SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — A historic landmark on the east side of Sioux Falls is showing its age and is in need of repair. The floor is giving way inside the nearly century-old chapel at Mount Pleasant Cemetery. The cemetery is launching a fundraising campaign to repair the creaky floor with the hope of eventually reopening the chapel to the public once again.
It’s the majestic quartzite gateway to Sioux Falls’ oldest cemetery.
“You talk to people who grew up on the east side, this is something they remember walking by on their way to school,” Mount Pleasant Cemetery Executive Director Matt Gage said.
The Glidden Memorial Chapel was built in 1924 to host funerals and other services at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, which has been around longer than South Dakota’s been a state.
“This is where you got buried if you died in Sioux Falls. This was the cemetery,” Gage said.
The chapel is a source of family pride for cemetery board vice-president Herb Rosin. His great uncle designed the building.
“I remember it from my childhood when we’d drive by or if we came through the cemetery, my mom would always remind me you know, you’re great uncle designed this building, and that was really cool,” Rosin said.
In 1987, the chapel was listed to the National Register of Historic Places, honored for its late gothic-revival architecture.
“It’s a beautiful design. People have no idea how gorgeous it is inside with all the stained glass, the ceilings that are in here, and the flooring,” Rosin said.
The chapel has undergone three restorations through the decades. It has the battle scars of damage by vandals and a lightning strike. Even a tractor once plowed through the building.
“A tractor fell through the floor when it was being used by storage by the cemetery for the lawnmowers and things like that. They actually had to take the tractor out of the basement with a crane,” Gage said.
But it’s the accumulation of moisture, not another tractor, that threatens the chapel floor today. The moisture is eating away the substructure underneath the floor.
“The flooring in here, when you look at it above, right now, it looks like it’s okay. But underneath, structurally, it needs a lot of work,” Rosin said.
“The steel beams have been exposed and rusted and we’re seeing decay in the terracotta in between them that creates support for this floor,” Gage said.
It’s been three years since the last service was held inside the chapel.
“We agreed with the city not to bring the public in here for an event or anything like that until we could determine the floor was stable and safe in the long-term. I don’t want 150 people sitting in here and then have a beam give way,” Gage said.
But stabilizing the floor will require and estimated quarter-million dollars in repairs and upgrades. The cemetery is calling on the community for help with the cost.
“I want to see it be used again. I want to see the community be able to enjoy it. I want families to to be able to use it for funerals or a place to gather afterwards,” Gage said.
“The longer that we wait, the worst that it will get just with deterioration of the flooring. Some of the walls, some of the structure itself needs some minor repairs. But the sooner we can do it, the better,” Rosin said.
The basement of this chapel wasn’t a place for people to gather after the service to enjoy cookies and coffee. This was where bodies were stored over the winter for burial in the spring, once the ground thawed.
“It’s a little eerie, to be honest. Not a place most people want to visit,” Gage said.
But Gage and cemetery board members believe people will want to visit the chapel once the repairs are complete. Gage says smaller startup congregations have asked him about renting the chapel for Sunday services. The chapel also has potential as a wedding venue. But it will take an act of faith, and generosity from the public, to raise the money for repairs.
“If I can save this, it’ll be amazing,” Gage said.
The cemetery board has contracted with a structural engineer to come up with a plan for the renovations.