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By Rosanne Bowman Gomer United Church of Christ and Salem Presbyterian Church in Venedocia are unique in Northwest Ohio. Unlike many of the churches in the area that were built primarily by German settlers, these two communities were settled by Welsh pioneers. Their churches reflect this heritage. “I'm no architect,” said David Whittington, a member of the Gomer Welsh Historical Museum, “but I've been to Wales. Our church looks a lot like theirs do. I don't know what they call it — what the correct term is — but they look like little castles.”Both churches feature the same type of architecture, with square proportions and a square tower with a bell cast roof, which means the cross section of the roof is shaped like a bell. Mary Ann Olding, who has worked for the Ohio Historic Preservation Office, holds master's degrees in English and history from Wright State University and has done doctoral work in geography at the University of Cincinnati, found the churches unique to Northwest Ohio during her extensive research into the area's architecture and history. Olding said that both churches bear a striking resemblance to the churches she saw when visiting Wales. “The two distinctive features of the Welsh churches are the bell cast roofs and the stone quoins (cornerstones of brick or stone walls used for support or ornamentation) on the structures. Those were the similarities I saw from Ohio to Wales,” she said. Those similarities do not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the towns of Gomer and Venedocia. Both are proud of their heritage and take pains to preserve it. The histories of both churches are very similar, as well.Three families made their way to the Venedocia area. It wasn't long until they started a church. The first meeting of the Welsh Church was held in April 1848 and consisted of 12 members. The first church building, a frame building 20 by 30 feet in size, was built in 1853 across the street from the location of the present-day church.In 1866, a brick building was built on the present church site. When the present day church was built in 1898 by J.S. Zook, the old church building was bought by the male chorus and eventually became known as Cambrian Hall.“It was torn down sometime in the '60s,” said John Lloyd, longtime member of Salem Presbyterian Church. “It was used as a community center for a number of years. I remember as a little shaver seeing minstrel shows and town meetings there.”Over the years, little has changed to the outside structure of the church, which cost about $11,000 to build originally. “In about 1950, they put in a basement,” Lloyd said. “Other than that, the structure is pretty much the same. Sure, they made improvements like painting and sidewalks, but no major structural changes.”The Gomer United Church of Christ had similar beginnings with a few families coming to the Gomer area to settle. As more Welsh families joined them, the need for a church became apparent. In 1835, the 18 families living in Gomer decided to start meeting regularly on Sunday morning at the home of Thomas and Jane Watkins, and Rowland Jones hosted afternoon Sunday school classes.It wasn't until 1841 that they built a small log church that was 20 by 30 feet in size on land given by James Nicholas. David Nicholas, the son of James Nicholas, described the building in a written history: “It was a hewn log building made warm by chinking and daubing the cracks. Seats were of logs split in half with pegs for legs, all very substantial, but not very ornamental or comfortable.”After going through an intermediate brick church building, the cornerstone of the current church was laid in 1872 by Edward Stephens. It cost about $15,000 to build at the time. The church went through extensive remodeling in 1902. Electric lights were installed in 1914. In the late 1920s, a basement was excavated and a kitchen and heating were installed. Another major remodeling happened in 1972, when the entire interior of the church was redone from basement to roof. Extensive outside repairs were also done at this time. Gomer United Church of Christ was known first as the Welsh Church. It went through several name changes before adopting its current name, Gomer United Church of Christ, in 1964, a few years after it merged with several other churches to found the new denomination United Church of Christ. In the beginning, both churches in Venedocia and Gomer spoke only Welsh during services. It wasn't until well into the first half of the 20th century that the churches abandoned the Welsh language during services. Today, both churches are moving into the future while still remembering their Welsh roots.If you have a story idea or an item you feel the community would like to know about for the Religion section, please contact Rosanne Bowman at bbowman3@woh.rr.com or 419-516-6149.

Pockets of the past: Welsh churches

Pockets of the past: Welsh churches
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