Clinton Presbyterian Church will soon cease to exist as a church, but donation plans will breathe new life into the building and grounds that will become the Clinton branch of the Audubon Regional Library.
Michele Jones, director of the Audubon Regional Library, said the Library Board voted unanimously to accept the church building donation, and now the matter rests in the hands of the police jury, which must legally accept the property donation on behalf of the library system.
“In Louisiana, libraries cannot own their own building; so it would have to be donated,” Jones said. “The police jury would retain that right of ownership, and the library would be housed here.”
Jones said the remaining four church members, called the Session Group for the Clinton Presbyterian Church, are making the donation with the condition that it be renovated into a library. The four Session Group members are Patricia Jackson, Jonathan Loveall, Sharon Roberts and Frances Phares, a prominent Clinton historian and author of many genealogy volumes housed at the Clinton library.
Renovations are planned that include removing the stained-glass windows, making entrances handicapped-accessible, and updating the interior to get the building up to code. To help with those expenses, the Session Group is also making a monetary donation. “In addition to the church building and property, $40,000 will be donated to the library to help with renovations,” Jones said.
The Audubon Regional Library System is shared by the parishes of East Feliciana and St. Helena, with three branches in Clinton, Greensburg, and Jackson. The existing Clinton branch would be moving into the donated building and property.
The library board members, while pleased with the generous gift, sought to address legal and funding questions that might complicate the transfer. “There were some questions about the status of the library system because there's monies coming in from two parishes,” Jones explained. “There was also concern as to whether or not funding would change for the upcoming year because of COVID-19. So, that kind of tied into the funding issue.”
Caroline Kiff, the library board president, expressed a desire to make adequate renovations that were neither meager nor grandiose. Jones said Kiff, a retired lawyer and judge, wanted to see the budget and plans as less expensive than a Maserati, but nowhere near as cheap as a Model T. “She was thinking that she thought the appropriate renovation would be somewhere in the middle of cost,” Jones said. “So that was a concern she had and as far as the budget.”
In a tragic turn of events, Kiff was killed in a car wreck in St. Helena Parish less than a week later. On Monday, July 20, before 8 a.m., Louisiana State Police Troop L responded to a crash with injuries on La. 38 west of Interstate 55. Kiff was transported to a local hospital, but later died of her injuries.
No move has been made yet to officially change the library board lineup. Robert Flowers serves as vice president, and veterinarian Lisa Brabham is the treasurer. The other board members are Mina Jean Travis, Faye Talbot, and Roger Wiersema.
Clinton Presbyterian Church has earned a place in the rich history of East Feliciana. The current building was built in 1952-53, and dedicated in 1956, but the congregation was formed in the 1800s.
The original church once stood directly across from the current structure on the historically significant Bank Street. The area is home to the Marston House, the Police Jury offices and Silliman Institute.
Historical accounts documented by Phares explain that the wife of an early pastor of the church was one of the founders and benefactors of Silliman Female College Institute, a forerunner to the current school. When the congregation retired the first sanctuary, the current 4,700 square foot structure was built. “I thought it was going be a little building,” Jones said. “It's a little over double the size we have right now for our library.”
A room at the front of the church houses memorabilia and artifacts. There's been discussion about the space remaining untouched to keep the collection together and as a memorial and testament to church history.