Harmar Hill church full of faith and history

It is no surprise that when oil man John Kaiser began to stake out a spot for a new community to blossom as Marietta neared the turn of the 20th century, he chose the beautiful hill with a scenic view of the city below.

What might be surprising is what came first. It was not Kaiser’s own residence-now home to a local bed and breakfast-which he prioritized. It was the Fairview Heights Chapel, a cozy church on High Street with more than 100 years of history, explained Judy Grize, who is one of the trustees of the church.

“Kaiser was responsible for developing Harmar Hill. I feel like he had a community in mind for up here, so he built the church first and started building houses,” said Grize.

Six years after the church was built in 1896, Kaiser built his own home around the corner on Bellevue Street. Today, Grize and her husband operate The House on Harmar Hill bed and breakfast from the home.

The church has seen a flurry of activity through the years, acting as a community center for the area, said June Edgell, who has attended church there for around 30 years.

“It was built just as a community building for people to come to for a variety of things,” said Edgell.

The church has been home to scout meetings, support groups, reunions and more, added Grize.

In the late 1960s and throughout much of the 1970s, the building was the home of the Mid-Ohio Valley Players, said MOVP member Jena Blair.

“I came in very shortly after the Players moved in,” she said. “I believe when they moved into the chapel it was in very bad disrepair.”

The theater group began using the chapel for most of its regular season plays in 1968 and continued to do so until the fall of 1977.

The curtain for the MOVP was draped over one of the three large turnbuckles, which run across the inside of the church supporting its structural integrity, said Edgell.

Blair joined the theater group as a junior high school student in 1971 and has many found memories of plays at the chapel, she said.

“We had the old chairs from the Colony Theatre in the 40s and 50s there. That was what people had to sit on. If we had 70 people it was standing room only,” she recalled.

The basement of the church, which was added sometime after the initial structure was built, housed the dressing rooms at the time.

Today it is used for Sunday School classes, said Edgell, showing off the setup as her grandchildren played in the room recently.

Edgell’s grandchildren, 7-year-old Madelynn Lewis and 3-year-old Charlie Lewis, are the fourth generation of the family to attend church there.

Edgell’s brother was called to preach at the church when it was associated with the Church of the Nazarene and her mother began attending to support him. Edgell and other family members followed.

Today the church is a non-denominational Christian church which is overseen by a group of five trustees, including Grize and Edgell’s husband.

Currently, Rick and Sherry Ritchie are acting as pastors at the church, which usually has around 40 people in attendance, said Edgell.