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Raymond Methodist Church
Typed and Donated by
Joan Benner

Arson Suspected as Fourth Area Building Fire in a Month Damages Church

From the Waushara Argus, Wautoma Wisconsin
July 19, 1973, Page 1

< Wautoma's fourth major fire "of undetermined origin" in a month extensively damaged the 80 year old Raymond Methodist church building, south of the city, early Wednesday morning. A state fire marshal has been called to investigate the possibility of arson.

A migrant crew on their way to work spotted the fire and reported it at the Alan WILCOX farm about 5:55 a.m., July 18. Three Wautoma volunteer fire department trucks and 15 men responded to the alarm and arrived at the scene of the blaze within minutes. The building is located four-and-one-half miles south of Wautoma on Town Line Road.

A DNR water truck and two men were also on hand in case more water was needed to fight the fire. The fire crew remained on the scene for an hour and 15 minutes.

When firemen arrived, there was more smoke than flames to meet them as white clouds billowed from the steeple louvers, swirling around the wooden cross at the steeple's peak.

Moving to the south side of the church building, the firefighters found that a door to a covered basement entrance had been destroyed by the fire, damaging the shed-like entryway and burning a hole in the church's south wall.

Damage on the inside was caused primarily by water used to spray the smoldering wall, although the ends of two pews that had abutted the south wall were charred. No estimate of damage has yet been made according to the fire chief Don BERTZYK.

Bertzyk declined to speculate on whether the fire may have been the work of an arsonist. He said a fire marshal had been called, but he didn\rquote t know if the marshal would come to the scene.

A fire marshal was also called to Wautoma on July 10 to investigate the fire at the Walker Co., which resulted in more than $300,000 damage.

On July 5th, a fire at the county fairgrounds burned to the ground a county owned storage building with an estimated loss of $10,000. A vacant tavern and apartment in the Drake building on Wautoma's Main Street were gutted by a pre-dawn fire on June 12.

The blaze apparently broke out at the door of a covered shed that serves as an entryway to the building's basement entrance. The wooden entry structure was extensively damaged in the blaze. The outside door was burned almost completely off, and charred wood on both sides showed that the flames had climbed up the door to the tar-papered roof of the shed, consuming a portion of it.

The fire from the door spread to the south wall of the church, burning a 3 x 5 foot hole in the wall.

A number of items including a gasoline can, an oil drum, and sheet metal had been stored in the shed; they were removed by firemen. Fireman Otto HENSEL said the gas can had "nothing to do" with the fire. The door to the basement of the building was locked.

The building is now owned by Raymond Cemetery Association, which uses the old church for its annual meeting. Occasionally, one of the original members of the congregation receives services there before being laid to rest in the church cemetery across the road.

The building has not been used for regular church services for about eight years, since the membership dwindled to the point where a minister could no longer be persuaded to hold services.

The Raymond Methodist church was dedicated on July 11, 1893, on land that had been donated for the purpose by Sidney CURRIER. A long time resident of the area and one of the church's original members, Willard WILCOX, said he remembered when the church was being built and "teams hauled lumber clear over from Coloma" for the construction.

Approximately 40 years ago a basement was dug; the church was moved from its old location a few yards away and set on the new foundation and a new front end and steeple were built on.

This is the second fire to damage the Raymond church building. On Sunday, October 1, 1961 while services were underway in the church, a malfunctioning oil heater apparently set fire to the roof of the church. The blaze smoldered until after the service when members of the congregation smelled smoke.

That fire almost completely destroyed the roof of the church and did extensive damage tot he south wall. Members of the church repaired it, and the church was reopened a year later.

The Raymond Ladies Aid, formed in 1964-65 to keep up the newly-abandoned church, have continued to clean the building and see to the payment of expenses to keep the old church open.

As the rising summer sun burned off the ground fog from between the gravestones, across the road from where hustling firemen worked to save the old church, one of the women standing by said, "Who would want to burn down a church?"

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