How to View Potential Rather than a Pile of Rubbish

Fascination With Old Buildings

When I visited Hockessin, DE two years ago, the site of the first Catholic Church in Delaware caught my eye as I drove on Lancaster Pike Road. It looked like a pile of rubbish. Old rubbish is so photogenic, so I knew I had to come back before I left town to do a photographic study of it.

However, Pastor Steve Trader from Trinity Community Church saw potential in it that most of us would have overlooked. Today, as you will see, the dreams are coming to life.

The First Church Building

According to one source, in 1772, the Catholic base in the area purchased the 16.5 acres at the order of Father John Lewis, a Jesuit missionary familiar with the area from his mission travels.

pile of rubbish

According to Deleware Online, the first log chapel on the site was built 12 years later beside a hilltop cemetery that remains there today. Probably only the cemetery remains today, but here are two decrepit buildings that stood on or near the property two years ago.

A mystery writer might use this setting for a scene for a murder, a buried treasure, or some ghostly tale. What would you write about this picture?

pile of rubbishFor a time, the property housed the only Catholic church within some 100 miles, according to Joe Lake, president of the Hockessin Historical Society. That would have been a trek for people without modern transportation. Local historians doubted if they attended church weekly.

The Old Barn Ruins in 2016

One sign on the property called these piles of crumbling rubbish the “old barn.” The two signs also confused me because I don’t think of barns and churches pairing up in the same building.

Since childhood, I have loved old barns. My grandfather used large machinery and worked out of their garage. It became the family joke that on every trip through rural Indiana, we played the game, “A New Shop for Grandpa.” It kept my brother and me busy and peaceful pointing out the most decayed buildings we could find along the two-lane highways.

Our family particularly loved the advertising painted on the sides like Eat at Joe’s Get Gas, or Dr. Pierce’s Pleasant Pellets.  This stone barn resembled none of those.

Using my best investigative skills, I noted the candy wrappers and fast food containers on the dirt floor. My weak imagination conjured up pictures of kids playing castle in the pile of rocks. Barnyard animals keeping warm when ten inches of snow pressed against wooden doors and church services were the furthest images from my mind.

pile of rubbish
St. Mary’s First Catholic Church in Delaware

I wondered how anyone could save this pile of rubbish, but the sign said that it was being reconstructed. At the time, I saw no signs of any construction activity except for the yellow caution tape around the entire project. The tape was no more sturdy than the crumbling walls.  Camera in hand, I plowed through the mud and darkening skies, like a reporter onto a big story for the evening news.

Life is no respecter of dried up bones.

The windows and doorways looked beyond repair.

‘This would not be the safest place to stand during an earthquake,” I reported to my imaginary audience.

April 2018 The Old Church Takes Shape

It was 4:30, the start of the golden hours for photographers. The cold April wind bent the trees making them groan as I pulled up my hood and picked my way cautiously across the boggy ground to check out the reconstruction site I had loved two years before.

Shadows of large nearby trees spilled across the cemetery and beckoned me to explore the reconstructed building. How could I resist?

pile of rubbish

 

The Mystery of the Barn Solved

With my limited imagination, I wondered who would turn a church into a barn? It seemed sacrilegious.

It turned out that the Mundy’s purchased the property from the Diocese as farmland in 1912. The Mundy’s maintained the old barn property as a dairy farm until the 1960s. Bill Mundy kept it as a cattle farm into the 1990s. Locals at that time called the property Mundy’s farm. I don’t know what they called it on Tuesday-Sunday.

Between the 1990s and 2010 property managers neglected the property. In 2010 it was burned and vandalized by teens.

