Authorities are investigating a suspected case of arson that resulted in the destruction of a historic church in Raleigh County, West Virginia.
Sunday evening the Beaver Volunteer Fire Department was notified that the Saint Colman Catholic Church in Shady Spring had been damaged by fire, according to a statement the company released on their Facebook page. However, upon their arrival, they discovered that the building had already burned to the ground.
“At this time, the fire is considered suspicious in nature and is being investigated as arson,” Beaver VFD added.
“This breaks my heart. This was such a beautiful piece of history. The locals have been complaining about the problems going on here and nothing was done,” local Aaren Brown said of the blaze, indicating that vandalism had been a problem for the church in the past.
Wes Bennett, a parishioner and volunteer from St. Patrick’s Church in Hinton, West Virginia, described some of these incidents. “Over the years, a group of us from St. Patrick in Hinton spent many long but enjoyable days doing repairs and upkeep on this church,” he said. “We went up once when we received a report that someone had damaged the altar. They had torn a top board off the old wooden altar and then dropped a couple pieces they had torn off the front [of the church] down in it.”
Other residents mentioned that the site was popular among paranormal investigators who were sometimes suspected of breaking windows to gain entry to the building.
The church, which was originally constructed in 1877, was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.
“St. Colman’s Roman Catholic Church and Cemetery on Irish Mountain is significant as the sole surviving remains of a once-thriving self-sufficient Irish immigrant population in the southern coal fields of West Virginia,” the filing reads. “Located in an extremely isolated area, this community of Irish farmers became virtually self-sufficient and formed a distinctive ethnic group.”
“Sitting atop Sullivan’s Knob, its prominence is unequaled by any other natural or built feature for many miles. Its significance was recognized locally when it was officially designated a Raleigh County Historical Landmark in September of 1983.”
The small building contained 12 benches and a white altar that were constructed in 1904 by Father J. J. Swint, a carpenter and priest who later became Bishop of Wheeling. The modest structure featured an unadorned cross and white clapboard siding which were placed over the original hewn logs that the Irish community cut from the mountain almost 150 years ago.
The Ghent VFD, Coal City VFD, Ghent EMS, National Park Service, and the West Virginia State Police assisted the Beaver VFD at the scene. People with information regarding the fire are advised to contact the West Virginia State Police at (304) 256-6700, the West Virginia State Fire Marshal’s arson hotline at +1 (800) 233-3473, or Crime Stoppers of Raleigh County at (304) 255-7867.