The building at 164 East Main Street looks like a fort and for over 90 years has been a garage, a roofing company, and is currently Tuna Valley Towing. But it was designed to be a church in 1929.
Plans changed when the construction funds that the church had raised were embezzled by a minister who skipped town and the deal fell through.
The Church of the Nazarene in Bradford dreamed of a new church. Founded in 1904, members met in a small mission on Ice Street (now Poplin Avenue) and later in a church at 55 N. Bennett Street. The congregation was growing and church officials knew that a larger church was needed.
In August 1928, the church purchased a lot on the corner of Raub Street (now East Avenue) and East Main street and ground was broken. Thomas Hendryx, a local architect who had just passed the Pennsylvania State exams for the Registration of Architects in February 1927 and his partner A. L. Benton, an engineer, were picked to design the new church. The H.C. Bemis Company was chosen as contractor.
It was estimated that the new church would cost $50,000 (over $735,000 in today’s figures.)
Church officials had begun fund raising in 1927 but progress was slow. In October 1928 they hired the Rev. Charles R. Steepleton of the Steepleton Service System of Ohio to run the campaign. The “System” promised to easily raise enough money to build the church.
It would be an impressive church on a high bank on East Main Street with two towers made of brick and tile. Confidant that the project would go forward, the Church of the Nazarene made plans to sell the old North Bennett Street church and sketches of the new East Main Street church were placed on display in downtown stores on Main Street.
Construction was well underway by late 1928 when the first signs of financial trouble arose. Money, marked for the building fund, had disappeared and so had the Rev. Charles Steepleton.
It was discovered that he had embezzled the funds and fled back to Ohio.
Church treasurer and trustee R. B. Simon called for County Detective Jack Allison to charge Steepleton with misappropriation of funds, declare him a fugitive from justice and to extradite him back to McKean County for trial.
In retaliation, Steepleton sued Simon for $16,500 for damaging his reputation. He then sued the Bradford Church of the Nazarene for $7,000 for services rendered for which he had never been paid.
On April 29, 1929, Allison and pilot Harri Emery flew to Ohio to nab Steepleton, and found him in jail, awaiting trial for fleecing another Church of the Nazarene in Dayton, of $17,000. Allison approached the Ohio governor, Myers Cooper, to have extradition papers signed and was assured by Ohio officials that once Steepleton had faced the pending charges against him in that state, he would be returned to McKean County for prosecution. But Steepleton was well liked in Ohio and even more popular in the capital city. Charges in Ohio were dropped; extradition was forgotten, and Steepleton never returned to Pennsylvania to stand trial.
Consequently, the Church of the Nazarene was forced to abandon its plans for a new building. It bought back the old church at 55 N. Bennett Street, and turned over the half completed building to the H.M. Bemis Company, in payment for construction already completed. In all, the cost of Steepleton’s crime cost the church $9,000.
But what to do with a half-finished building, designed to be a church? For a time, it was hoped that the American Legion would buy the building, since that organization was on the lookout for a new home. But in January 1931, the Legion bought 22 Pine Street, and had no further interest in a partially built church.
In October of 1931, the H.C. Bemis Company decided to make a drastic change to the structure, which had been sitting unfinished and empty for two years. The cellar of the old foundation was dug out to street level to form the first floor of a garage. The second floor, originally designed to hold the Nazarene congregation, became storage for twenty cars, and a new entrance to the second floor was from a side street. The original blueprints of the church showed a larger tower on the right, arched windows, and several doors. All this was changed.
The first tenant was the Keystone Garage, an auto repair and service shop which opened on May 7, 1932. Three years later, in March 1935, an Oldsmobile dealership moved here from 100 Boylston Street and called itself East Main Motors, promising exclusive sales and service of Oldsmobile automobiles and a complete garage service, including repairs, washing, greasing, and sales of gasoline and oil.
In August 1943, Harvey Rodebaugh, the general manager of the business, bought East End Motors and changed the name to Rodebaugh Motors. H.C. Bemis Company still owned the building at the time and rented it to Rodebaugh for several years, but three years later sold the building to Clement P. “Bud” Edel in November 1946, for $25,000 cash.
Edel, who had founded General Roofing in 1938, had been looking for a larger building to hold his roofing materials, trucks, and offices. He renovated the building and held a grand opening in July 1947.
General Roofing was located here for 68 years but in 2015 the building was sold to Chris McGee of Tuna Valley Towing. It remains there today.
Recently, McGee came into the Landmark Society and showed off a packet of papers, including deeds, tax records, sales agreements, letters, and other items collected over the years by various owners and all concerning 164 East Main Street. In turn, Landmark officials showed him the original Thomas Hendryx blueprints from 1928.
I asked Chris if he knew that the building had originally been destined to be a church. He admitted that he had become aware of that fact after purchasing the building.
“And do you feel blessed, to be working there?” I asked him, half-joking. He smiled, and said, “I guess so, a little.”
The story of a church that never was has a happy ending for the building, but the scandal had other effects. The Church of the Nazarene never again tried to build a new church but remodeled 55 North Bennett Street, where they remain today.
Hendryx and Benton’s partnership broke up in 1930, possibly from the stress of not being paid. The Rev. Bryon Maybury left the Nazarene congregation. And Charles Steepleton? He went on to embezzle funds from a United Brethren Church in Ohio in 1930. He was never convicted of any crime.