Husband-and-Wife Team Transform Historic Church Into Elegant Event Venue

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The Trinity Chapel

Photo credit: Nathan Lambrecht

John and Lindsey Bamber drove past the old Trinity United Methodist Church in their small town of Dayton for years, dreaming out loud of what could become of the historic 1887 structure. A longtime gathering place for citizens of Rhea County, located about 40 miles northeast of Chattanooga, the church held regular Sunday services from 1887 until around 2001. When membership dwindled, congregants struggled to keep up with the maintenance of the aging building constructed from handmade bricks two decades after the Civil War.

“For a few years in the early 2000s, it was home to a couple other congregations until lying dormant for seven years,” says Lindsey Bamber, a Dayton native, photographer and mother of two. “We heard rumors of it being sold – to be torn down, to become a residence or even a restaurant. We simply loved the church, and we couldn’t bear the thought of it being torn down.”

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After a lot of dreaming and praying, Lindsey and John (who is also a photographer and director of the Rhea County Economic and Community Development) took a leap of faith. They purchased the Trinity United Methodist Church in July 2017, renaming it The Trinity Chapel. It was a long-term investment in their community and a decision the couple didn’t take lightly.

“It’s one thing to say how much we love our small town and want to help preserve its history while investing in its future, but it’s entirely another thing to break the piggy bank and actually act upon that,” Lindsey says.

The Trinity Chapel

Photo credit: Nathan Lambrecht

A Labor of Love

The historic church with original stained-glass windows and a working bell from 1888 was in major disrepair. It had problems with bats and termites and needed flooring and painting, for starters. Two weeks before the sale was finalized, a pair of the church’s largest stained-glass windows fell out onto the ground. Fortunately, the Bambers were able to salvage the pieces. It took six weeks to repair the stained glass alone.

“The renovation process was a lengthy one,” Lindsey says. “Not only did we purchase the old church, but also the former parsonage next door, which we have dubbed Trinity Cottage. All in all, we did major renovations to over 5,000 square feet of historic space.”

The arduous process included work on the church’s 130-year-old bricks, the 92-year-old house, plaster, termite remediation, bat guano remediation and everything in between.

“We had a lot of subcontractors involved, from a demo crew to flooring experts and a fantastic stained-glass specialist named Bob Zakas,” Lindsey says.

Their painter even took it upon himself to give multiple tours of the chapel to curious passersby.

“Sometimes, I wondered if our painter actually did any work, because as the foot traffic and curiosity increased, he decided to become a docent,” Lindsey says with a chuckle.

The most dramatic changes came to the chapel when the Bambers removed a drop ceiling out of the bell tower, doubling the entryway ceiling height from 8 feet to 16 feet. They also unbolted and removed the mid-century church pews to transform it into a multipurpose facility and painted the old, dark brown woodwork in the chapel’s main room a brilliant white.

“Once that was painted white and the carpet was removed to reveal all oak hardwood flooring, the transformation really started to sing,” Lindsey says.

Meanwhile, the couple converted the Trinity Cottage next door into a cozy, three-bedroom overnight rental home that invites visitors to come explore downtown Dayton. They even made a walking map of downtown for cottage guests so they can easily find places to eat, grab coffee or shop in the community.

When the fully restored Trinity Chapel finally opened in 2018, the locals quickly embraced it as Rhea County’s newest event venue. The historic chapel has hosted 15 weddings, as well as concerts, proms, baby and wedding showers, seminars, fundraisers, banquets, awards ceremonies, yoga classes, bluegrass jam sessions and even a Latin dance night. The Bambers also use it as a studio for their family business, Bamber Photography.

John and Lindsey Bamber

John and Lindsey Bamber oversaw the restoration of Trinity Chapel in Dayton. Photo credit: Nathan Lambrecht

A Historical Community Cornerstone

Unaware of the full history until after they purchased it, the Bambers discovered the church was borne out of heated debates surrounding slavery in the 1840s. When the church divided over the controversial slavery issue, the abolitionists (those against slavery) started the church that would later become Trinity United Methodist.

“We are proud of the rich, racially inclusive history it is founded upon,” Lindsey says.

The couple continues to learn about The Trinity Chapel’s past from Rhea County residents who share memories and insight with them.

“It’s been amazing to see the response and encouragement from our community,” Lindsey says. “People walk in off the street and tell stories of growing up here. Complete strangers will come up and thank us for preserving the chapel.”

See more: Green Frog Farm Preserves Crockett County History

In 2019, the Dayton Chamber of Commerce honored John and Lindsey with simultaneous recognitions as Businessman and Businesswoman of the Year. They are in the process of applying for the chapel to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places and hope to celebrate that accomplishment soon.

“Seeing old photographs of Dayton and knowing we had a part in helping preserve the oldest building in the downtown area is certainly an honor,” Lindsey says. “We pray that COVID-19 and its effects on health, the economy and our community’s ability to gather will improve in 2021. Being ‘A Place to Gather Since 1887’ is something we’re proud of, and we’re holding fast to our identity as a small, historical boutique event venue.”

If You Go

The Trinity Chapel

Location: 240 First Avenue in Dayton

Hours: Tours available by appointment only.

Phone: (423) 428-9696

Email: info@thetrinitychapel.com

Web: thetrinitychapel.com

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