As a young girl, Roxie Mell-Brandts sat in the pews of First Baptist Church in Garden City. She walked its historic hallways and looked out its big sanctuary windows. One thing she probably never did, though, was imagine the day she’d own the place.
“No,” she said. “No, I didn’t.”
But that day did come. By November of 2013 the congregation had dwindled to just 11 members, and costs were prohibitive in keeping the old brick church, built in 1868, going.
“It was too much for them,” Mell-Brandts said. “I think that’s happening to all the little towns. People are moving to larger areas, and they don’t have the population to keep the churches going.”
Having grown up in rural Garden City and attending the church, Mell-Brandts felt a connection to it. She also had a background in flipping houses, which led to her buying the historic church (on the National Register of Historic Places listings in Blue Earth County).
“I just always liked the building, and I like to restore things,” she said.
In 1868, workers took sand out of the river and made bricks on site to construct the building, which is double-walled (two layers of bricks deep). “Built to last,” she said.
The north wall of the church was in bad shape and recreating the bricks to restore it was cost-prohibitive. So instead, Mell-Brandts chose to enclose the back wall.
All the windows in the sanctuary were replaced, the entryway was rebuilt and enlarged, cracks were patched, walls were painted, the attic was insulated, the loft was opened up, and the exterior was sealed to prevent deterioration.
“I have some original school-house lights that were in the church, and we put those back in,” she said.
Mell-Brandts began the restoration project in the spring of 2017 and recently finished in conjunction with the 150th anniversary year of the church, which she has now named Chapel of Peace.
“It was quite a bit of work, and it’s a work in progress,” she said. “But it is very usable now.”
Mell-Brandts is renting out the church for events, including weddings, receptions, celebrations of life and other things. The fellowship hall can also be used for gatherings and parties.
“It’s kind of a hobby, but I would love to have events there at least a couple of times a month,” she said.
Kristin Kienholz, who attended First Baptist for several years, held an event at the chapel in September. Her daughter had been married out of state, and they invited about 100 family and friends to a wedding reception that they wanted to have closer to home.
“The church held special memories for us, and we were grateful to be able to use the facility,” Kienholz said.
Kienholz said the chapel looks entirely different after the restoration. She said Mell-Brandts’ attention to historic detail adds to the charm of the venue.
“We loved the venue. The chapel is a beautiful place,” Kienholz said.