LOOK: Iglesia Ni Cristo’s newly bought ghost town in New England
When Johnsonville Village in East Haddam was struck by lightning in early 1970s, D’Aquila remembered the neighborhood burning.
“I was 16, I was in high school,” she told The FilAm in a phone interview. “My parents were talking about it.”
The 13 mills in Johnsonville scattered along the Connecticut River fell into disrepair. They eventually shut down, forcing workers and their families to move elsewhere to find jobs.
On learning recently that the Philippine church Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC) — meaning Church Of Christ — had purchased the 62-acre Johnsonville community in June, D’Aquila was one of the local residents who welcomed the news.
“Some of us in town are excited,” she said. “Townspeople have always wanted the place restored.”
On July 7, the Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC) announced it purchased in June the “once-thriving mill town known as Johnsonville Village” for $1.85 million.
“The 62-acre property first developed by the Neptune Twine and Cord Mill Factory in the 1800s will have an opportunity to be further restored and revived, after lightning struck the mill in 1972,” says a press statement. “It was last turned into a Victorian-era refurbished tourist attraction, but has since grown even quieter, and is now a property of the INC.”
This is only the latest in a series of massive property acquisitions by the INC in the last several years. In 2011, the church registered by Brother Felix Manalo in Manila in 1914, acquired a so-called ghost town in Scenic, South Dakota for $800,000.
The INC has more than 350 local congregations and missions in the United States, 32 of which are in the Northeastern Seaboard, according to Brother Joji Crisostomo, INC district minister for the Northeastern Seaboard or NESB. Not all of them are towns and villages; some are buildings, residences, rented halls, or vacant properties on which churches were later constructed.
“The INC is a global church comprising more than 7,000 local congregations and missions in more than 130 countries and territories worldwide with membership of nearly 130 ethnic groups and nationalities,” said Crisostomo in an email interview with The FilAm, seeming to state that the church needs to be where its members are.
On August 19, there will be a cleanup of Johnsonville by members of the INC belonging to the northeastern region, comprising Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont.
“It’s going to be whole day,” said a member. “It’s 62 acres…cannot finish in one day.”
The cleanup is in preparation for the August 26 Neighborhood Appreciation Day where INC will open Johnsonville to the community. Local officials and community leaders are invited. For the first time after being closed for so many decades, Johnsonville will be unveiled to the public.
“Restoration will be a priority,” said Crisostomo. Ultimately, the plan is to use the property for church activities and also open it to others.
“While exact plans for development have not yet been finalized, the INC is hopeful neighbors will appreciate the breath of new life being brought into the town,” he said. “INC respects the rich history that the property will always carry.”
He said the INC will preserve much of Johnsonville’s original architecture.
The church is currently led by Executive Minister Eduardo Manalo, the grandson of Felix Manalo, who is the first Executive Minister.
D’Aquila said neighboring communities are waiting to see “what’s going to happen next.”