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Histories and Mysteries: The story of 100 6th Street: Part 2

Part 1 described the building’s 1889 beginning as a Catholic Church, its brief time as a Pentecostal Church, and then its location for filming a horror movie.

A Change of Owners — If you walk or drive by the corner of 6th and C Streets now, you will see a beautiful residence — that looks like a church! Greg Conaway and Cory Ross have tastefully transformed the small church building and grounds.

The couple’s renovation won a well-deserved 2016 Historic Preservation Award given by the Ashland Historic Commission. Here’s how it happened.

In autumn of 2013, Ross was riding her bicycle on 6th Street and saw the old church for sale. The building stands out partly because the original church was designed with elements of the Gothic Revival style, as can be seen in the windows lining both sides of the house. She thought to herself, “Someone needs to save those windows!”

She and Conaway called realtor Patie Millen, toured the inside of the church, were intrigued, and started discussing the potential. By December, it was theirs.

Renovation and Seismic Retrofit — Conaway and Ross thought first about putting a business in the building. In the end, they decided to renovate the building and live in it themselves. The first challenge was to stabilize the structure. Seismic retrofits started with pouring a new steel-reinforced concrete foundation for the church. Then they stabilized the bowing walls that support the soaring ceiling. The solution was to tie them together with 1-inch-thick steel rods. The old walls were also anchored to the foundation and the roof. The final effect is solid but subtle.

Conaway and Ross chose to keep the church interior, with its spaciousness and high ceiling, intact for their main living space — an open living room, dining room and kitchen. A 16-foot-by-16-foot addition was built at the rear of the church building for the master bedroom.

Remember the floor? When the church’s pink carpet had been removed, all were happy to find a wood floor underneath, made of fir. Refinishing parts of the fir floor proved to be a challenge, as there were spots that appeared to be blood stains soaked into the wood. Now that we know the history of the building, we know the origin of those “blood” stains. (In case you forgot from Part 1, think horror movie, then think fake blood spattering all over the floor.) Despite the challenges, the fir floor was beautifully refinished.

The Steeple, the Bats and the Bell — As he described renovating the house and 1889 steeple, Conaway told me, “It wasn’t a project; it was an adventure.” Why? Because he found bats in the belfry, ivy vines up to .75 inch thick inside the walls, 1880s glass brandy bottles next to cobalt blue Bromo Seltzer bottles in the crawl space, hidden windows behind the choir loft, and even an old wood-burning stove under the floor.

The original church had an open steeple, which Conaway and Ross painstakingly restored in 2015. Most likely some time between 1912 and 1915, the church added slats to the open steeple to keep rain out of the bell tower, but the slats made the space a perfect home for bats. When Conaway went up to start removing the steeple slats, three bats just an arm’s length away from him slept through his hammering.

Through the decades, the bats left lots of guano there. Conaway removed 30 heavy bags (perhaps 700 pounds) from the steeple! The bats have now resettled in the renovated steeple, but in a much smaller space above the new bell. They eat lots of insects, including mosquitoes, so they are handy to have in the neighborhood.

As part of their dedication to a true historic renovation, Conaway and Ross found an old bell for the steeple, made in the 1870s, which used to ring at a church in Illinois.

With a high, heavy bell, the rope was so hard to pull that Ross applied her sailing skills. She and Conaway set up a series of pulleys to make it a little easier to pull the rope and ring the bell. You might hear it ringing through the neighborhood from time to time. Neighborhood kids are invited over to ring the bell on their birthdays — one ring for each year they have lived. But over the age of 20, people only get one ring for each decade!

Building Community — Building community is important to both Ross and Conaway. In terms of “animal community,” their garden has become an official Pollinator Garden. In terms of “human community,” they provide the delights of neighborhood bell ringing and they hold occasional house concerts in their historic home (which has excellent acoustics). The lovingly renovated church-to-home is beautiful both outside and inside, a historic treasure for our town.

photo by Peter FinkleThe current interior of the former church on 6th Street