‘Just amazing’: Club volunteers to build shelter where historic church once stood

VAN BUREN TWP. — In the early morning hours of July 14, 2010, eight teenagers set fire to Grandview Apostolic Church and for more than 10 years the lot has been vacant — until now.

A cemetery established in 1888 was all that remained at the site until a shelter house began to take shape where the place of worship once stood.

Van Buren Township Trustee Vickie Payne was elected to the position one year after the fire in 2011. Since that time she had wondered what could be done with the property.

In May, Payne was traveling on Harrison Ridge Road when she came across a shelter structure that inspired her. A towering lodge with a fire place and picnic tables in a picturesque and rustic setting allowed visitors to find a respite along the road.

She stopped at the property and left a note with her name and phone number in a plastic bag, which she stuck in a garage door on the same property.

The owner, Michael Riebl, gave her a call.

Riebl is a member of the Brown County Woodworkers Club and built the inspiring structure on his own property. He told Payne the woodworkers happened to be looking for a project when she reached out.

Payne brought apple and cherry cobblers and ice cream to a meeting the group held and pitched the idea. Payne and the woodworkers soon began working on making the idea a reality.

With three other shelters at cemeteries in Van Buren Township, Payne said she believed the addition of the one at Grandview seemed appropriate.

The structure stands on a 20 feet by 24 feet slab of concrete, towered over by oak logs connected with wooden pegs. The bell that was once at the church will also be added to the site.

The church was able to sell $3,000 worth of timber after several trees were killed from the fire, Payne said. With that money as well as funds paid by the arsonists, there was about $7,000 to build the shelter.

The woodworkers are donating their time and labor to complete the project.

The build

Riebl is leading the project of the build, which is a timber framing using oak. Riebl is originally from Germany. He said that he has always been intrigued by large timber structures.

The woodworkers visited the Brown County Beamery to see how the project might work ahead of getting started.

After he built his own on Harrison Ridge, he said he wanted to do another in the same fashion.

“It was my dream,” he said.

Though oak is not a typical material used in the United States for builds like this due to the cost, Brown County has a bountiful supply.

“It’s a little challenging using oak, but it makes the building like traditional barns from the 1800s, resistant to bugs and things like that,” Riebl said.

Nowadays, metal is often used in that style, but the group decided to go with the “really original” style, making their own pins and holes, he said.

The structure will completely be held together by a timber frame.

The club has not done a project of this scale before, but working on this with his club has been a “dream,” Riebl said.

Another dream of his is to someday build a covered bridge, which is a similar type of construction.

“The covered bridge is such a big part of this history of this country, but no one builds them anymore,” he said.

Even though it is labor intensive, working with the woodworkers has been a “highlight” for Riebl.

“Every time we get together and work together, there’s lots of laughs,” he said.

“It’s lots of fun to actually do this.”

A grand view

Responding units to the church fire 11 years ago found it fully engulfed, its roof and steeple collapsed into the one-room building.

Graffiti on the church bus was also found. The arsonists spray painted “Freaks” and “Jesus, God, Jesus” as well as crosses and expletives on the outside of the bus.

The teens responsible were charged with arson. Each teen was ordered to pay $10,000 restitution to the church congregation and $148,000 to Van Buren Township. Payne said nowhere near that amount was paid.

The teenagers traveled to Brown County while under the influence of the hallucinogenic drug LSD. Their intention, as revealed through court documents and testimony, was to vandalize and burn down the church because the group thought the place to be satanic.

The church was built in 1892 after John and Hester Barkes donated the land for the church and cemetery. Neighbors contributed donations and labor to help build what came to be known as the Grandview United Brethren Church.

The property was deeded to the township in December of 1987 for $1 and the congregation entered a 99-year lease in 1990, agreeing to pay $50 per month to use the building for church services and activities.

Brown County resident and former church member Opal Spann was told by her grandfather Isaiah Davis, who helped build the church, that the church received its name one day when the workers were eating lunch.

One of the men sat staring out at the surrounding hills and remarked: “What a grand view!”

The church was a target of vandalism long before the teens set fire to it in 2010.

Services were no longer conducted in the historic church by the 1960s. Vandals at that time had desecrated the interior and stole the hand-carved pews, the organ and a brass bell that had been brought to the church from Germany.

Spann then led the efforts to renovate the church in the 1970s and place it on the National Register of Historic Places in the late 1960s.

“I was born here. This was something that was part of me. That cemetery is half of my people,” Spann told the Brown County Democrat in 1992.

Spann was buried in the church cemetery in 1997.

Payne said she sees this shelter house as a place where families can visit, have a picnic and pay tribute to their loved ones at the cemetery all while taking in the “grand view.”

The shelter house is located at the highest points in Brown County.

When the church was there, the land was clear cut and one could see the rolling hills well off into the distance.

Having this longtime goal accomplished of putting something in the spot left vacant by vandals, Payne said she is “very pleased.”

“These men have been so gracious donating time, effort and skills,” she said.

“It’s just amazing. I’m very pleased.”