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Restored rural church in Iowa to serve as inn

June 16, 2018

GRAF, Iowa (AP) — Perched atop a hill in rural Dubuque County sits a small stone church.

The exterior walls show the age of the building, which was constructed in 1867. But inside, the structure resembles a brand-new, three-bedroom home.

Now, owner John Whalen invites people to rent the Lattnerville Church Inn south of Graf.

“It’s a beautiful building,” Whalen told the Telegraph Herald . “You shouldn’t just throw something like this away. You can do something good with it.”

The former Catholic church was named after the small community that used to surround it — Lattnerville.

Since a full-time priest was never assigned there, the church was never a full parish, but it was used as a mission and the site of catechism classes over the years. It never became an official parish in part because the town of Lattnerville never grew much.

The structure survived three fires over its long lifetime. But it ultimately was shuttered in 1989, when its regularly scheduled services ended.

In 2013, Whalen purchased the building for $54,000.

“We have been working on old buildings for a number of years,” Whalen said. “When I saw this building, I knew that it was something I could work with.”

Whalen discovered the roof was leaking and much of the floor had rotted.

He spent the first few years focusing on restoring the exterior walls and stained-glass windows. He then turned his attention indoors.

The interior of the church was completely transformed into a three-bedroom living space. The choir loft became a bedroom, and couches replaced pews in what is now the living room.

Even the floor was raised about 18 inches to help people look out the windows.

“My wife suggested that,” Whalen said, chuckling. “She thought it was very important that we could look through the windows.”

Restoring historic buildings has been a passion for Whalen and his wife, Cheryl, for many years. His love of history has made him dedicated to giving old structures new life.

“You should want to keep what you already have,” Whalen said. “When you destroy a building like this, you are destroying something that is beautiful.”

This philosophy also extends to the church’s interior decor. Two stained-glass windows sit atop the main balcony, both of which came from an old church in Clinton.

A small pew from a church in Elkader sits against the wall near the dining table.

“It’s full of things that are from all over the area,” Whalen said. “There’s lots of history here.”

Whalen said the church is available for vacation rentals, so others can experience the revival of the church.

“I figured I might as well do that or sell it,” Whalen said. “I think there are people who would like to stay in here.”

R.R.S. Stewart, chairwoman of the Dubuque County Historic Preservation Commission, said Whalen received an award in 2015 for the restoration of the church’s exterior.

She added that she is glad to see the building given new life through Whalen’s efforts.

“We’re happy any time a property is reused,” Stewart said.

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Information from: Telegraph Herald, http://www.thonline.com

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