Ag museum seeks donations for historic church restoration

August 31, 2019

The Delaware Agricultural Museum and Village in Dover recently announced that a massive historic preservation project is underway at the museum.

The focus of the project is the restoration of St. Thomas Methodist Episcopal Church (ca. 1857). The church, originally situated approximately seven miles west of Millsboro, was moved to the museum grounds in 1994. Sadly, it has fallen into disrepair over the years, mostly due to a lack of funding to support its long-term preservation.

The museum has contracted with a recognized expert in the field of historic preservation, Dave Reisinger of Roberts Construction, to perform the restoration work on the church.

The Delaware Agricultural Museum and Village is the steward of 10 historic structures dating back to 1850 and an equal number of outbuildings, some dating to the early 1800s. The buildings were moved to the museum from roughly 1980 to 1994, forming the museum’s 1890s Village. Many of these historic buildings would have fallen under the bucket of a bulldozer had they not been saved by the efforts of forward-thinking former trustees, staff, volunteers and community members.

St. Thomas Methodist Episcopal Church is an important symbol of Delaware’s rural history and heritage. It also is a wonderful example of 19th century rural church architecture embodied by the steeply pitched roof, arched windows and Victorian-era stained glass. The pews, chairs, pulpit, altar and cast-iron stoves are original to the church. The church is also an important symbol of the role that churches played in rural communities on the Delmarva in 18th and 19th centuries and continue to play to this day as houses of worship and community gathering places.

Museum Director Carolyn Claypoole has announced a project underway to compile photos and documentation for a time capsule that will be placed in one of the church’s exterior walls. The capsule will include the history of St. Thomas Methodist Episcopal Church and the only known photograph of the building in its original location seven miles west of Millsboro; photos and written documentation on the church’s 1994 relocation to the Delaware Agricultural Museum; photos and written documentation of educational programs, weddings and community events that have taken place in the church since its relocation; and a list of donors who provided funding support for the 2019 church restoration as well as all previous donors who specifically requested gifts be allocated to support preservation efforts.

Claypoole said the time capsule will enhance the future generations’ understanding and appreciation of the history of St. Thomas Methodist Episcopal Church, the people who worshiped there, the role the church played as the center of a rural community, and the efforts undertaken over the years to preserve it.

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