YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The bishop of the Youngstown Catholic Diocese, the Most Reverend David Bonnar, has decided that Youngstown’s oldest church, the former Welsh Congregational Church, will be demolished.
“The plan is to demolish the church,” said Justin Huyck, coordinator of media relations for the Diocese of Youngtown. “We hope to have it done sometime in the next three weeks, from mid to late January.”
The former Welsh Congregational Church was built in 1861. It’s located on Elm Street next to St. Columba Cathedral and is owned by the Diocese.
There’s been a concerted effort for five years to save the church.
“There has been an open line of communication with community leaders throughout the process,” Huyck said.
According to two community leaders, there was a viable plan in place to save the church.
“The city did all it can to make sure the church got moved and preserved,” said Youngstown city councilman Julius Oliver.
Oliver said the plan was to move the church about 600 feet up Elm Street next to the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor.
The plan was organized by Youngstown CityScape.
“We have the money in place to move the house and to renovate it,” said CityScape executive director Sharon Letson, who added it was the Diocese that approached CityScape to try and save the church.
“There’s no expense to anybody. CityScape is covering everything,” Oliver said.
Letson said the money was being donated by Roberta Hannay, a descendant of Youngstown’s Wick family.
“The parcel we’re talking about moving the church to was once the site of a Wick house,” Letson said. “She was happy it was being moved there.”
Both Oliver and Letson say a meeting was held within the past month where all the parties involved were represented.
“We all got together and decided the new place, to move the church would be next to the steel museum,” Oliver said.
But officials with the Diocese disagreed with Oliver’s assessment of the situation.
“A viable plan has not emerged,” Huyck said. “We were not told how refurbishment was going to be paid for once it gets to where it’s going. Our concern was not to perpetuate blight in a new area.”
Huyck said the question of what to do with the church has delayed “a redevelopment plan” the Diocese has in place to make the block between Wood Street and Rayen Avenue an area of “greenspace.”
“A lot of good people worked for a long time on this issue,” Huyck said.
The former Welsh Church is in poor shape. It was last occupied in the mid-1990s before a fire burned through the sanctuary floor and up through the roof. Today, the windows are boarded up, except for three vertical windows above the main entrance, which are open to the elements.
“The Diocese are the owners,” said Youngstown Mayor Tito Brown. “They have the right to do so. I think they’ve been more than fair over the time, and it’s been a long time for that property to be there. I support what they’re deciding to do. They’re removing the blight from the community.”
Previously, there were plans to move the church to Wick Park and “The Wedge,” a strip of land along Hazel Street. Both plans were nixed for various reasons.
When told the Diocese was planning to demolish the church, Letson said, “It’s their property. They can do what they want.”