A small Presbyterian congregation led by elder and clerk of session CJ Sartor is working hard to preserve a northeast Louisiana landmark for future generations.

The group’s target is 145-year-old Alto Presbyterian Church which is suffering from major structural damage.  

They have received a grant from First Presbyterian Church Shreveport that will pay for a portion of the repairs but are now looking toward fundraising drives through social media, Go Fund Me and private donations.

“We are just trying to get the funds and save our church,” Sartor said. 

The building has not been fully functional for several years due to severely damaged foundation and floors after a limb crashed through the ceiling causing water damage. More damage was discovered as contractors began repairing the roof and floors which was caused by years of water seeping up through the floor beams causing rot and floor buckling.

Money from funding will be used to repair piers and beams, lift the foundation, replace beams and install drainage under the church. Additionally, the original 1930s wiring will be replaced and lighting in the building will be upgraded to current standards using LED fixtures. With money left over, the building will receive a new paint job. 

Nearly 20 years ago a similar problem was repaired when the building was lifted, Sartor said. Parts of the floor were severely damaged and were replaced while being lifted.

“We will begin work on the repairs as soon as we have funds accumulated and can schedule the work with a certified, licensed and bonded contractor,” Sartor said. “We anticipate the work to take three to six months depending upon when the work starts and weather.”

Sartor is also working with the Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation to put Alto Presbyterian Church on the “most endangered building” in the state.

“This is typical of many churches in the region where congregation numbers are dwindling,” said Brian David, executive director of Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation. “Community pride is very strong in the Alto community, and the community needs to rally around the building and save it.”

Since 1999, the Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation has maintained the list and advocated to save the threatened sites.

Currently, Alto Presbyterian Church is designated as a historic site by the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. 

“Once the building is back in shape, we hope to begin to have services at least once a month,” Sartor said. 

Alto Presbyterian Church is a member of New Covenant Parish along with Winnsboro Presbyterian, Rayville Presbyterian and Union Presbyterian churches.

A brief church history

In 1872, Alto Presbyterian Church members met under a brush arbor with hopes of one day worshipping in a building of their own. With prayer, hard work and determination, the group harvested cypress trees from nearby bayous fed by Boeuf River to construct the quaint building. The trees were locally milled, and the building standing on the highest ridge in Richland Parish, was finished in 1873.

Since 1873, the site has been the location of countless baptisms, weddings and funerals.

“(Alto Presbyterian Church) stands as an icon of the typical country church,” Sartor said.

The cemetery behind the church predates the building with graves dating back before and immediately after the Civil War. The cemetery contains graves so old carvings in headstones are barely legible from years of weather erosion. Wrought iron fences that surround some of the markers have been in place decades and trees have grown around some of its posts.

The bell housed in the steeple is said to be solid brass and was from the last riverboat to travel the Boeuf River.

For more information about Alto Presbyterian Church or to donate go to their Facebook page.

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