St Philomena members look for first church

Children and church members help dig up clues as to where the original log church stood at St. Philomena.

Children and church members help dig up clues as to where the original log church stood at St. Philomena.
By Kristin Rover
Sun staff

As part of the 175th anniversary celebration of St. Philomena, members of local parishes attempted to locate the original church during a special event May 10.

“It’s the 175th anniversary of the mother parish of Clermont County,” Father Jerry Hiland said. “We’ve always talked about where that original wooden church is.”

Hiland said the goal of the event is to try to locate the church and reconstruct some of the original bell tower.

Chris Daeger, a member of St. Lewis, who studied archeology, helped organize the event to try to find the structure that was built in the 1800s.

Daeger said the current church has been there since 1905. He said they believe the original church, one built from stone and wood and burned down, may be buried somewhere on the property.

Dozens of members of the parishes equipped themselves with shovels, dirt probes and used sifters to help locate artifacts from church.

“I think it’s cool and neat that we can find where the original church was,” Joey Putnam, a 12-year-old, said about helping.

For some members the event was also an opportunity to learn more about their family history.

Steve Paul, of Owensville, said his great grandfather helped haul stone out of the creek to help build the existing church.

“My family has been at this church for years,” Paul said. “We have a lot of heritage here.”

Daeger said they used photographs, written records, stories from members and a little common sense to locate what they believe to be the church after eliminating several other areas on the property.

“We were going through all of these different things they heard and read and passed along through families and pictures,” Daeger said.

Daeger said that members had read that the original church was within feet of the cemetery, because people wanted to be buried close to the altar.

He said back in the 1800s, the members of the church did not have the means to excavate and build anywhere on the property.

“If they want to build a church or house, they find a level spot,” Daeger said.

Daeger said they located a fairly level spot close to the oldest graves in the cemetery.

“It pretty much is a level spot parallel to Stonelick Creek, a little bit away from the creek and the road,” he said. “It would make sense for them to build there.”

Daeger said they began measuring off dimensions of the church, and probing the ground for rocks.

“Everything started lining up,” Daeger said. “We were finding big rocks,”

Daeger said they began digging in the area and a few minutes later they found a nail, and then another nail.

“We found a piece of metal of some sort,” he said. “We started finding some very thin glass. For the period in the 1840s it would thin because glass was at a premium”

He said they found charcoal, items that looked like wood chinking, an iron ring, and what looked to be some type of decoration.

Daeger said everyone was excited to find the artifacts. He said while he is not positive they came from the church, he feels confident that they did.

“I am about 90 percent sure that we found it,” Daeger said. “We found what was left of the foundation.”