The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


October 24, 2012

Mifflinburg converts historic Elias Church into performing arts center

MIFFLINBURG — Just a few years ago, the building believed to be the oldest wooden-framed church in Pennsylvania was a rundown rental duplex up for auction on eBay. But rather than allow the venerable church, which had been around in one form or another since 1806, to fall into private hands, community members rallied to save the building, which next month will be reborn as the Elias Center for the Performing Arts.

“It was in 2004 that we discovered it was going to be sold,” said Bob Lynch, a longtime community leader. “We contacted the owners, knowing the background and history of the church. They graciously gave us an opportunity to buy it. We approached the Mifflinburg Bank and Trust Co., they gave us a loan for $35,000 to make the purchase. And as their contribution to us, they took over the payment, and it has now been paid off.”

The group controlling the property is the Mifflinburg Heritage and Revitalization Association.

Besides the bank contribution, the community applied for and received numerous grants, totalling about $700,000, including a grant from the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development, to restore the church.

In the years after the church was built, it had gone through many changes; it became a high school, then a storage barn for buggies and a duplex rental.

Once funding was firmly in place, the duplex was dismantled, and the church restored to how it might have looked in 1806; the entire process of dismantling and rebuilding took about three years, said Murrie Zlotziver, Elm Street manager.

Zlotziver said that since the Elias Church was in the Elm Street neighborhood, it fell into his jurisdiction.

 “I fell in love with it the first time I saw it,” Zlotziver said. “And I am honored to be working with this venue. But really, it was the community’s decision to make this into a performing arts center. They didn’t want this to just sit here, not be used, and only bring people through to tour it. They wanted it to be used by the community and become part of the community. So my goal has been to take it to the next level. To open it as a functioning performing arts center. The acoustics, by the way, are exceptional.”

Lynch agreed.

“If the only result of this restoration was just to show this old church to people, to have semi-regular tours only, then I would have deemed this project a failure,” Lynch said. “The real success is how we can get community interest and make it a functional building, which in its own way will help pay for itself.”

The Elias Center will seat 216, with 140 pew seats.

SUN Tech students are working on building a restroom in an adjacent building and installing a heating system. That project should be complete by May. That’s when the Elias Center will hold an official grand opening ceremony.

Programs this summer will include music, theater, one educational program and one children’s program.

The initial goal is to do four events a month, beginning in May, Zlotziver said.

“So much depends on the community coming,” Zlotziver said. “These are ticketed events meant to raise money for MHRA to support the upkeep of the building.”

“If Murrie and I sound enthusiastic about what’s been done with the Elias Center,” added Lynch, “it is because we are. It’s been a real joy and very gratifying to be a part of this operation.”

The Elias Center will be holding an early free preview event at 7 p.m. Nov. 3, when Judy Marti, “A Banjo Pick’n Girl” will perform. For more information, call 966-0888.

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