The former First Congregational Church at 115 North Wood Street in Neosho's historic downtown district has stood the the test of time for more than a century. Built from brick in a Victorian Romanesque style, the building dates to 1908 when the church was dedicated on Easter Sunday. This structure replaced an earlier frame church that burned - on the previous Easter in 1907.
Until just a few years ago, the building remained home to the First Congregational Church. After the death of their last pastor, Tom Thorne in 2017, the dozen or so remaining members closed the doors. Costs to keep the building open factored into the decision although members have continued to meet across the street at The Clay Cup.
The building has been for sale for some time but earlier this year, Clay Cup owner and local artist Jeff Jones and his wife, Donna Divine, bought it with a plan in mind. Divine, who works for a local bank, is also a member of the Neosho Arts Council. They've named it the Northwood Arts and Event and they're moving forward with renovations, repairs, and a vision for the community.
Their plans are as large as the structure, which totals at least 7,000 square feet.
Jones plans to hold art classes downstairs for adults and kids - especially home schooled kids. Jones currently provides art classes for 70-80 home school students at his studio in The Clay Cup.
"The fellowship hall downstairs is a great educational space," Jones said. "It wants to be used for the purpose it was designed for, education."
Other possibilities include music, speakers, lectures, theater, drama, storytelling and other presentations. Local authors and musicians will have a place to provide readings or to perform.
The original church sanctuary with original hardwood floors, wooden pews and numerous stained glass windows offers an ideal wedding venue.
Each of the colorful stained glass windows is original to the church and remain intact. Some bear the names of the founding families who sponsored the windows and formed the church. The original woodwork has been well-maintained. The sanctuary holds about 200 and with opening up original doors to the next room, seating increases to around 300.
"It's so strong, so solid," Divine said. "It has good bones."
The couple plans to preserve the historic aspects of the buildings while adding some modern, larger restrooms and taking care of needed repairs.
Randy Stephens Construction, a Neosho contractor, is already working on site.
When asked why the couple chose to purchase the building, Jones replied,
"What we're doing at The Clay Cup is what we do anywhere, whether we're in the studio or at home. The Clay Cup is what we do everyday. The arts are part of our everyday life. We want to work with the structure and style and resources of the building to be what it wants to be. This building needs to be used."
Jones had keys to be able to show the building to prospective buyers but after visiting the church and spending time there, he and Divine decided they wanted to purchase it.
"One of the reasons that we bought this is because we got excited about it. It was within our reach, within our grasp," Jones said. "We're doing this because this is what we want to do. We have to make it work, though, financially for all of us. It would be nice to contribute to the cultural identity of our community."
Art is important to Jones but he wants to share his passion with others.
"I would like to teach artists, take them to a professional level," he said. "I would like to work with all the visual arts. I would also like to have other continuing education classes, such as creative writing."
Within the sanctuary, the massive organ fits a custom space. Made and delivered by the Wicks Organ Company in 1910, it was refurbished under Thorne. The visible large pipes are cosmetic, according to Jones, and the actual ones are inside. It needs a few repairs but that's also in the future plans.
The original church was built at the cost of $13,000 in 1908. That seem like a bargain to 21st century standards but at the time, most workers earned from $200-400 per year. Professionals such as doctors, dentists, veterinarians and accountants might earn $2,000 to $5,000.
The organ cost $2,000. Andrew Carnegie, steel magnate and philanthropist, donated $625 of that cost. The remaining funds were raised by Mrs. C.E. Clark, a member of the church.
The First Congregational Church was founded in Neosho in 1866 with eight members.
A shooting that took place on August 12, 2007, during a Micronesian church service,141 years to the day that the church was founded, took three lives and wounded five others.
That moment, however, doesn't define the church or the building.
Today, the sanctuary is a calm, peaceful spot.
"It will make a beautiful venue," Divine said.
"We meditate here daily," Jones added.
The building will be open during Celebrate Neosho on Saturday, June 29 for limited tours, primarily in the sanctuary area so that the public can get a look at Northwood Arts and Event's future.
Northwood Arts and Event is located at 115 North Wood Street, at the corner of Wood and McCord Streets. It's also across the street from The Clay Cup.
It's a place where Neosho's vibrant past meets the future in the Northwood Arts and Event.