The Century Building 5331 Maybee Road
In the winter of 1855, when Independence Township was blanketed with mounds of snow and the icy winds sliced the air, Ebenezer Beardslee rose to greet the dark morning hours as he did most every day. He made a path to the barn where he harassed a team of horses to a sled and began a day long journey to the town of Lapeer along the snow laded dirt roads. Beardslee’s destination was the Lapeer Lumberyard where he purchased material for the construction of a church, now known as Sashabaw Presbyterian. Guided by God, a handful of people built a church building that today stands as an example, not only of mid-19th century rural architecture, but also as a statement of their faith. In this building we once again see history in our own backyard.
The building, located at 5331 Maybee Road in Clarkston, is now undergoing renovation and in the process much historical information is being uncovered — literally. For example, the drop ceiling which had been installed in the 1970’s has now been removed reveling the various transitions the church has gone through. Original paint and more interestingly the old 1800s wall paper give glimpses of the congregation member’s probable ups and downs in economy stated Dr. John Cameron, art history professor at Oakland University. “When the church was first constructed it appears they used paint in an effort to get the building up and going. Later, as they had the financial means they updated the decor and added the then very popular ceiling paper. When that was no longer in vogue, or perhaps when a more austere group of Calvinists became leaders of the congregation the ceiling and walls were painted with a traditional Presbyterian Blue.” Dr. Cameron’s observation regarding the church leadership proved to be true upon inspection of the Church’s minutes. With the arrival of a more traditional “Scots Presbyterian Minister” the Elders determined that the ceiling wall paper was too worldly and repainted.
Sashabaw Presbyterian Church came into existence in 1841, having been a mission of the First Presbyterian Church in Pontiac. Between 1843 and 1845 diversity in belief and doctrine caused division and withdrawal of the Pastor, Rev. Hornell. His departure caused the creation of the Church of Orion and Independence which held meetings in the Block and Sashabaw Schools. In 1854 the Rev. S.A. Clayton was called as Pastor and he urged the building of a church at Sashabaw Plains. With the approval of this plan the congregation became known as the First Presbyterian of Independence Township. In 1855 Adam Fisher deeded the land to the church for a price of $50 and the restriction that should the land ever not be used for a Presbyterian church, it would revert back to the heirs. The church building was begun in the summer of 1855 and dedicated in June of 1856. The total cost of construction and furnishings were $3000.00.
The original heating system consisted of two big Round Oak stoves, one on each side of the front of the church and long stove pipes running to the chimney in the rear. These were still in use in the late 1940’s according to Alice Sias who use to attend services at the church with her aunt and uncle while vacationing in the area from Dearborn. The original lighting consisted of a chandelier in the center and side lights, all oil. The chandelier was converted to electricity in the 1950s.
The old building has been literally lifted up twice in its history, the first time in about 1917 when a new foundation was laid. Then again in 1952 when a basement was added allowing for the addition of a kitchen, fellowship hall and classroom space. A steeple and belfry were added in 1958 after the originals had been removed in 1916.
In the 1960’s it was determined that the church building was no longer able to support the ministry of the congregation. So a decision was made to build a new building on property the church owned across the street. Once the new building was occupied in the 1970’s the old, “Century Building” continued to be used for Christ’s ministry in the community. It served for several years as “Independence House” a self-help center providing counseling, meeting space for groups such as Boy Scouts, a food pantry, Teen Center etc. Light House North was begun in the old church and continued in ministry there for 10 years.
What will be the fate of this building and the vision of a small group of faithful Christians in the 1800s? In 1857, in an effort of ecumenism, the Elders voted to allow the newly forming Baptist and Methodist societies to hold services in the building on Sunday afternoons between the hours of 1and 4 o’clock. The congregation has continued to open the doors of this landmark to others in the name of Christ ever since. When Lighthouse North moved out serious restoration needs were detected. A new roof was installed but not before damage had been done to the plasterwork ceiling. The current Elders of the church contacted Oakland University and have been advised that from a historical point of view the building is unique in its structure and of historical importance to the community.
The building sustained, for the first time, vandalism. Break-ins resulted in damage to newly restored windows, the original chandelier has been damaged, locks damaged, the original front door damaged as well as pews from the 1800s. The break ins also resulted in wild animals entering the building. The Oakland County Sheriffs department believes the damage is from teens who have broken into the building to drink and evidence of alcohol consumption is evident.
2017 and into the future…a building for the whole community!
Beginning in the spring of 2017 Sashabaw Presbyterian has partnered with the newly formed Clarkston Schools program – “Clarkston Construction Technology” to restore the building!
This program will allow the school district to teach skills such as wiring, construction, math skills, etc. As of spring 2017 50 young people had signed up for the program which begins fully in fall 2017. Already this spring teachers and youth have repaired the handicap ramp and are boarding up broken out windows so that work can be done from the inside out.
Once basic restoration has been accomplished the congregation of Sashabaw Presbyterian wishes to maintain the rich heritage of community uses the building has had in the past, making it available for members of the Clarkston community in activities such as educational, arts, concerts, recitals and other uses by the community while we continue to serve in the name of Christ in the future.