By Kyle Ocker
SHARON TOWNSHIP — A Sunday morning church fire is being treated as a criminal investigation by the Appanoose County Sheriff's Office. The fire destroyed the Sharon Chapel Church located at the intersection of 260th Ave. and 540th St.
The Sheriff's Office is asking anyone with possible information on the fire contact the Appanoose County Sheriff at (641) 437-7100 or call Appanoose Crime Stoppers at (641) 856-3134.
The fire was reported to Centerville dispatch around 5:50 a.m. Sunday. The Centerville Fire Department arrived on scene and reported that the church was fully engulfed.
Moulton Fire Department was also dispatched the scene. Mercy Ambulance and the Appanoose County Sheriff's Office assisted with the call as well.
At 6:43 a.m., the church was still on fire but had been completely burned down. At 12:09 p.m., Centerville Fire Department reported to Centerville dispatch over the scanner that all trucks were back at the station.
No injuries were reported by officials.
The 13,000 square foot wooden structure has been unused for several years, a press release from the Sheriff's department said. Digital archives from the Daily Iowegian's microfilms indicate the church was built in the 1890s. No specific date could be found, but two articles found in the digital archives mentioned Nov. 19, 1981 as the date Peter McCoy donated 1/4 acre of land to build the church.
The church had been restored and renovated many times throughout the years. The most extensive renovation came in July 1992 when a small tornado roared through the area. The front of the church was lifted off the ground and moved 10 feet north which caused the rest of the building to twist with it.
Insurance payments for the damage totaled $14,500 while donations from individuals ended up over the $12,000 mark.
The cemetery board, after several meetings, eventually decided to renovate the church in lieu of rebuilding the church or completely removing it.
"A contract was given to Gerald Goben to install foundations, pour cement walls with five windows and move the building back to its original position," an article in the Ad-Express/Iowegian in the Friday, Oct. 1, 1993 edition read. "He also replaced the south sill, repaired the entryway floor, put in two sets of new steel doors and locks and installed new inside steps to the basement for $10,000," the article continued.
The interior of the church was also redone, with wiring repaired, restrooms and kitchen partitioned off and rewired, furnace and vents were repaired, basement ceiling was installed and walls were painted. The total cost of the renovations listed in the Oct. 1, 1993 article totaled $18,600.
Appanoose County has experienced an increase in fires recently. Four have been reported since Sept. 21, and all four have caused considerable damage.
On Sept. 21 at 3:55 a.m. a house at 501 South Main St. in Centerville caught fire and was completely destroyed. The cause is listed as undetermined.
On Sept. 24 at 2:30 a.m., a fire at the Appanoose County Fairgrounds was reported, destroying the horse barn and show arena. Centerville Police are still trying to gather information on the fairground fire and a $7,000 reward is being offered. The two buildings were constructed in the 1940s and have been a crucial part of the fairgrounds since.
On Sept. 25 at 1 p.m. Gypsy Quarter caught fire on East State Street just off the Centerville square. The fire destroyed the Gypsy Quarter building and also caused water and smoke damage to other surrounding businesses. The fire was ruled accidental.
Sharon Chapel Church timeline
Nov. 19, 1891 — Peter McCoy donates 1/4 acre of land for church
April 2, 1892 — Peter McCoy donates 1 3/4 acres of land for cemetery
1942-1944 — Ceiling was lowered and inside was redecorated
September 1950 — Basement was dug for church
Summer 1968 — Orleans Church donates old pews to Sharon Chapel Church
Aug. 28, 1975 — South roof was shingled
Sept. 9, 1978 — Outside of church painted, new doors hung, locks were put on windows and doors and the name of the church was painted above the front door
Spring 1979 — Tree planted on the north side of the church
Feb. 11, 1980 — Stairs to access the inside of the basement were constructed
1980 — Security light installed
Jan. 5, 1981 — Carpet donated by Hawkeye Bank was installed on the new basement steps
Early 1981 — Exline United Methodist Church closes and donates a large lighted cross, a cross band, a pulpit and Triumphant Hymnals to Sharon Chapel Church
March 9, 1981 — 15 large pews, a large round table and a coat rack were installed
Jan. 22, 1989 — Wheel chair ramp installed
September 1989 — Church enters float into Pancake Day Big Parade. They won third place in the churches division and netted $50
May 6, 1992 — Flag pole installed at entrance to cemetery
July 15, 1992 — Small tornado goes through the area, causing the front end of the church to get lifted and moved 10 feet north. Toilets inside the church were destroyed. All but one tree were damaged so bad they had to be removed. Many stones in the cemetery needed to be reset, which the Centerville Monument Company did free of charge.