With Church In New Hands, Jacksonville Aims To Finally Move Past Gas Spill

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BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) – In December, we brought you the story of a historic church in Jacksonville, in the Town of Ulysses in Tompkins County.

Gabe Altieri/WSKG

Outside of church taken last fall when it was still for sale.

The church was built in 1827 and served several functions until the 1970s when a spill from a Mobil gas station polluted the surrounding area and left it unlivable.

The company bought the church and other properties, but did little by way of upkeep. Both the church and Jacksonville have seen decades of decline since.

“ExxonMobil did their best to just kill us,” resident Diane Hillman said last fall.

“This was a thriving community years ago,” said Nancy Dean, a former Ulysses Town Historian. “We were more than just a wide spot in the road.”

Both Hillman and Dean said last fall they hoped revitalizing the church could mean revitalizing the area. The Town of Ulysses bought the church last year.

The town wanted to sell it to someone who would uphold its historic integrity and found that in Cameron Neuhoff.

“At first I was like, ‘well, that’s a lot of work’,” Neuhoff said.

It didn’t take long for Neuhoff to gain an appreciation for the church. He’s a young guy from Tennessee who went to Cornell.

Neuhoff was looking for somewhere to live while he gets his architecture license.

“Taking this old building, honoring its history but really bringing it into a new era where it’s still appreciated,” he said.

He said he can see turning part of the building into a residential space while another part might be something like a cafe.

For Nancy Zahler, member of the Ulysses town board, handing over the keys to Neuhoff was a relief. She feels the town can finally move past that gas spill.

“Whatever direction this building is going to take under Cameron’s ownership, I think, will have a knock on effect to get other people interested. ‘What’s going on there? Hey, that’s a cool place’,” Zahler said.

And maybe there can be a bit of a rebirth in a community that had been decimated by an environmental disaster.

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