Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
A bit of history came crashing down in the tiny Henry County hamlet of Rome this week.
The old Rome Baptist Church building collapsed earlier this week after sitting empty and unused for nearly 35 years.
Debra Sammons grew up attending Rome Baptist Church and was the longtime clerk of the church.
She offered some of the building's history.
'In 1915, a new concrete block church building was erected at the cost of $18,000 and much donated labor and dedicated to the Baptist faith,” Sammons said.
The church was built on the south side of town on the bank of the Skunk River.
Sammons said that the blocks used to build the church were transported by train to Lockridge.
Guy Sammons, the pastor of the church, said that the Lutheran Church in Lockridge was built at the same time with the same shipment of blocks.
'They hauled the material to Rome by horse and wagon,” he said.
The church struggled to keep up its attendance over the years.
Debra Sammons said that the church almost closed its doors in 1937 due to low attendance.
'Attendance dwindled down when older members passed away,” she said. 'It got down to about five, then built back up.”
Sammons said she recalled when the church would hold baptisms in the Skunk River.
'For a time, it used to be quite active,” she said.
But even during the active times, the congregation did not have enough money to put aside for maintenance on the church building, Sammons explained.
'Years of low attendance and finances took a toll on the 1915 building,” she said.
'There got to be some structural problems,” Guy Sammons said. 'It was going to be more expensive to repair and renovate the old building than it was to build a new one.”
Lifelong Rome resident George Ensminger, who attended the old church at times, put it simply.
'The roof got to leaking, so they had to build a new church,” he said.
Debra Sammons said that the last service in the old building was held on Oct. 12, 1986.
The new church building was dedicated on June 5, 1988.
Some items from the old building were incorporated into the new one.
She said that the original pews were refinished and moved to the new building.
'We also have two windows from the old church on the altar area of the new church,” she said. 'The old piano is in the new church. It's not used, though. It's sitting in the kitchen area.”
Ensminger said, 'When they left that old church, they cut the cornerstone out of it and brought it to the new church.”
Guy Sammons said that the old church, its property and some adjacent property owned by his parents were sold to a single buyer in the early 1990s.
Debra Sammons said that the buyer was supposed to tear down the church building but never did.
'It was sad to see it stand there and deteriorate further,” she said.
Time, elements and neglect finally caught up with the old building this week.
Its crumbled remains, cordoned off for safety reasons, still sit as a reminder of bygone days.