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Monday, December 31, 2018

ELK COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY INVESTIGATING RECENT THEFTS AT DECKER’S CHAPEL

The sun sets behind the silhouette of Decker’s Chapel in St. Marys, Pennsylvania.
RIDGWAY, PA – The Elk County Historical Society is working with local and state law enforcement to investigate recent thefts that have taken place at the historic Decker’s Chapel in St. Marys, Pennsylvania. The 162 year-old wayside sanctuary is managed and maintained by the all-volunteer staff of the Elk County Historical Society. In two separate incidents, which took place in recent months, the chapel’s donation box was vandalized and stolen.

Historical Society Board President, Kurt Hughes said, “We are sad and frustrated that thieves would target a holy place that is open to all. The small donations that visitors deposit in the donation box help to maintain the site.”

Currently, the chapel is open year-round, as it has been since the original structure was completed in 1856. The Society was deeded the property in 1990 by a descendant of the Decker family. In 2016, the Society completed extensive renovations of the space, which included the addition of a wheelchair ramp to make the chapel more accessible.

“Wayside chapels have become rare in America.” Hughes added. “Unfortunately, we currently do not have enough volunteers to staff the chapel daily, but it is important to us to carry on this tradition and make the space available to all seeking a place of prayer and reflection.”

The chapel is equipped with surveillance cameras. In both incidences, the thieves were clearly caught on camera in the act of removing the donation box from the chapel. Members of the Historical Society staff are unable to determine how much money may have been inside the donation box at the time of the thefts, but they are encouraging those wishing to give to the preservation fund to mail checks directly to the Society at their offices in Ridgway.

“Ideally, we’d love to have an army of volunteers who were willing to help tend to the chapel, but we’re not going to allow petty thieves to prevent us from keeping it open to the public every day,” Hughes concluded. State and local police are investigating the thefts. One party has already been identified and a forthcoming arrest is expected.

Decker’s Chapel has been a landmark in St. Marys for well over a century and a half. As local history tells, the original structure was built after a farmer, Michael Decker, fell from a tree and sustained an injury to his back. Decker vowed that if the injury would heal and not cause permanent damage he would build a chapel in thanks for the miracle. When his prayer was answered, he built a crude sanctuary on the site of the current building, which has undergone many alterations and changes since its construction in 1856. It remains one of the oldest and smallest wayside chapels in America.

The Elk County Historical Society is asking for the public’s help in maintaining the chapel. Volunteers and donations are always welcome and anyone interested in donating their time or money should contact the Society by phone at 814-776-1032 or by email at elkctyhistoricalsociety@windstream.net. More information about the chapel and the Society can be found at elkcountyhistoricalsociety.org.

About the Elk County Historical Society
The Elk County Historical Society is a nonprofit membership organization funded through donations and grants and governed by a 15-member Board of Directors. The Society is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. The Society is funded in part by generous grants from Elk County and the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. The Society is a repository of artifacts that tell the rich story of Pennsylvania and pioneers and settlers who ventured into the vast wilds to help create America.

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