LERNA — Its stained glass windows show the last home and the names of Abraham Lincoln’s father and stepmother, both of whom are buried within easy sight of the historic Shiloh Church.
The church’s status as a Coles County landmark makes it worthwhile to try to raise money to help restore it after years of lack of attention because of lack of funding, Larry Gutzler believes.
Gutzler is a member of the Lincoln-Sargent Farm Foundation, a private organizer that raises money for the county’s state-owned historic sites. That’s including the Shiloh Church along with Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site and others since the state took ownership of the church 12 years ago.
“The cemetery would not be the same if the church was gone,” Gutzler said. “It would be very sad to see it go brick by brick.”
The church adjoins Thomas Lincoln Cemetery, named because it’s the burial site of Lincoln’s father, who lived nearby at what’s now the Lincoln cabin state site. Lincoln’s stepmother, Sarah Bush Lincoln, is also buried in the cemetery.
The Lincolns’ graves are part of the state property but the rest of the cemetery is managed by a private cemetery board. The board recently completed an expansion of the cemetery and installed a war memorial.
As for the church so far, Kross Masonry & Restoration of Newman agreed to repair the church’s brick exterior and front steps, charging only for materials and not labor. That amounted to a donation of about $5,000 for the first stage of the work on the church’s bell tower, said Kevin Tracy, the company’s co-owner.
Tracy is a Mattoon native and said he wanted to make sure a lack of funds didn’t prevent quality work on the church.
“It’s an amazing old building,” he said.
The brick repairs started with the bell tower because, Gutzler said, it was leaking and letting water get to the church’s basement. The roof was replaced about three years ago but there’s plenty of work needed inside the building and the foundation will do “all we can do” as money’s available, Gutzler said.
He said it’s difficult to estimate how much money would be necessary to complete all the repairs, but it could easily be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The foundation is conducting its annual fundraising campaign, Gutzler said, and people who want to give to support the church repairs have to designate their contributions for that effort. He said anyone who wants to donate can call Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site at 217-345-1845 for information on how to contribute.
Also, Tracy said Woare Buildings of Decatur donated the mortar for the project and he’s trying to find other businesses to contribute additional materials.
Other work that could take place includes repairs to the church interior’s ceiling, walls and flooring, both on the ground floor and in its basement, Gutzler said.
The church was built in the 1830s and was a “very simple building,” Gutzler said. It can be seen in the background of a picture on the “Looking for Lincoln” program sign in the church’s parking lot.
The building was remodeled in 1921 and continued as a church until 1974, when its Presbyterian congregation voted to disband. It belonged to the cemetery board until it turned over ownership to the state in 2001.
Gutzler said plans also include opening the church to the public. That could range from tours and programs to weddings, funerals or other private events, he said.
He knows there’s interest in that, Gutzler said, because of what he hears from people who visit the church and cemetery while he’s there.
“People come up to me and ask if they can see the inside,” he said.
Contact Fopay at email@example.com or 217-238-6858.