- Associated Press - Friday, June 24, 2016

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Brick by brick, Patrick Finnigan carefully unseals a closed-off space in the basement of St. Paul’s Memorial United Methodist Church.

He’s hoping to solve the mystery of why the semi-circular opening visible in the wall was bricked off at some point since the church was built in 1901 on West Colfax Avenue.

Church records and maps provide no answer for why the opening once existed or why it was sealed off.

“I’m intrigued by history and archaeology in urban areas,” says Finnigan, who is an archaeology student at Indiana University South Bend.

Finnigan carefully marks with a number each brick as he removes it, logging the spot it came from in the wall.

“I’ll measure each of the bricks,” he says. The bricks are stamped with words, including Nelsonville Block and BARR, brand names of clay brick companies that operated in various Midwestern cities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Behind the wall is loose dirt, loose bricks and rocks, and vacant space. It resembles what might at some point have been a small room or a tunnel.

Where would such a space on the church’s east side, facing LaPorte Avenue, have led?

No one knows. Finnigan plans to do a lot more digging to find out.

He asked to explore the church after participating in an IU South Bend archaeology dig last summer nearby on West Washington Street. Church members pointed out the bricked over space in the basement and Finnigan got permission to examine it further.

If the bricked-off space leads to a tunnel, Finnigan wants to find out where it leads - or where it used to lead.

St. Paul’s, a Gothic-style structure with distinctive stained-glass windows crafted in Munich, Germany, was built with funds donated by Clement Studebaker, one of the five brothers who established the Studebaker wagon factory in South Bend. Clement Studebaker and his family lived a few blocks away in Tippecanoe Place, a mansion on West Washington Street.

The church cornerstone was set in May 1901. Clement Studebaker died in November 1901, so he didn’t live long enough to attend the first service at the new church.

Finnigan said he got permission to explore the basement of Tippecanoe Place, and found some similar spots in the walls there that appeared openings had been bricked over. He said one such spot led to a space 20 meters (about 65 feet) deep leading east underground toward Taylor Street. The purpose of that space is unknown.

He wonders if there might have been a tunnel leading from St. Paul’s to nearby buildings, or even several blocks away to Tippecanoe Place, although there is no historical evidence of such tunnels.

In a neighboring basement room in the church, there is an enormous vintage fan. It was used to provide an early form of air-conditioning in St. Paul’s, says Jerry Aufrance, the maintenance director and a member of the parish. Chunks of ice were placed nearby on the concrete floor, the fan was turned on, and the cooled air was blown up through openings in the floor to cool the church during hot summer months.

The fan is situated in a semi-circular brick opening that is similar in size and appearance to the bricked-off area Finnigan is exploring.

Could the fan originally have been in the space in the east wall and later moved? No one knows.

Finnigan plans to keep digging until he finds the answer.

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Source: South Bend Tribune, https://bit.ly/290pszF

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