BONNERS FERRY — It is just a little white church. A little white church that has stood for 114 years, sheltering people, celebrating with them, mourning with them. It has seen families begin, and lives end.
It’s just a little white church, but it meant something to the community, and when its life was drawing to an end, the earth claiming it piece by piece, the community came together.
Three years ago, the Paradise Valley Cemetery Association decided that it was time to save The Little White Church. They held a meeting and Larry Hall, who was not even a member, was asked to attend. They said somebody needs to do something with the church. Hall responded. “Well, one thing you have got to do is jack it up and get a foundation under it,” he said. “It’s going to rot in the ground.”
Hall was told, “If you know what to do, then you are in charge.”
“That’s how I wound up with the job,” Hall said with a chuckle.
Over the next three years, the list of people and businesses that donated money, time, materials, overflows off of the pages of notes. The first donor to kick start the project remains anonymous, but their generous donation of $5000 was welcomed.
The Little White Church needed help from the ground to the roof. A brand new metal roof now keeps the interior snug and dry, thanks to help from Jeff Bennett Roofing.
The entire church floor has to be raised, as the beams below were rotting into the dirt, leaving the floor warped. “We probably raised it 20 inches,” said Hall. The church now rests on concrete blocks and the floor is high and dry.
“This old church,” said Hall, “nothing is square, nothing is plumb, and nothing is level. Lots of character.”
The front doorways were completely redone. “These doors are the exact replica of the one’s that were in there,” said Hall.
The exterior siding of the building was repaired or replaced as needed, and the Little White Church received a new coat of white paint, along with new windows. All of this was accomplished with donations of time and money.
The interior was a job unto itself. “They had real hard particle board in here and it was sagging because the roof had leaked,” said Hall, “so we ripped it out, and dirt, and mouse dropping and stuff just fell down, covered the floor and everything.”
After some discussion, they chose cedar for the interior of the church. Hall contacted Ryan Comer of Alta Forest Products, Naples Mill. “I bought two bundles of cedar from him and he donated one, which was several hundred dollars, like seven, eight hundred bucks. That was a big plus for us,” said Hall.
The result is a spectacular design of stained cedar in a design that welcomes visitors eyes, as they walk in the door, drawing attention to the front and center of the church. Dick Schnuerle built a custom podium, subtly embellished with a wood cross. The Boy Scouts attended to the pews, giving them a much needed makeover after years of sitting in a barn.
After an extensive search for the original church bell, and having no luck, they received an offer of a bell. The only catch was that they needed to pick up the bell- and it resided in Brownsboro, Texas. They asked around, trying to find someone that was traveling to Texas. After some time had passed, a chance visit with an old friend landed Hall the perfect opportunity. His friend was traveling to Texas and was going to a to be right near the town.
The Little White church now has it’s voice again, the bell calling musically with a tug of the rope, and it stands solid, ready for many more years of life changing events. On Saturday, Sept. 9, it will open it’s doors and welcome the community with a Potluck. Everyone is invited to attend. Hotdogs and hamburgers will be provided, and guests are encouraged to bring side dishes. It will begin at 11:30 a.m. and there will be classic old tractors on display
“Larry has done an amazing job with this project,” said Cyndi Clark. “Love how the community pitched in, and even strangers, not from here, had an impact! Rural community living at its finest!”
“We’ve had two guys come and they want their funeral in here,” said Hall. “That surprised me. A little gal stopped and she wants to have her wedding here next spring.”
It took three years, and countless donations of time and money, but it appears the new memories have begun for The Little White Church in Paradise Valley.