Pennsylvania Police: Arson Gutted Civil War-Themed Chapel

December 7, 2010

A fire that destroyed a controversial Civil War-themed chapel in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was set intentionally, police said.

There are no official suspects, but investigators are seeking three teens reported to be in the area at the time of Friday’s pre-dawn blaze, borough Officer William Gonzalez said.

The arson ruling has left chapel owner John Wega “overwhelmed with sorrow.”

“To think that someone has come to that level of animosity, hatred or persecution,” Wega told The Evening Sun of Hanover.

Wega founded the log chapel a few years ago to tell the story of Christianity during the Civil War. Borough officials ordered the downtown site vacated in November because the structure no longer meets building codes.

The chapel drew officials’ attention after a snowstorm damaged its original canvas roof. Wega replaced it with a roof that includes wooden beams, meaning the structure could no longer be considered temporary.

Wega said the work required to meet building codes would cost up to $10,000 _ about as much as it cost to build the chapel. Renovations would include raising the roof to meet the 24-foot minimum and possibly installing bathrooms.

Because of the dispute, the chapel doors were shut and the gate padlocked the night before the fire, said Wega’s attorney, Randall Wenger.

The chapel also had been vandalized in July, at which time a neighbor reported seeing three teenagers running from the site. The damage included torn flags, upturned benches and broken lights.

Hiram Sasser of the Texas-based Liberty Institute, a conservative group helping Wega in his legal dispute with the borough, said the chapel will be rebuilt in the same location.

“We will rebuild in a way that everyone will be happy, and that it’s an enduring symbol of the hope and sacrifice that Gettysburg really stands for,” Sasser said.

The three-day Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, considered the bloodiest battle North America has ever seen, helped deliver a Union victory over Confederate forces.

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