York-area church’s landmark: ‘Enter Dennis Beach, a local sculptor’

Building3This image, from Aldersgate United Methodist Church’s Web site shows the concrete image of Jesus, standing at the location of the congregation’s longtime prized copper beech tree. Holocaust statue a must-see, Memorial honoring DUI victims should be visited and AIDS memorial at York’s Albemarle Park .

While attending the viewing of longtime York Daily Record columnist Jim Hubley at York Township’s Aldersgate United Methodist Church, I saw the landmark cement monument depicting Jesus.
It reminded me of the church’s copper beech tree.
Or rather, it reminded me of Mike Argento’s story on the tree, later carved into a wooden rendition of Jesus and later a cement image.
Well, we’ll let Mike tell the story (11/29/01), published in the York Daily Record before the cement image went up. Presented in edited form here:

It was called the Jesus stump.
It was a landmark on Tyler Run Road, a 10-foot-tall depiction of Christ in beechwood standing in front of Aldersgate United Methodist Church. You couldn’t miss it. People drove out of their way to see it. Those who drive Tyler Run Road every day regarded it as part of the landscape, a part of the scenery.
The Jesus stump stood there for years, a familiar and expected sight on Tyler Run.
Then, suddenly this spring, it was gone. It simply disappeared. One day it was there, the next, nothing.
It wasn’t clear what happened to the Jesus stump. Some speculated it might have been stolen by a gang of religious thieves, although it would have been hard to make off with a 10-foot-tall wooden sculpture of Christ without drawing attention. Some thought it had been taken down because of vandalism from Satanists, teen-agers or sects at odds with the Methodists. Some just didn’t care to speculate.
People started calling the church. They wanted to know what happened to the Jesus stump. Was it all right? Would it return?
The Jesus stump began life as a copper beech tree on the Snyder farm off Tyler Run Road. When Charlie Snyder sold the land to Aldersgate for its new church in the late ’60s, one of the requirements of the sale was the tree had to survive any construction.
The tree, by then, was more than 100 years old, a historic living thing marking the decades south of the city. It was a landmark, providing a point of reference at a time when that part of York County had few points of reference. It pre-dated the highways and the fast-food restaurants and the car dealerships. It was there long before all of us.
The church agreed to preserve the tree, and for years, it stood in front of the church.
But then, it died.
The dead tree was still impressive, as big around as Al Roker and 20 times taller. But it posed a danger. Dead trees tend to topple over, and if it fell the wrong way, the church would have a big hole it in.
As it was, losing the tree left a big hole in the church’s soul. The tree was a part of the church, a reminder of the church’s roots and a symbol of its longevity. The church elders didn’t want to lose the tree. But it had to go.
Enter Dennis Beach, a local sculptor. He heard about the church’s dilemma and offered to carve a statue out of the stump as a gift to the church. A man named Beach carving a beech tree, it seemed too perfect. The tree came down, leaving the 10-foot-tall stump. Beech did the rest, carving the depiction of Christ from the orange beechwood.
There was one problem, though. Beech is a very soft wood. No matter what you try to do to protect it, it doesn’t stand up to the elements well. Moisture and insects can reduce a large beech to sawdust in no time.
And that’s what started happening to the Jesus stump.
As the years passed, the weather took its toll. The sculpture was in really bad shape, and by this spring, the church faced a choice – take it down or watch it fall over.
It was a difficult choice. The Jesus stump was a part of the church. More than that, it was a landmark. It was a part of York County.
But the choice was made.
The Jesus stump came down.
All that remained was a stump, sans Christ.
Over the past few months, the church’s trustees have been thinking about what to do about the sculpture. Should they commis sion a new wooden carving of Jesus? Should they try to preserve the original? Should they just leave the stump bare?
Someone suggested getting someone to make a casting of the original and create a concrete Jesus to replace the wooden one. Dean Norbeck, president of the board of trustees, didn’t like that idea. Replacing the wooden sculpture with cold, hard concrete didn’t appeal to him. He didn’t like the idea of a having an industrial-looking Savior standing in front of his church.
He changed his mind after learning that the company proposing to do the casting also made the Jesus that stands in front of St. Joseph Catholic Church on Kingston Road in Springettsbury Township. Norbeck had no idea that statue was made of concrete; it looked like granite.
So if the church board approves the plan and the church is able to raise the money to have the new sculpture made, the Jesus stump will return.
Only this time, it’ll be a concrete Jesus.

Aldersgate’s landmark is another in a long list of unsung sites in York County.

See this blog’s “Unsung/Obscure sites category or search for a sampling of such sites below:
— The Little Courthouse
— Prospect Hill Cemetery
— War Mothers Memorial
— Work War II USO at former York County Academy gymnasium
— York’s Salem Square soldiers monument
— York’s Cookes House
— York’s rowhouses
— Wrightsville’s monuments
— The Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge
— Memorial trees along highways Route 30 & Susquehanna Trail.
— The Inches
— Camp Stewartstown
— The Wrightsville Bridge supports
— New York Wire Co.’s factory whistle
— Mary Ann Furnace
— York’s Hartman Building
— Hanover’s Iron Mike and The Picket
— York’s Eberts Lane
— Helen Reeves Thackston Memorial Park
— WW II defense worker housing
— Shiloh’s former town square
— Loucks one-room school
— Red Lion’s Fairmount Park
— Carlisle Avenue Market House
— York’s Fairmount Neighborhood
— Ma & Pa Railroad, Muddy Creek Forks draw fans
Delta’s slate clock and Mainline Museum
Spring Grove’s top-of-class museum
York’s Reservoir Hill
Forgotten York Valley Inn
Wallace-Cross Mill
Jefferson town square.

*Edited, 10/11/13

About Jim McClure

Editor of the York Daily Record/Sunday News, ydr.com and its many digital products. Journalism/history blogger: yorktownsquare.com. Author or co-author of seven York County, Pa., history books.

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