A church that has stood in East Finley Township for nearly 180 years will soon go to auction and be torn down, but some hope to preserve the building.
Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, located at the intersection of Pleasant Grove and Chapel Hill roads, was built in 1840, and is currently owned by the Pleasant Grove Cemetery Association.
The cemetery association, which tends to the cemetery across the street from the church, is auctioning off the building and its contents – including its pews and tables – through auctioneer Randy Shook at 6 p.m. June 13 at the church. The buyer will then be responsible for tearing down the church within 45 days of the sale.
The auction will include a short service and a monetary collection to benefit the McGuffey Area Food Bank.
A majority of the cemetery association’s 10-person board recently voted to approve the auction. However, brothers Jay and Mark Plants, who sit on the board, believe their fellow board members are moving too quickly.
“They were handed (the church) for free. They never talked about auctioning it off. We expressed interest in buying it and turning it into a community hall,” said Jay, 49, of East Finley Township.
The church had been owned by the American Baptist Churches of Pennsylvania and Delaware. Washington County property records show the organization sold the building to the cemetery association for $1 on Dec. 3, 2018.
According to Mark, though the Baptist group turned over the church for practically nothing, they kept the gas drilling royalties.
“It’s structurally sound,” said Mark, 61, of Augusta, Ga., “We were thinking about doing a feasibility study, ask the community if they have any interest in it.”
Larry Sprowls, also a board member and uncle of Mark and Jay, supports the cemetery association’s plans, saying it’s a financial issue, and that it could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix and maintain the church.
“It all boils down to who has the money to take care of it,” Sprowls said. “My position is to take care of that money, not to waste it on something we have no use for.”
For the Plants brothers, the church holds a deep, familial connection.
Their grandmother, 103-year-old Mary Jane Sprowls, was on the Pleasant Grove Cemetery Association board for more than 40 years.
Sprowls lives in Shenandoah, Va., but lived in East Finley for much of her life.
“I know that a lot of people are going to be sad because of memories,” Sprowls said. “My mother found Jesus Christ as her savior there. ... I’ve lived there over 100 years.”
Both Sprowls and Mark Plants indicated that the board is interested in having the property the church stands on become a parking lot for the cemetery, which neither believes is necessary.
“Count how many graves are there. There are only nine plots left to be sold,” Sprowls said.
Sprowls also saw three of her children marry at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, including Jay and Mark’s mother, Betty Ann Plants.
“My grandfather wouldn’t have wanted this church torn down,” Mark said. “It seems like anything you can do to help the community is a plus. ...There is no monetary gain for me. It’s all about the culture. I don’t know what the hurry is.”
Motorcyclists escorted the Korean War Traveling Memorial through Washington on its way to Waynesburg Friday morning. The escort took Interstate 70 from Claysville to West Chestnut Street. They traveled through Washington with a police escort down East Maiden Street, where they got on Interstate 79. They arrived about noon at the Greene County Fairgrounds, where the memorial will be set up and open to the public 24/7 until Monday morning.
MONESSEN – The last Jewish synagogue in the Mon Valley has closed its doors due to a shrinking congregation.
Temple Beth Am in Monessen held its final service two weeks ago after its membership dipped to below 20 families, said Jack L. Bergstein, a former president of the synagogue.
“You can’t operate in that small of a group,” Bergstein said Friday.
He said there were once synagogues in neighboring Charleroi, Donora and Monongahela decades ago when steel mills were operating and the Mon Valley had a thriving Jewish community.
“They all died or moved away,” Bergstein said. “Western Pennsylvania is not like it used to be 40, 50 years ago.”
He said the congregation hopes to sell the 65-year-old building at 1000 Watkins St. Prior to 1954, Jewish services were held in Monessen at a synagogue near First Street and Schoonmaker Avenue, a building that was torn down long ago, he said.
The closest options involve attending synagogues in Washington or Greensburg.
“I’ll probably find something in Pittsburgh,” Bergstein said.
A reporter who covers the energy beat for a Pittsburgh NPR-affiliated radio station obtained a copy of a confidential settlement involving Stacey Haney, but a Washington County judge enjoined him and others from revealing its contents.
Reid Frazier, reporter for The Allegheny Front, StateImpact Pennsylvania and WESA 90.FM, Pittsburgh, intended to reveal sealed contents from the case, but he was halted by an order from Washington County President Judge Katherine B. Emery.
According to her order, she was made aware of Frazier’s pending news story Thursday morning by attorneys for Haney and Range Resources-Appalachia LLC.
Emery, who is also presiding over a case filed by attorneys for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which is demanding access to the confidential settlement, scheduled a hearing on the matter involving the radio station for Tuesday.
Washington County Prothonotary Joy Schury Ranko attributed the circumstances to a software glitch that obscured the document from view within the court system but, she said, “unbeknownst to us,” allowed it to remain on view to those using the OnBase system available to the public.
“You can bet it won’t happen again,” said Ranko, who notified both the the county’s information technology department and its vendor.
Emery ordered documents in Haney’s case, which alleged she and her children were harmed by chemicals leaking from Range’s Yeager impoundment in Amwell Township, to be sealed on Aug. 30, 2018.
Haney’s quest was the subject of a Pulitzer-Prize winning book this spring by Ellen Griswold, “Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America.” Other plaintiffs in the 2012 case were John and Ashley Voyles and Grace and Loren Kiskadden.
The newspaper learned earlier this year that state Attorney General Josh Shapiro had convened a grand jury to hear testimony on “several criminal investigations involving environmental crimes in Washington County.”
StateImpact Pennsylvania is a collaboration among WITF Harrisburg; WHYY Philadelphia; and WESA, which broadcasts its Allegheny Front program on Pennsylvania environmental issues twice weekly.
WESA’s News Director Patrick Doyle responded to an emailed request for comment with the message, “We don’t have a comment at this time.”