The rusticated concrete blocks arrived at Helena Junction on the train from Carlise, Kentucky. Church members transported the blocks in their own horse-drawn wagons to the site of their new church. The stained glass windows – in various sizes and shapes – were made in Paris, Kentucky. I hope the sun was out the day they were finally installed, so the church members could admire the way the glass glinted in the light. The Helena United Methodist Church, built in 1914-15, was a community construction effort.
The 1876 Atlas of Mason County shows Helena, in the Lewisburg Precinct, as a small hamlet with a handful of dwellings, a Masonic Lodge, a Toll House, wagon shop, black smith, and the precursor to this Methodist Church.
I don’t know how Helena received its name, but a post office opened in the community in 1837. It seems that the post office may have later moved to be closer to the railroad (a pretty common practice in rural Kentucky); that location closed in 1937.
I like to imagine that the first postmaster (or postmistress) had a daughter named Helena, immortalized in the name of the town.
The new church would have been a radical departure from the previous church building that burned. No simple frame, front gable structure like their previous house of worship – the congregation spent $10,000 to erect the new church, which was built with modern materials and a modern sensibility.
It can’t be mistaken for a one-room schoolhouse or even a house – this was a substantial, stylish building not just for the church, but for the community of Helena. The new church was built with a full basement, space that the community could use for functions and meetings.
The dedication of the church on June 27, 1915, was attended by over 1,000 people. Helena, situated between a busy road (Highway 11) and the railroad, was a prosperous agricultural hamlet with a few stores, a church, and acres of farmland stretching out on all sides.
The church was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2010 by a member of the congregation – at the time, the Helena United Methodist Church still functioned as a church. But as I recently found out, the church building is now for sale, which raises the troubling specter of its future.
Will a new congregation call the building home, worshiping within the sturdy walls made of concrete blocks from Carlisle? Or will someone, with vision and care, transform the building into a single family home?
Since the church building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, it is eligible for state and federal tax credits, which could help with restoration work (if needed). I fervently hope that the church, once a testament to the continuing growth of a small rural hamlet, has another 100 years of use waiting.
Too many of our crossroad communities have withered and died, their buildings fading and faltering along with residents’ dreams. This doesn’t have to be the ending of the Helena United Methodist Church – it was built by a community, and it could continue to be a part of that community.