LOWVILLE — Destruction of an 1899 obelisk on Route 26 at the former location of Stow’s Square Church has upset members of the First Presbyterian Church and the Lewis County Historical Society.
The group — the Rev. Herb Swanson, First Presbyterian historian Patricia Homer, Lewis County Historical Society President James R. “Hamish” Davey and town of Lowville historian Charlotte Beagle — met with Grace Chapel’s current and former pastors, Gene Bailey and William J. Gamela, to determine what happened.
Grace Chapel, which also operates as Dwelling Place Ministries, purchased the land surrounding the monument in 2008.
At the meeting, they hoped to get some answers about where the marker, then missing for a couple weeks, had gone.
They hoped to talk about the possibilities of returning the stone to its original location or gaining possession of it if Grace Chapel did not want it.
First Presbyterian Church has a connection to the original church.
“We consider Stow’s Square Church to be the roots of our own church,” Mrs. Homer said.
She admitted the meeting didn’t go as planned and was quite emotional for her.
“We asked where it went and we were told, ‘It is no more,’” she said.
She said Mr. Bailey relayed the stone had been destroyed and referenced a biblical passage that states obelisks should be destroyed. Obelisks were used in ancient Egypt to worship the sun god, Ra.
“That might be true,” Mrs. Homer reported she explained to Mr. Bailey, “but you can look up in any art book, it is also a form of sculpture. It was a style of the time. In Victorian times it was used in mausoleums and cemeteries.”
Mrs. Homer said the shape is visible everywhere, from cemeteries to the Washington Monument.
“It was very fitting that it was chosen for the Stow’s Square monument because it was the style of the time,” she said.
A 4,000-year-old ritual 3,000 miles away, Mr. Swanson said, was used as a reason for the obelisk’s destruction.
After the meeting, Mr. Swanson searched for the Bible reference Mr. Bailey mentioned.
Jeremiah 43:13 was the only passage he said he could find, which, in the New American Standard Bible, states, “He will also shatter the obelisks of Heliopolis, which is in the land of Egypt; and the temples of the gods of Egypt he will burn with fire.”
Mr. Swanson said, “I understand their motive, but it was so inappropriate for the situation.”
Mr. Gamela did not return phone calls. Mr. Bailey agreed to speak but would not let the Times quote him.
He explained symbols today mean what they did in ancient times and do not change. He added he understands the First Presbyterian Church’s opinion, but has no intention of destroying its history.
Grace Chapel intends to transfer the words on the demolished marker onto a plaque and place it on the original site.
Recently, Mr. Bailey’s congregation used timbers from the Dwelling Place Ministries building, which suffered extensive fire damage in 2004, to erect a cross at the Route 26 location.
Mr. Bailey said there is no better symbol than a cross to represent the church and it was also what Daniel Nash, second pastor of Stow’s Square Church from 1818 to 1822, would want to see if the site were marked.
The obelisk had been seated upon the former front step at Stow’s Square Church. The base remains but has been relocated several yards in front.
The future of the base, which contains a time capsule, is up in the air for now.
Mr. Bailey was asked why his church waited four years after obtaining the property to remove the obelisk.
He said the removal became an option after it was accidentally toppled off the base about a month ago.
It’s a mystery how the 8½-foot marker — which Mr. Bailey estimated weighed three quarters of a ton — ended up on the ground.
Daniel E. Beyer operates a farm across the road from the site. He also uses a portion of Grace Chapel’s 30 acres to grow corn.
When he noticed the obelisk was down, he called Mr. Bailey, who confirmed he knew it was down.
Mr. Beyer said he looked at the grass and the ground surrounding the downed marker and saw no disturbance. He was unable to figure out it how came off the base.
A few nights later, a neighbor saw Mr. Bailey’s truck at around 10 p.m. and the stone was gone the next day.
When Mr. Bailey was asked how he was able to remove and demolish such a large and heavy stone, he flexed his right arm and pointed to his bicep.
Stephen L. Nortz and his wife, Marsha J., live adjacent to the marker and shared Mr. Beyer’s dismay about its removal.
“That monument’s been here a lot longer than all of us,” he said. “The number of people that stop by to read it, take pictures, I couldn’t begin to count. It’s part of Lewis County history and the town of Lowville.”
“Everyone has the right to believe what they want, but what they did was almost a slap in the face to the Presbyterian Church,” he said. “If this went against what they believe, then they should have contacted the church or Lewis County Historical Society.”
The stone was placed in 1899, around the same time Daniel Nash’s unmarked grave received a headstone.
Mrs. Homer said the markers were purchased around the same time by people who wanted to remember both.
The obelisk memorialized the original church, but also recognized Mr. Nash’s contributions.
Grace Chapel’s connection with Mr. Nash added to the confusion, Mrs. Homer said.
Mr. Beyer said he gives Mr. Bailey checks for the church made out to “Nash Christian Fellowship.”
When asked how Nash Christian Fellowship is connected, Mr. Bailey said he had never heard of it. However, when asked if he receives such checks from Mr. Beyer, he admitted he does.
Grace Chapel has operated under the name Nash Christian Ministries since 1999, originally under the guidance of Mr. Gamela of Westernville.
To find something good from the matter, Mr. Swanson said, “As a church, we can use this as a lesson and to reclaim our heritage.”