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Travel 2013: Church the pride of Damar





DAMAR -- Even after a long day on the job, Damar Mayor Brian Newell isn't at all in a hurry to stop talking about the beauty of the community's St. Joseph Catholic Church.

In fact, he's anxious for people to stop by and take a look.

The doors, he said, are always open during daylight hours, and bus tours are especially welcome, although he admits church members would like a little notice so they can get a tour guide on the scene.

But as the smallest community in Rooks County, and perhaps the most remote, on the western edge, Newell is aware there's a concerted effort to keep travelers on the main roads that run through the eastern part of the county.

Described as Romanesque in design, the limestone church is the hallmark of a community settled by French-Canadians. It was a finalist in the 8 Wonders of Kansas Architecture category and is one of the 8 Wonders of Rooks County.

It is on both the national and state registers of historic places.

First settled in the latter half of the 1880s, the first Mass was said in 1887 in the home of Ezra St. Peter, who donated 3 acres for a cemetery and 2 acres for a church.

The town first was known as St. Petersville even though its post office was 2 miles away and named Ainsworth.

When the railroad arrived, the town's frame church was moved to the donated land. The post office moved as well.

That's when the new town became known as Damar.

By 1912, the parish had outgrown its church, and Peter Simoneau donated 5 acres for a new site.

F.K. Rothenberger, Osborne, was chosen as the stone mason, with limestone coming from the Waldo area.

The church was completed in stages due to difficult economic times, a church history brochure put together by parishioners states.

"Though the towers were completed by December 1913, it was not plastered until 1917 in preparation for the first Mass to be celebrated in the new church," it states.

All of the labor to build the church came from its members.

The years had taken a toll, however, and with nearly $200,000 in grants and money from the parish, important repairs were made in 2006 and 2007. Repairs and improvements also had been made in the 1940s and 1950s.

Mass is celebrated at 9:30 a.m. every Wednesday morning and at 9 a.m. Sundays.

To schedule a bus tour, call (785) 839-4343.