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Historic Maxwelton church nearly ready to reopen

The Little Brown Church is back in business.

The Maxwelton Valley community fixture has been cleared by county planning, health and fire officials, and can be used by the public again.

“We still have a little painting to do, some cosmetic things, then we’ll be open for business,” said George Mills, who with his wife Lila purchased the A-frame-style building at Maxwelton and French roads about 1½ years ago.

“If someone comes along who wants to use it, we’ll push it,” he said Thursday.

“We’re having a blast,” his wife said.

The Millses plan to rent out the church for activities such as worship services, weddings, funerals, Bible studies, songfests, family reunions and community meetings.

“If there’s a church group interested in holding services in it, then we would be interested, too,” Lila Mills said.

The couple have received one or two inquiries from local congregations, “but they’re a long way from definite,” George Mills said.

This past August, the church was painted brown again, after having been gray since the early 1990s. The new color, called “Soul of the Earth,” isn’t the original shade, but it’s close, Mills said.

The church is an integral part of Mills family history.

The congregation and the church were established as Whidbey Island Free Methodist Church in the early 1900s.

The church members were called Free Methodists because, among other things, they believed it was improper to charge for better seats in pews closer to the pulpit.

Mills’ grandparents, George and Sarah Grubb, were among the five members of the new congregation’s first official board.

In 1910, more than 80 people contributed a total of $884, and the original church and parsonage were built. Even before the church was finished, the first funeral conducted in it was for Mills’ great-grandfather, John W. Grubb.

The Millses bought the church and parsonage next door in 2008. They moved into the parsonage, and began to renovate both buildings.

George Mills said that county officials waived the requirement of a site-plan and zoning review for the church building. That left only the approval from the county health and fire departments, which was secured late last month.

“We’re good to go,” he said.

The church underwent various alterations through the years, and was painted gray in 1993. It was last used as a church in 2006, and was put up for sale in 2007.

The current building contains a fellowship hall in the basement, and 18 pews in the sanctuary, which was part of the original church. A bell purchased in 1934 for $10 from a local school district and attached to the church roof is still there, George Mills said.

He said he may try to get the church classified as a historic building.

Before retiring, George Mills taught high school for 31 years in southwestern Washington.

He said his interest in his family was rekindled more than two years ago when a grandson of a relative contacted him for information about mutual kin, and he’s been combing genealogy sources since.

His latest project is to get in touch with as many people as possible who were married in the church through the years.

The Millses and the church will be featured in this year’s annual Maxwelton Fourth of July Parade.

The Millses will be grand marshals, and there will be a float representing the church.

People who were married in the church are urged to march together in the parade, George Mills said.

The couple also want to collect wedding photos to compile into a book to be made available to the community, Lila Mills said.

Meanwhile, the couple have invited members of his great-grandparents’ families, the Grubbses and the Hollenbacks, to a gala Fourth of July party at Maxwelton.

“There are lots of them,” George Mills said.

For more information about the church, e-mail maxweltonlbc@comcast.net, or call the Millses at 579-2007.

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