Boulevard, in the Historical Park of Denton County, sits an old, rotting building on cinder blocks. It has a sagging front porch, a rusted tin roof and peeling red paint.
Several decades ago, the building served as the church for the Elm Ridge Methodist congregation. The building is currently in the possession of the Denton County Office of History and Culture, which has recently decided to stop efforts to renovate the building.
The building was constructed in the 1930s and was a charming, country-style church. The roof was made of tin, there was no running water or air conditioning and there was no kitchen or bathroom. Maroon curtains were draped behind the pulpit. A single piano provided the music for the hymns that were sung on Sundays.
To preserve or not to preserve
When a building is donated or acquired by Denton County for consideration of a Historic Landmark title and renovation, a contracted agent writes a report. The report contains seven aspects, which determine the integrity of any given building: location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association.
Brad Isbell of the Eikon Consultant group conducted a report on the building August 13, 2012.
“When this structure was donated to Denton County, its historical and architectural integrity were compromised by the extensive renovations done to the building when it was a restaurant,” summarized Isbell.
Peggy Riddle, director of the Denton County Office of History and Culture, said the build-ing’s structural integrity and quality are in such poor shape that it would be too expensive to restore, making it difficult to raise all of the money necessary.
“We want to make sure that we have the funds available for the moving and the restoration of a building,” Riddle said. “Before you approve the restoration of a building you need to have about half of your money raised before you move forward.”
Riddle said the old Elm Ridge Methodist Church would cost about $800,000 to restore and $50,000 was raised by the person overseeing the building before her.
The old church
Galen Ewton, 43, grew up in that church and her family’s history is completely interwoven with that of the church.
“My dad’s side of the family was involved with the construction of that church and attended Elm Ridge,” Ewton said.
Ewton’s grandfather was a preacher at the church and her mother met her father at the lo-cation as well.
One of the church families, the Wilsons, left their family farm to the Elm Ridge Methodist Church and to the Prosper Methodist Church. In the 1970s the land was sold and the churches split the money earned from the sale. Since then, the Elm Ridge church has not touched the money.
“Elm Ridge has always operated off the interest [of] money made”, Ewton said. “We eventually accumulated enough money that we were able to build the new church. We paid for it in cash.”
The building was then given to a restaurant owner, who dubbed the building “The Prairie House”. While occupying the old Elm Ridge Methodist Church, “The Prairie House” made several changes to the structure of the building.
“I watched them move the building down Highway 380,” Ewton said. “They opened the restaurant and my old Sunday school room became the bar. It was a little odd. I had my husband’s 30th birthday party there. It was strange watching all of them going to my Sunday school room to get drinks.”
The Prairie House then relocated and a nonprofit organization that oversee the operations of the Historical Park in Denton came into possession of the building. The non-profit organization subsequently donated the building to Denton County in an attempt to see if funds could be raised for its renovation.
Had the building stayed a church throughout its lifetime, it’s possible that the outcome of the report would’ve been different.
“If it had stayed a church, I think that it probably would’ve changed our outlook and our decision,” said Riddle. “But, it had been taken apart and turned into a restaurant. It was just not going to be feasible.”
The Elm Ridge Methodist Church was approved for deaccessioning by the Denton Museums Committee on July 9, 2013; the Denton County Historical Commission on September 5, 2013; and the Denton Executive Committee on August 15, 2013.
“The congregation of Elm Ridge Methodist Church was not interested in seeing it pre-served,” Riddle said. “They would’ve liked it, but the physical building wasn’t that important to them.”
However, there is at least one member of the congregation that does care what happens to the building: Galen Ewton.
“That makes me sad that they can’t do anything with it,” Ewton said. “It was a good building and it had a lot of memories for me and many generations of my family.”
The building will remain in the park until the resources are gathered to move it or get rid of it.
Originally published at ntdaily.com on March 25, 2014