NEW CASTLE —
In the early part of the 19th century, Thomas Morehead was one of New Castle’s prominent businessmen. A partner in Knox & Morehead, the city’s largest fire insurance company, he lived in a fine brick house atop a hill that overlooked Laurel Boulevard. Though it fronted on Laurel, the home was actually closer to Moody Avenue, near where it intersects with Delaware.
Later, in the 1940s and ’50s, Morehead’s house and its large living room would be transformed into the Campbell Funeral Home.
And when, in 1956, Calvary Independent Church — a name the congregation had taken the year before — realized that it needed additional space, it sold its Vogan Street digs and purchased the funeral home as its new worship site.
“I remember coming here at the opening of the new church,” Peterson said. “Our Home Builders class was young married couples. As we progressed in age, we eventually changed our name to the Ambassadors because we were no long building homes.
“The last Friday of every month we had a get-together – a class meeting we called it – and we went various places, even up to Presque Isle and for breakfast and cooked our meals. That was one of the great memories for me. The class still meets today, but there are not very many of us left.”
The Morehead home/funeral home at 424 E. Moody remains part of the church to this day, housing a chapel (the one-time living room), Sunday school rooms, offices, a library and youth facilities. All this is only possible, though, because congregation members would again volunteer their time, starting in 1957, to build a sanctuary and basement fellowship hall on the west side of the original home.
“Before the sanctuary was added, whenever they would hold the service, they would hold it in the chapel,” Fombelle explained. “They would also pipe the sound up into the second and third floor.
“So people would come in, and if they didn’t have room for everybody here, they would go upstairs. They would open up the curtain, and they said the people would also sit on the stairway (just outside the chapel).”
Peterson recalled her father-in-law overseeing a bond issue to finance the new sanctuary, with teams sent out to sell as many bonds as they could.
“My husband and I sold bonds,” she said. “We weren’t the top sales people, but we did pretty well.”
Ground was broken for the sanctuary on June 9, 1957, and the first blocks were laid Aug. 5. Less than a year later, on Aug. 3, 1958, the building was dedicated.
“I remember my dad saying that they spent almost every minute that they were off work working to finish the building,” said Karen Gavroy. “It was built almost all by church volunteers; even when we needed professionals, we had professionals among the congregation at that time.
“To have such a big building and to have it basically built by its members is really amazing. And when you think of the camaraderie that that brought, you realize they were building more than just walls. I think the friendships lasted a long time.”
Gavroy, too, made some friendships of her own, recalling the scores of children that once were part of the congregation.
“The third floor is now all youth, but back when I was in preschool and primary, it was all kids,” she said. “ We probably had 40 kids up there every Sunday. We had some pretty neat youth groups. Church camp experiences were very good. We spent a lot of time together.”
“We had a lot of families with four or five children,” Peterson added. “As they grew up and went to college, they left. But when they were all here, my husband (John) was Sunday school superintendent and we had 300 (adults and children).”
Today, Calvary’s Sunday morning worship averages around 130 people, but while the numbers may have declined, the passion to serve has not.
“We still have a large volunteer base here,” Fombelle said. “There are still a lot of faithful.”