By Ruth A. Ringelstetter
Last fall we wrote about Bethel Chapel and how, as hard as we tried, we couldn’t find any information about the history of the church. A wonderful reader posted a comment including a link to a small bit of historical information.
Now we knew a little about the church. The research was done by the archivist at the Brewer Library in Richland Center after a paperweight was brought to them in 1980 with a picture of a crude log church labeled “Bethel Methodist Church, Richland Center, Wisconsin”.
They gradually found bits of information about the church and its origins. The plot of land for the church had been purchased in 1880, and the original church was a small log building. The current building was built in 1912.
We had been waiting to photograph the church in the winter. It was one season in which we had not visited the little church. Then last month, we received a small snowstorm on a Friday. Joann and I talked that night and decided that we would wait for the roads to be cleared on Saturday and we would go out photographing on Sunday, with Bethel Chapel as our main goal.
We made multiple stops on the way to the church. There is always something we can think of that we haven’t photographed in the winter.
When we pulled up to the church, the hardest part was trying to figure out where to park the car. During other seasons of the year, there is an old tractor lane almost directly across from the church. In the winter, there is nowhere to park. Finally, Joann pulled over as far as she could and said she would be quick with her pictures. She turned on the flashers and jumped out with her equipment.
The steeple now appears to be leaning more towards the road than it was previously. It looks as though a brisk wind might topple it over onto the road at any time. We hope this is not the case, but we feel fortunate to have captured this historical church in different seasons. We know now that the building was disposed of by the Methodist Conference in 1969. There is no indication in the small bit of history we have as to whom the church was sold or if it was used for anything in particular once the Methodist Conference sold it.
Joann took quite a few photos and, the entire time, freezing drizzle was coming down, so we knew that we should be heading home.
In some ways the little church seems to be on its last legs, and yet it has stood for more than 40 years for the enjoyment of those passing by. How many more years might it stand before it topples on its own or is razed? We’ll continue to check on the church, and we will be so sad when it is no more.
Enjoy those things you pass along the backroads. You never know how long they will be there.