"A little part of me died when I heard about the fire," Lifelong Poland resident Betty Herbert, 88, told The Brazil Times during a recent clean-up day at the church. "I attended Sunday School here in the late 1920s before they closed the Presbyterian Church in 1929. This has hurt me so badly, and many people in the community too."
One of approximately 30 volunteers working to clean the inside of the chapel, Herbert was the last to leave Saturday afternoon. She was trying to clean the basement area near one of the starting points of the fire.
"You have to use degreaser when cleaning up after a fire," Herbert said. "I know it's a small thing, but they set fire to some of the seasonal flower arrangements in the basement. We used them as decorations around the church. It's just a shame."
On June 9, after the fire was out, firefighters discovered what appeared to be a clear pattern of accelerant on the floor. Members of Clay County Sheriff's Department, Poland Volunteer Fire Department, Indiana State Fire Marshall's Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives immediately began investigating the incident.
"I thank the good Lord for Donna Wells and her dog," Herbert said. "If her dog hadn't been scratching at the door, I'm sure the fire wouldn't have never been seen in time. If that fire would have got into the walls, the chapel would have burned down in a hurry."
Although an unidentified juvenile was detained for their alleged involvement June 30, Herbert has difficulty coming to terms with "the why" of what happened.
"This church has meant so much, to so many people, over the years. It was always open to anyone who wanted to stop. We never felt like it needed to be locked," Herbert, who struggled with her emotions, said. "This is such a devastating violation. Why would anyone do something like this? I would really like to know why."
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990, Poland Historical Chapel Society will need to raise donations to repair the 140-year-old chapel.
Poland Historical Chapter Society President Joyce Smidley told The Brazil Times by e-mail that more work projects are being planned. The pews need to be cleaned/moved to a secure location while the remaining interior work is completed.
Smidley confirmed a second set of window frames have been made and recently delivered to the chapel in anticipation of installation within the next two weeks. The fire took place during a window restoration project in June.
"We're really going to have to rely upon donations and volunteers to do the work," she said about the small group.
Donations for the repair work can be sent to the Poland Chapel Historical Society, 112 Park Place Drive, Brazil, Ind. 47834.
As the community rallies together to clean and repair the chapel, Herbert worries the fire created future problems.
"There are so many questions now that this has happened," she said. "With so much damage to repair, has it lost its historical value? Do we install security cameras? Which I believe would take away the personal experience of those who want to come here for prayer. This brings up so many questions, none of which have any real good answers."
How can you help?
Donations can be sent to the Poland Chapel Historical Society, 112 Park Place Drive, Brazil, IN 47834.