This Is What It’s Really Like to Live in a Converted Church

published Mar 31, 2019
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American churches were built in bounty in the 1950s as a result of post-war population growth and a national focus on family values—but as time has gone on, more Americans are identifying as “nones” (none-affiliated), forcing these places of community gathering to close, as the cost of upkeep outweighs the number of congregants. Each year, between 6,000 and 10,000 American churches close. But instead of demolishing these works of beautiful and important architecture, these churches are being converted into restaurants, apartments, and even boutique fitness studios.

So 12 years ago, when Elana Frankel—editor-in-chief of Women & Weed magazine and co-founder of the plant-based wellness company Indigo and Haze—and her husband, Dan Tashman, saw an ad for the barn-red former church they now live in, it was love at first sight. Within a few days, they had bought the church (built in 1844, located in upstate New York) and found out that it had also been a one-room schoolhouse. Being a Methodist church—which are usually more plainly decorated than other denominations’ churches—there were no wall hangings, religious icons, or stained glass windows. Eventually, they expanded the space to include three bedrooms, two bathrooms, an airy kitchen, and plenty of living space. So what’s it like to live in a historic space with 26-foot ceilings? Read on as Frankel shares some pretty incredible stories of historic lore—and ghosts(?)—in the place she and her family (and three chickens and two dogs) call home:

We get interesting visitors, like an older gentleman who went to school here

“When we first moved into the house, there was this 80-something-year-old guy who would drive by. One day, he stopped to talk and told us that he went to school here as a child. He mentioned that there was a potbelly stove in the middle of the room (now our living room) and that if you behaved badly, you sat farther away from the stove. That’s some kind of punishment because, let me tell you, it gets cold in that room in the winter.”

We need a tall ladder to change the lightbulbs—and dust!

“Cleaning the ceilings is a challenge. Plus, the previous owner installed lights on top of the original beams so when a bulb burns out, we have to borrow the neighbor’s 25-foot ladder. I am always asking Dan to dust while he is up there and usually I get a, ‘Nooooooooooo.'”

Our home has more unusual quirks than most old homes

“Apparently there was once a bell in our bell tower but, according to neighborhood lore, someone stole it. Some people think it’s buried somewhere in the neighborhood. A neighbor of mine, who has lived here for years, is always talking about looking for it.”

We aren’t able to replace the floorboards

“Since the narrow pine floors are original to the space, once they go, you can’t replace them. On top of that, the house doesn’t have a foundation. So, it’s wood floor and dirt. When a piece of floorboard comes up, you’re looking at dirt. Sprinkle seeds, then water, and you can grow an herb garden in my living room. We call it indoor-outdoor living.”

We’re some of the few suburbanites without a garage

“This isn’t your typical suburban house. We don’t have a garage or basement. The pro: no extra space to accumulate useless stuff. The con: There’s nothing to cover the car when snows.”

I think we have ghosts

“When we first moved in, Dan traveled to China for work so I was here alone… a lot. At first, little things would happen: I have these glass candlesticks and one day, I came home from work and the tapers were on the shelf… but the sticks were on the floor—unbroken. It was super creepy.

We would find our dog’s kibble in various places. We’d open the drawer in the kitchen and there would be kibble among the utensils. We’d put our feet in our shoes and there would be a pile of kibble.

But the thing that really got to me: Really late at night when I was by myself, I could distinctly hear the sound of kids running up and down the stairs laughing. My belief is that the ghost energy here is childlike and prankster—it’s kind of funny. A couple of months ago we had a plumber here and we were talking about ghosts. I said we used to have them but I haven’t heard them in a while. Two nights later, they started making giggly noises, reminding me they are still around. You live with it.”

We feel the space’s meditative vibe

“We are stewards of the space. It feels like our home and it feels like we live in it, but it doesn’t feel like we own it—more that we’re maintaining it until the next generation. It’s a very special feeling to live here. It’s evocative of years past but there’s a sense of spirituality that’s constant. Everybody feels it when they come over.

You know what: During Hurricane Sandy everyone in the neighborhood lost power but us. Our house became the spot for people to plug in phones and do their wash. There is a special energy watching over this place (or maybe it’s just the ghosts).”

Responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.