- Associated Press - Sunday, November 22, 2015

IVA, S.C. (AP) - For the first time in 125 years, a different sign sits over the front doors to the old Iva First Baptist Church.

The sign reads “Sosebee Mortuary and Crematory.”

The exterior of the church looks similar to how it always has, but the inside is under renovation.

The new property owners have not taken down many walls, but have painted them and added wood trim around the doors and windows. The green carpet that once graced the floors has been replaced with red carpet. The pews, exchanged for red cushioned chairs, are lined up in a row in the sanctuary.

The light fixtures in the sanctuary and the decorative patterned ceilings are original to the church.

“We are trying to keep a lot of things people knew and not get rid of the church’s identity,” said owner Rob Sosebee. “We are trying to match the aesthetics with our other funeral homes while keeping the original identity of the building.”

Sosebee had been looking for a place in Iva for the past few years to expand his funeral business. The family has two other funeral homes in Anderson County.

“This place came up a year and a half ago,” Sosebee said.

Sosebee and his family have been working on the renovations since summer of 2014.

“We’ve been waiting to open until the changes are what the town of Iva and the funeral home can be proud of,” he said.

Rob’s father, Jim Sosebee, is in charge of the renovations, taking great care in the decorations and updates.

The church was empty when the Sosebee’s bought it, but now it is now full of antique chairs, lamps and even has a piano in one of the sitting rooms.

Town Clerk Tim Taylor started going to the old church when he was 15 years old. He clearly remembers how the church looked when he attended, even after months of renovations. What is now the old balcony used to be the sound room, and what is now the sound room used to be the history room, where old newspaper clippings and photos were kept.

“When he first started the renovations, even the smell was the same,” Taylor said. But now, Taylor says he has gotten used to seeing the church with a new face-lift, something he is happy about, especially with the upgraded landscaping, beautifying the block.

For about six years, the building sat vacant with the fear that it would be torn down.

“I was afraid we would lose that historical building when we moved out,” said lifelong Iva First Baptist Church member Marlene Wiles. “It will always be the church to us, but I am thrilled he (Sosebee) is renovating the church.”

The last documented funeral home in Iva was owned by Pringle Cook and John J. Jones in 1923.

“This is the best fit for the facility. It fills a need,” Taylor said. “The right person came along who had the ambition to come in and actually provide the building with renovations.”

Right now, the family is focused on finishing the renovations downstairs before they open for business. They will renovate the lower level as offices, storage and work rooms. The sanctuary now serves as the chapel for the home. Several of the old Sunday school classrooms have been converted into viewing rooms.

“For the town, it’s an incredible enhancement,” said Taylor. “For one, it’s a new business, and it’s a restoration of a historic building.”

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Information from: Anderson Independent-Mail, https://www.andersonsc.com


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