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Effort to save Swift Co.'s first church is on again

The Gethsemane Church in Appleton was the first church erected in Swift County. Preserve Appleton's Heritage Inc., is hoping the 1879 bui-lding can be saved after sewage filled its basement and went unnoticed for months. Tribune file photo

APPLETON -- Randy Twitchell could not believe the generosity of people -- many of them strangers -- who donated thousands of dollars to save the historic Episcopal church in Appleton, the first church erected in Swift County.

Now he feels he can't let them down, as he faces the difficult challenge of preserving the historic structure he and others saved just six years ago.

Professional cleaners are at work inside the former Gethsemane Church, where Twitchell was startled recently to open the doors and see black mold covering the wood like moss in a southern, blackwater swamp, and peeling paint on moisture-damaged walls.

"It just made me cry,'' Twitchell said.

A sewer line had backed up and flooded the basement of the 1879 church building. The foul pool may have been in the building for two or more months before it was discovered, Twitchell said.

A common sewer line that served the church and an adjoining parsonage blocked up. The owner of the parsonage had discovered the mess there and had the problem fixed, but Twitchell said the owner did not notify him about the issue. The church basement is at a lower elevation than the parsonage, and the sewage remained there.

It will cost an estimated $10,000 to cleanup the mess, and that's just the start. There's no way at this point to know the cost to restore the woodwork.

Twitchell is among a group of people in Appleton who oversee the building. They acquired the church from the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota in 2004 and have been preserving it since. They've added a new furnace and wiring, and work was to begin on the bathroom the day Twitchell discovered the damage.

Twitchell said the group would like to see the church listed on the National Register of Historic Places, making it eligible for Legacy preservation funds.

He said he was ready to give up on the effort when he discovered this setback, but can't. He thought about all those who have already donated money or time to its preservation.

"It wouldn't be fair to them if I didn't fight,'' he said.

Tax deductible donations can be made to Preserve Appleton's Heritage, Inc., C/O Randy Twitchell, 2370 90th Street SW, Appleton, MN 56208.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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