Civil War-era church in Lafayette County restored to its original glory

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BENTON, Wis. (WMTV) – A church built during the Civil War is getting a well-deserved makeover in Lafayette County. For years the church withered and collapsed. But several local women embark on a labor of love on this very personal project.

Benton Red Church was built in 1864 at the corner of 3rd Avenue and Route 11 in Benton.

“It’s not just a building. For Benton this is a historic building and for us it is our church and it will always be our church, ”said Marcy Brenum.

Brenum grew up attending church services. At the time, it was known as the Early Methodist Church.

“This is the church that I and some of our team grew up in,” said Brenum. “This is where we found our faith”

The building has been empty for the past 20 years or so and plans were underway to demolish it. But Brenum and five other women stepped in and stopped the demolition. They obtained the deed of ownership in October 2020.

“Structurally he’s strong, very strong, and we’re going to save him and restore him,” Brenum said.

Now their efforts are turning to repairing the church – inside and out.

“It’s a landmark. It’s part of the culture of Benton and the surrounding area, ”said Pastor Bill Vasey.

Vasey’s father pastored Primitive Methodist for 11 years in the 1950s. He also invested his time and effort to have the church restored.

“For the most part, he was left abandoned with little activity. Naturally with abandonment there is an erosion that takes place in the physical structure and that is what we are working on now – to restore it, ”said Vasey. “We have in mind what we want it to look like, namely the era of the 40s, 50s and 60s and give it that look back”

“We knew it had not been taken care of and that no money had been spent on it for many years,” said Sally Alexander. Alexander also grew up in the church and married her husband there.

The old church pews rest at the back of the church(Tim Elliott)

“It’s a big piece of all of our hearts, it’s where we come from,” she said.

The church was in poor condition. There were holes in the roof as well as water damage and holes in the roof. Seeing the church in such disrepair broke Alexander’s heart. “It was pretty overwhelming, but we were determined,” Alexander said.

Brenum has extra motivation to get the job done. His mother and brother are both buried in the cemetery just outside the church.

“My mother passed away at 41 years old. I was only 7 years old, “she said.” This year my mother would have been 100, so it’s been 59 years without birthdays, no Christmas, no Mother’s Day and so every day that I working on things for this church, that’s my extra motivation, I’m doing it for her, “

Frieda Wright, Marcy Brenum's mother, died in 1962 and at age 41
Frieda Wright, Marcy Brenum’s mother, died in 1962 and at age 41(Marcy Brenum)

So far, the roof has been replaced and the bell tower and bell tower have been restored. But there is still a lot of work to be done. The group estimates that they still need to raise between $ 80,000 and $ 100,000 to complete the project.

“It is a beautiful and sacred place and we are going to keep it that way,” said Brenum.

If you would like to donate, you can send or deposit checks to:

Save the Benton State Bank Red Church

PO Box 27, Benton, WI 53803

Or you can visit their Go Fund Me page here

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