The story behind St. Haralambos Greek Orthodox Church in Canton, Ohio is a powerful and (literally) moving example of the unity and commitment that bind the Greek American community.
Short listed as one of the 10 treasures in Stark County, the church was moved four miles through the center of Canton all the way to Harvard NW in 1958. It took several trucks and 60 wheels of steel beams to pull the church to its new home.
The actual move of the church, which was split in half, took 26 days. The first half took 18 days to move. The second half took just eight days. The entire project, which also featured a new 48-foot addition, took 10 months to complete.
Traffic stopped and people gathered on the side of the road to witness the amazing sight of the church inching its way to a 10-acre plot of land the congregation had purchased seven years prior to the move.
The relocation project of St Haralambos Church is undeniably the most tangible display of strength and inspiration among the first Greek Americans of Canton, a city in northeastern Ohio.
Their story starts in the early 1900s. The very first Greek immigrant to settle in Canton was a tailor named George Loukas who arrived in 1898. Two years later 50 Greeks had arrived. It wasn’t long before the fast-growing Greek immigrant community of Canton started thinking about building their own church.
In 1914, they purchased an empty lot at 6th Street and Walnut South. They took out a mortgage, raised some $60,000 and started building in 1917. Two years later they finished the job.
The parishioners named the church after St. Haralambos — the first saint name they drew from a hat. The church became the center of worship, education and social activities.
According to William Samonides and his wife Regine, authors of the book titled “Greeks of Stark County,” St. Haralambos was located downtown where the first Greek immigrants settled and were employed as waiters, dishwashers and bootblacks until they could find better-paying jobs or establish their own businesses.
The congregation flourished. By 1950, they had completely outgrown the church and parishioners started thinking seriously about expansion.
In 1951, they purchased 10 acres of land at 25th and Harvard for $22,500. Their initial idea was to one day build a new, bigger church. But when they found out the project could cost much as $750,000, all plans were put on hold.
It wasn’t until 1957 that the board once again started talking about expansion. But there was nothing available in the market at the time. And while building a new church would have been the simplest solution, it was too expensive. The lowest bid to build was $403,000. And no one really wanted to leave the original church behind.
This is why they started to explore the incredible possibility of actually taking the church with them to the 10-acre property they owned at 25th and Harvard.
Moving the church about four miles across town, restoring its two towers and adding a new hall to seat 500 parishioners cost $200,000 — half of what a completely new construction would have cost.
Members of the congregation managed to raise approximately $100,000 going door-to-door and organizing fundraising teas and luncheons. After borrowing the rest of the money from the bank, they started planning for one of the biggest moves in Canton’s history.
They turned to Mural and Son, a company in Cleveland that had a reputation of moving large structures. The company officially took over the church on April 16, 1958 when workmen split the building in half.
They removed precious stained glass windows, the heavy slate roof and the 16-foot section of the church. They covered each exposed side with wood and tar paper. The furniture that was secured to the floor was left inside the church.
Today, St. Haralambos Church is one of more than 10 Greek Orthodox parishes in Ohio while Canton is home to nearly 2,000 members.
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