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Fonda church to be razed

Stewart’s plans to expand store

July 19, 2010
By AMANDA WHISTLE, The Leader-Herald

FONDA - As Stewart's Shops expands its store at 38 W. Main St., the company will build on land where a church has stood since 1842 in the village.

Though the purchase of the property at 42 W. Main St. will displace The House of Zion, Pastors Richard and Denise Allen will waste no time worrying about the loss of the building they have rented.

"Stewart's is a wonderful business. We don't have anything against them," Denise Allen said. "I just want people to know how much we enjoyed being there and some of the things we were able to accomplish."

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Amanda Whistle

Pastor Denise Allen, center, talks with Fultonville Village Historian Ryan Weitz, left, on July 10 about what the Church of Zion has done with the building in recent years. Weitz is documenting the church building’s history. Allen’s Husband, Richard, sits behind her at right.

The Allens have hosted several religious events at the church, including teaching seminars on Messianic theology, and they have hosted speakers such as Pastor/Rabbi Jack Zimmerman of Phoenix.

The church building was built in 1912, replacing a 19th century wooden church that was destroyed by fire.

Before it became The House of Zion, the church housed a United Methodist congregation. The building was vacant from 1967 to 1986, when it was sold to Village Bible Church. After that congregation, now known as Saving Grace Baptist Church, moved to the old Oasis Building on the corner of Route 30A and Boshart Road, the downtown church was sold to John VonAhn in 2005. He rented it to the Allens.

"We have a lot of memories here," Denise Allen said after the last service at the church on July 10. "This is a building. It's a place of worship, but the church is in the individual. When Yeshua [Jesus] talked about a church, he wasn't talking about a building. He was talking about us, and wherever we go, that's where the church is."

Denise is a folk artist who recently unveiled a story quilt that depicts scenes from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The quilt tells the story of the Allens' son, Richard, who was killed in the attack on the World Trade Center.

The Allens moved from New York City to Palatine Bridge in 2002. They scanned the area for a church that kept the Sabbath and the feasts in the Bible, but couldn't find one so they started their own branch of The House of Zion, a Christian church that studies Hebrew teachings.

The Allens first started having gatherings in a small church building they built on their Palatine property. They began renting the church building in Fonda as their conferences grew. The Allens said they plan to resume services at their small church in Palatine Bridge. In October, they will have a five-day teaching event with Zimmerman focusing on interpretation of the Bible from a Hebrew standpoint.

"You can't stop because you have some setbacks," Allen said. "If that was the case, we would have given up a long time ago. Life goes on."

She said though the Fonda church was beautiful, it had some cracks in its foundation and needed repair.

The sale of the property to Stewart's was finalized Friday, and Village Code Enforcement Officer Michael Carney said Stewart's has secured a demolition permit for the property and the vacant apartment building next to it.

Stewart's spokesman Tom Mailey said the Saratoga-based company plans to have its new shop ready by October.

He said the plan is to expand the shop from a little more than 2,000 square feet to a little less than 3,000 square feet, and add more parking and space to maneuver, since the current gas station and convenience store is in a very tight space, Mailey said.

"The store is going to be a little bigger, the lot will be a lot bigger and a little more breathing room will make everything easier," Mailey said.

Stewart's opened its shop in the village in 1978.

Stewart's was interested in the vacant Great American lot across the street, but it was outbid on the property in 2009 by Cumberland Farms.

Fultonville Historian Ryan Weitz was at the Fonda church July 10 to meet with the Allens to get an idea of the history they brought to the building in its last few years.

He said he plans to create a detailed documentation of its history.

Amanda Whistle can be reached by e-mail at



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