Grace Chapel a cornerstone of county history
By Justin Eger
of Mainline Newspapers
Completed around 1916, Grace Chapel at the former Cresson TB Sanatorium offered a place
of comfort and solitude for many patients who came to the sanatorium seeking relief from the disease of tuberculosis. Built
as a part of a state facility, it is nonetheless impressive that the facility not only offered people of faith a place to
worship, pray, and reflect, but it did so for those of numerous faiths.
As such, the chapel unsurprisingly is not
a piece of just Cresson’s history, but a cornerstone of faith for the entire region.
On the morning of Saturday,
Aug. 3, many of the men and women who would commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Sanatorium that very evening were offered
a chance to tour Grace Chapel where it until just recently served the inmates of the State Correctional Institution at Cresson.
Superintendent Ken Cameron of the former SCI Cresson conducted the tour on his own time, offering community members and guests
of the region a chance to explore the chapel and learn about some of its history.
Interestingly enough, the chapel
was constructed not just with state dollars, but with the assistance of many churches and individuals. Throughout the building,
especially along the base the stained-glass windows that ring the chapel, dozens of contributors are mentioned. The Methodist
Episcopal Church of Cresson, the Congregational Church of Ebensburg, Kings Daughters Circle Presbyterian Church of Ebensburg,
The Franklin Street Methodist Episcopal Church of Johnstown, the Centre Baptist Association and more are all recognized for
their efforts to offer the faithful who were forced to live each day in the sanatorium the comforts of their religion, no
matter what it might have been.
The tour also coincided with the donation of several items to the Cambria County
Historical Society, including a map of the sanatorium grounds and religious texts that have been with the chapel for decades.
As the fate of the former prison facility remains uncertain, it seemed best that these items be offered to the historical
society, and Dave Huber, president of the organization, was pleased to take possession of them for their safekeeping.
Most tellingly, many of the participants were, at one time or another, patients and guests of the TB facility, and had a
great familiarity with the building, one of the few that remains largely unchanged from its original construction. And during
this visit, former patient Chuck Felton, who has been a cornerstone of the reunion and celebration efforts regarding the Cresson
San, spoke at length about the impact that this chapel had on his life.
“For me, being here today is coming
full circle,” Felton shared. “In 1955, when I was 17 years old, I came to church here, and was a faithful attendee.
I did all that, but I was not a believer. I still had doubts, and I did for many years.”
Felton added that
it was not until he met his wife, Peggy, that he returned to the church and uncovered the strength of his faith. Then, in
1982, he accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior.
“I didn’t really know the Lord all those years
ago, but he knew me,” Felton explained. “I want to thank Him for all he has offered me — His love, His mercy,
and His grace. And to be here now, when I truly know the Lord and understand His mercy means everything to me.”