Truro woman saves historic church from demolition
THE FALLS - Beth Johnston's life has become a serendipitous journey of faith following an impromptu visit to a rural parish in The Falls.
Earlier this year the Truro native accompanied a friend wanting to view the vacant St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, which was for sale. But when she arrived she immediately felt a strong connection to the towering structure and ended up buying it herself.
"It found us, we didn't find it," said Johnston, standing amid paint cans and neatly stacked salvaged wood pieces.
"The sun was streaming in the windows and the real estate agent mentioned it might be torn down and something happened."
The experienced interior decorator said a rush of creative ideas suddenly engulfed her and she knew she had to do something to save the once vibrant gathering place and give it a renewed life.
"I was not looking for an old building, but the space itself completely captured my imagination," she said. "I couldn't get it out of my mind. It just kept tumbling and tumbling in my mind."
Johnston never attended a service there but feels the historic building remains an important anchor in the community today.
"There isn't a day that has gone by that someone hasn't stopped in," she said. "I didn't want it to be made into something else. A gathering place. That theme kept percolating to the surface over and over again. That is embodied in this place."
She said the possibilities for its use are endless from being a venue to host weddings, reunions or wakes to jazz festivals, art exhibits or theatrical presentations.
Since May, Johnston has be toiling alongside friends and family, and has already made great progress in bringing a renewed energy to the inside of the 137-year old building that will continue to serve as a place for people to come together in celebration, sharing or sorrow.
To convert the church into a suitable location to host a great variety of events, Johnston has modified the exiting stationary pews so they can now be moved around the spacious room and plans to make cushions for them. A second-storey balcony that had been closed off decades ago has been reopened to overlook the sanctuary, and the walls inside the upper level have been painted a deep orange mimicking the bright light the sun casts through the massive windows lining the sides of the building.
A large bell that had been donated to the church in the 1930s will remain in service and will be rung on special occasions.
A set of gently used thick plank front doors will soon be installed and the new owner is aiming to have the floors painted and a stage at the front of the building modified by the end of the year.
Next on her wish list are larger items, a well and septic field.
"I need to put together some fundraisers but I know it can be done," she said.
A large map of central Nova Scotia has been painted in the foyer and it will be used to feature a variety of photographs taken throughout the region.
She wants the building to be a welcoming place for both residents and tourists and is open to any suggestions to make it a thriving centre of activity during the summer season.