Group opens Oak Hill Cemetery chapel to build support to save it

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Nico Savidge
Saturday, November 2, 2013

JANESVILLE—Hoping to drum up support for its effortto restore the Oak Hill Cemetery chapel, a group dedicated to preserving it held an open house spotlighting the building's history and needs Saturday.

Inside the chapel, visitors could study decades-old maps of the cemetery and see pieces of the building's stained glass.

Outside, they could get a closer look at its crumbling 114-year-old masonry and the litany of other issues that have spurred city officials—and chapel advocates—into action.

Repairs could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, a price tag that prompted city staff to recommend the Janesville City Council vote to demolish the building.

But preservationists, who recently formed a group called Friends of Oak Hill Chapel, say tearing it down will rob the city of a piece of its history.

“If it's gone, it's gone forever,” said Allison Schultz, a group member. “There's no getting this part of Janesville's history back.”

The city council gave residents until a February meeting to present their plans for how to restore the chapel.

With that deadline approaching, and knowing they have a lot of work and fundraising to do if they want to make a plan palatable for the city, the group opened the chapel doors Saturday morning.

“We want to be able to go into that meeting and say, 'Listen, don't demolish it because here's what we've come up with,'” Schultz said.

The building will certainly need a lot of work, said Ron Sutterlin, who specializes in historic restorations.

Though some of the mortar in between the chapel's original stones is in good condition, water erosion has badly deteriorated the masonry in other parts. Workers also will have to repair and secure the building's stone caps and protect its stained glass windows, Sutterlin said.

There's work to be done inside as well, where Sutterlin wants to return the walls to their original color and get some of the visible electrical work off the arched ceilings, he said.

On the floors, orange and brown carpet that looks straight out of the 1970s masks the original hardwood, Sutterlin said, so they'll also want to take that out.

In all, Sutterlin and city officials have estimated repairs will cost more than $300,000. Preservationists would also like to build an endowment to help maintain the building.

So Friends of Oak Hill Chapel are looking for donations—as well as historic photos that can guide the renovations—through such events as Saturday's open house, Schultz said.

“Without the dollars to fund this project, it's just not going to happen,” she said.

Last updated: 8:37 pm Saturday, November 2, 2013

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