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Now and Then: Sanctuary on Main Street

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Grace Church in Springtown has experienced many changes over the decades, and it’s about to experience some more.

Owners Steve and Diane Corsello have decided to sell the historic property on Route 212. When they bought the church six years ago, it was falling apart. The Durham couple set to work renovating it and used the downstairs for their business, Activize, a medical product distribution company.

Downstairs, I enter a bright modern office with impressive stonework, narrow hallways, and warren of rooms. Being nearly 6 foot, I sometimes feel like I have to crouch a little, so low are the ceilings.

But the upstairs residence is truly divine in all senses of the word. The bright sun illuminates the impressive stained-glassed windows donated by local families, and the solid brick walls block out the din from passing cars and motorbikes. Modern appliances bring comfort as long ago sermons once did.

Diane Corsello, who is planning to write a book about being a woman in the 21st century, says she comes here to write and finds it “incredibly quiet and inspiring.” Corsello notes the unconventional space attracts well, unconventional types. One musician brought a huge gong along, she says, and she points out a corner where tenants erected a teepee.

One wonders what the worshippers who met more than a century ago would have made of that.

Dissatisfied and desperate for a place to call their own, a small group of Lutherans founded the Grace Independent Reformed Church in July 1888.

According to records, the property was given to them by the Hess family, who built the fieldstone home next door. The breakaway congregation later bought that home and turned it into a parsonage in 1962.

Over the years, the church has changed pastors nearly two dozen times, and often its title was determined by who in charge at that time. While it began its life as as the Grace Independent Reformed Church, it was also known as Hartzell’s Church after Pastor Joseph Hartzell, a controversial figure who was forced out for his unorthodox ways.

In 1912, it came under the influence of the Rev. Frank Mousley and was known as the Grace Church of the Christian and Missionary Alliance.

Starting in the 1950s, the church hosted its own camp on Springtown Hill Road known as the Springtown Camp. Well into the 1980s, it had a 50-member congregation. Sometime in the 1990s, the church disbanded, and the name has reverted to the Grace Church.

Corsello says the property has attracted a lot of interest, and it just takes that one individual who appreciates its unique features.

After all, how many properties have a 500-pound bell?


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