175th: Omar Chapel, Cemetery celebrating anniversaries

PHOTOS BY JACOB GURNEY November and December mark the 175-year anniverseries of Omar Chapel and Omar Cemetery north of Attica.

The months of November and December mark the 175-year anniversaries for Omar Chapel and Omar Cemetery, 408 S. SR 4, located in Reed Township.

Secretary Larry Lepard of Omar Chapel Association said the chapel is on the National Register of Historic Places for its pure example of Doric architecture and evidence of early settlement.

“It’s one of the few buildings remaining from when the very first settlers of the area were here,” Lepard said.

Lepard, who states he is the “self-appointed historian,” wrote on the chapel’s website, omarohio.blogspot.com, about the anniversary and the history of Omar Chapel and Omar Cemetery. He said in 1842, an early landowner named Thomas Bennit realized residents of Omar needed an attractive burial place, and the original plat was filed in the county recorder’s office Nov. 11, 1842. Lepard said the first recorded sale of a lot was on Dec. 20, 1842, for $5 and shortly after, 18 graves were moved there from an older graveyard a quarter mile east of the property.

The same year, Bennit sold one acre adjacent to the cemetery to the Second Regular Baptist Church of Reed Township to build what now is Omar Chapel, he said. The church was built by all able-bodied men of any or no religion from the neighborhood and was dedicated in December 1842, Lepard said.

This Veterans Memorial lists all the veterans buried at Omar Cemetery.

Even though they’re adjacent to one another, the chapel and cemetery properties have changed hands multiple times, he said. William O. Dean became owner when he purchased the farm from Bennitt and, in 1870, Dean deeded the unsold lots to Reed Township trustees for $275 to establish a township cemetery.

The chapel was closed in 1911 and, since then, it has been maintained by three organizations over the years, he said.

“It never has fallen into disrepair,” Lepard said.

The Omar Chapel Association was started in 1953 and the group, which now has 10 members, maintains the property and sponsors Memorial Day services at the chapel every year. President Jeff Featheringill of Omar Chapel Association said the chapel also hosts weddings occasionally.

Although the church has been closed for more than a century, the cemetery still is active and small, private memorial services are still held there, Lepard said.

Lepard said people have a very sentimental attachment to the chapel and people from across the country have donated money over the years. He said a woman from Columbus willed her estate to Omar Chapel Association, which was used to repair the foundation, and an Oregon state man gave $7,000 for cost overruns on the foundation work.

Lepard also said a man from southwestern Ohio drove up every weekend and painted the chapel at his own expense, and an Attica couple gave money to have Amish-made reproduction windows created using the original glass.

An anonymous donor gave money to update the names on the Veterans Memorial, which lists all the veterans buried in Omar Cemetery, and Attica Sons of the American Legion Post 260 donated money used to build new sets of steps.

“It is always well-kept and it has a deeply, sentimental value to a lot of people, even though no living person ever attended worship services there,” Lepard said.

Featheringill said the chapel is something he always lived near and could see from his home. He said when he was 10, his grandfather’s funeral was there and he told his children that is where he wants his to be conducted.

“That’s just a memory that sticks out to me,” Featheringill said. “I’ve been here for over 25 years and I’ve never lived more than a mile from it.”

Lepard said he has a personal interest in the properties because he descended from original settlers in the area who settled just outside of Attica in Reed Township in 1830, and his grandparents are buried at Omar Cemetery. Lepard said he loves old buildings and worked on the Ohio Old Buildings Survey. He also has written four church histories.

Featheringill said all of his mother’s family is buried in the cemetery.

“It is a part of the history of our community,” he said.

“To me, it is a place where recent generations can connect with the past and appreciate it,” Lepard said.

The chapel is always open to the public and it regularly gets visitors from across the United States as well as other countries, he said.

Featheringill said the Omar Chapel Association is always looking for volunteers and anybody interested in joining can contact him at (567) 224-0603 or Lepard at (419) 668-3592.

While no celebrations are planned for the 175-year anniversaries, small group tours of the chapel and cemetery can be set up at anytime by emailing Lepard at lalepard@msn.com or by visiting the website.