Under New Ownership

In 2018 with a sturdy composition roof and completed walls, this edifice looked like it would withstand the winds and the rains. Trinity Community Church, an interdenominational Christian church that holds its roots in the Assemblies of God, plans a multi-use complex on this 16.5-acre parcel.

pile of rubbish

The windows and doorways have been shorn up. They look very tiny now compared to the more expansive stone walls.

pile of lrubbish

The recycle police would be proud to see the pile of stones that the builders have used to create the new building. The ongoing pile of rubbish still looks like a daunting work to me. But my only tool is an iPhone. Bancroft Construction Company has a few more resources and talent from which to draw.

pile of rubbishAs the afternoon shadows deepened, the headless shadows seemed to raise their arms and praise the Lord. Upside down they looked like headless dancers. Either way, the bid me farewell from the 1880s burial place of locals and Irish immigrants killed in nearby powder mill explosions.

The Diocese of Wilmington still owns the resting place for the heroes of the past. But the future looks lively for the Old St. Mary’s Church, Mundy’s Farm and new Trinity Community Church in Hockessin, Delaware.

Additional Posts About Delaware

 

First Catholic Church in DE Under Reconstruction

#Travel Theme: Dried #Delawarechurch #1 Day 21 Ultimate Blog Challenge #blogboost

Ezekiel 37 1The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of theLord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

Save the Old Barn
Save the Old Barn

As I drove to my mother’s cousin’s I passed a sign in front of this old building that read, “Save the Old Barn.” When I inspected the “barn,” Ezekiel came to mind.

I tried describing the building to Hal, and he couldn’t place it even though it was two minutes walking distance from his home. It’s really a church!

Years of sunshine and rain
Years of sunshine and rain have left nothing but a dried up shell. Kind of scary in this light!

Delaware is the first state in the United States, and St. Mary’s is the first Catholic Church in the state. Even its bones are interesting.

Dried up plaster, dried up wood frame
Dried up plaster, dried up wood frame

The danger fence they wrapped around the project had gaps that I easily slipped past and hiked down inside the old church barn. I wonder if this was once a stained glass window?

Life is no respecter of dried up bones.
Life is no respecter of dried up bones.

Life marches on growing up, around, and within the old structure even as the dried building crumbles around it.

Human life left its trash
Human life left its trash.

Scattered across the floor of the structure I found litter and more weeds, lying with brittle wood and stones that had fallen from the once useful edifice.

Would you contribute to this project, or bury it?
Would you contribute to this project, or bury it?

But are the dry bones truly dead? Even if no one comes to restore them? The living communicates mortal thoughts on the deceased. Will the dried up edificial bones will preserve these shallow expressions?

Rhetorical questions. Nonetheless, this stain is part of the structure now. From the looks of the progress on this project, I doubt that anyone will come to paint it over. So the paint becomes part of the drying process. Soon the words will be bleached and faded, or painted over with new life.

delaware-first-catholic-church130

It probably wasn’t safe to go into this building, and I did not waste time. I felt like an intruder first.

Someone besides the building's owners painted a warning to others.
Someone besides the building’s owners painted a warning to others.

As I looked at all the fallen stones, I hurried less because I was an intruder and more because of the danger of being there. No one could predict when the next bit of decaying mortar would give way, and a shower of stones would rain down on my head. But I would be the one to suffer if the dried bones let loose.

Large stones crashed to the floor of the old barn
Large stones crashed to the floor of the old barn.

For that matter, a huge beam or a large boulder might be the next to fall without warning.

Arch, tiny windows that did not let in much light
Arches and tiny windows that did not let in much light called out to my camera, “Look at me!”

But I couldn’t leave.

The dried up barn-church begged me to shoot it. Not to put it out of its misery, but to make it known. It really wanted to be on my blog. I was just waiting for the right time to show it off.

delaware-first-catholic-church123
The sun sets on another beautiful day within these walls.

Alisa’s challenge gave me my first opportunity to showcase the decaying building. Although I have more pictures of this old church, I don’t want to bore you all at once. I hope you enjoyed traipsing through these dry bones.

What dried up ideas do you have to share with Alisa at Where’s my backpack?