The Northwest Railway Museum has made more progress on the continuing restoration of the Chapel Car 5 Messenger of Peace, with the recent installation of pews.
Chapel Car 5 was the American Baptist Church’s fifth chapel car, dedicated in 1898. A mobile church built for the American Baptist Publication Society, the chapel car was used in 11 states beginning in Michigan and ending in Washington.
Northwest Railway Museum Executive Director Richard Anderson explained the work that went into the recreation of the pews and the history that made the project necessary.
The chapel car would travel to towns along the railway to conduct meetings and religious services, convincing the local communities to build a congregation and their own church. The Chapel Car visited North Bend for the first time in 1917, Anderson said. That makes it one of the very few artifacts that has traveled on the museum’s tracks when it was in use.
The car continued service in the area until it was retired in 1948. The car was sold and used as a cafe until the 1970s when it was discovered and rescued by Arthur Hodgins. Hodgins preserved the car for many years, Anderson said, and when he died in 2007 the Hodgins family donated the car to the museum. In 2009, the chapel car was listed on the national historic register.
During its time as a cafe, the furniture had been taken out and replaced by the owners. By the time the museum received the car, extensive restoration was needed. Since 2010, the total investment to restore the car has been nearly $500,000, Anderson said.
With the interior restored and the church lectern replaced, the next step was the pews. The museum didn’t have any of the pews to work from at first, but eventually found an identical pew from one another of the chapel cars at the Baptist Archives at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia.
Anderson traveled to the archives to measure the pew and make cardboard templates. Recreation was going to cost an estimated $25,000 to $30,000, he said, which is why it has taken so long to find the funding for the project.
The museum contracted O.B. Williams Company, an architectural woodworking business, to construct the pews. The O.B. Williams Company gave a partial donation of work to the project as well, Anderson said.
The pew kits arrived earlier this summer and work has begun to install them. There are five pews that seat three, and five pews that seat two. Originally, Anderson explained, the chapel car had 38 pews in total, but the museum decided that five rows would be enough to represent the original state of the car.
Only three pews have been installed thus far and the others are in the process of preparation for installation.
Anderson was grateful for the support the museum has received for the project, and the work from museum staff and volunteers that have gone into making the restored pews a reality.