By Ben Sutherly on behalf of the Unity for Trinity Committee
Each year, more than 1,000 elementary students tour downtown Troy to learn about the Underground Railroad. One of their stops is outside of 22 E. Franklin St., the former Trinity Episcopal Church, which was built between 1833 and 1835. In its basement, children of fugitive slaves attended Sunday school. Local legend also holds that an escaped slave eluded her pursuers inside the structure.
The former Trinity Episcopal Church is a survivor. It is the only significant structure left in Troy with noteworthy ties to the Miami & Erie Canal. In fact, on its steps in July 1837, future U.S. president William Henry Harrison delivered a speech dedicating the canal. The church is one of only seven structures that remain across the entire downtown that date from Troy’s early settlement period, prior to the canal’s arrival.
For months, interested citizens have worked diligently to find alternatives to demolition of this historic church, which is owned by the Family Abuse Shelter of Miami County. The shelter cares for people who are homeless or are victims of abuse next door inside the historic Franklin House at 16 E. Franklin St. The nonprofit shelter needs more space for its mission. Shelter officials are eyeing an addition to the Franklin House that would occupy property on which the church stands.
Our citizens committee, Unity For Trinity, has identified ways to meet the Family Abuse Shelter’s expansion needs that do not require demolition of the church. Our group could have focused simply on saving the church, but we recognize and support the Family Abuse Shelter’s mission. In fact, some committee members donate to the Family Abuse Shelter. Our committee is solution-oriented and does not see the current situation as a choice between the Family Abuse Shelter’s mission and historic preservation. In fact, we are confident that there are several pragmatic paths to a “win-win” scenario for both the Family Abuse Shelter and for downtown Troy, whose comeback in recent years is due in large part to its historic buildings.
The committee last week submitted a packet of information to Abuse Shelter officials for their consideration. The packet proposes two alternative locations in downtown Troy that would bring the Abuse Shelter’s operations under one roof in a new building that would cost far less to construct than the $2.3 million that the Abuse Shelter estimates it would cost to renovate and add on to 16 E. Franklin St. We understand that the Family Abuse Shelter has strong emotional ties to its current location after nearly 40 years there; the board also has a fiduciary responsibility to consider what makes the most financial sense for shelter operations and would be in the best interests of its clients in the future. It is worth noting several other social service agencies — among them Health Partners Free Clinic, Miami County Recovery Council, and the St. Patrick Soup Kitchen — have relocated as their needs have evolved. The packet also notes that, if the Family Abuse Shelter declined to move, there would be a way to reconfigure its proposed 6,045-square-foot addition in a way that would not require demolition of the church.
The Family Abuse Shelter’s planning to date has been based on inaccurate conclusions that the former Trinity Church is in an advanced state of deterioration and is not historically significant. We have obtained authoritative opinions that indicate otherwise. In a Dec. 1 letter, the Ohio Historic Preservation Office wrote “it is clear that this property represents significant aspects of the history and development of the community.” The letter also states that the property “would very likely meet the requirements for listing in the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing component of a historic district.”
Our committee would like to work with shelter officials, the city of Troy, and the Ohio Historic Preservation Office to expand the existing National Register-listed Public Square Historic District to include the church and other historically significant structures. Funding would be available for this work.
In addition, a local contractor with significant expertise in historic preservation concluded that “this building is in need of repairs, not replacement.” Necessary repairs would cost less than $87,000.
Unity for Trinity and several other organizations, including Troy Main Street, want to move forward with solutions that would support the Abuse Shelter while preserving this church building. We also believe that philanthropic foundations that will likely be called upon to contribute to the Family Abuse Shelter’s capital campaign would prefer funding a project that unites the community rather than divides it. We encourage you to share your thoughts on the former Trinity church with the Family Abuse Shelter by writing in care of shelter board member David Beitzel at 22 N. Short St., Troy, OH 45373, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.