- Associated Press - Sunday, May 11, 2014

BELLE FOURCHE, S.D. (AP) - The church is on the National Register of Historic Sites - a landmark building that took 10 years to build due to a lack of materials available during World War II.

But the solid bricks and mortar that make up the face of the Belle Fourche UCC Congregational Church are finally giving way to the frigid blasts of Northern Plains winters.

now, trustees at the church hope that people around the region and the nation who believe in historic preservation will help cover costs of a facelift for the historic building. They appear to be making some progress.

Something about the structure strikes nearly everyone with a feeling of familiarity, even if they’ve never crossed the door of a church before.

The building’s design is unique in that it combines a traditional church, a Gothic sort of structure with a square bell tower, and a rear section that has a Tudor-like outer wall.

That unique design gives trustees hopes for help on a tuck-pointing brickwork contract.

Trustees this winter received a $10,000 grant from the Deadwood Historic Preservation Commission, but the price tag is estimated at nearly $34,000.

One hope is that current and former Belle Fourche families will see the church building as a community resource and treasure and be willing to donate.

“Our goal is to raise the remaining balance of just under $20,000 in the next three months,” said Chris Watson, president of the church trustees.

The trustees have a “buy a brick” fundraiser under way, but the bottom line is that the overall project is vital to protect the crumbling bricks and mortar already there.

The project was set to begin May 1 and continue through July 30. Trustee Larry Prager said that at the time it was build, the church interior “was a huge investment.”

The building is unique in West River South Dakota. Its construction began just before World War II and was delayed during and after the war due to material shortages.

Trustee John Jackson said the proof of the quality of work and materials is that the church has gotten along without tuck pointing - repair of the brick and mortar joints damaged by weathering.

“We haven’t touched that thing, there hasn’t been a brick touched on it. But ice has taken its toll,” Prager said.

Watson said trustees hope to reach out to people who care about West River, Black Hills and Belle Fourche history.

“It is a landmark,” she said.

During construction, the church services were held in the basement. A pastor could live upstairs in the unfinished sanctuary. There’s still an apartment on the second floor adjacent to the bell tower.

The sanctuary, the place where services are held, is a special design, too.

“If the walls could talk,” Prager said. “It is a sanctuary, a sense of peace.”

Church meeting rooms and the sanctuary have always been available to serve the wider community, Jackson said. It’s a tradition to open the church for weddings and funerals of people who were not church members but wanted a church environment for their event.

The church also housed the first Compassion Cupboard food pantry operation of the Belle Fourche Ministerial Association.

But now the building itself needs some help with keeping its historic face.

“Our first minister arrived here in the spring of 1891,” he said. “First services were May 25 of 1891.”

That meeting was in the train depot. The congregation sat on planks placed on nail and beer kegs. Their first frame church building was shared for a time with the Methodist congregation.

The railroad donated the church bell for the old church. It now stands guard to call worshipers to services in the brick bell tower that few have seen, Prager said.

Stained glass windows from the old frame church today still serve as art pieces.

The building was started in 1939 and completed in March of 1949.

“It took 10 years to build it,” Jackson said. “In 1939, it was pretty gutsy to take on a building that size.”

Now recognized as a historic site and treasure of architecture, the trustees hope they can have help with their unique building.

“We’re a community church,” Jackson said.


Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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