Keys to heritage survival

The 143-year-old Keysborough Methodist Church, right, behind perimeter fencing. 205455_01 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Greater Dandenong’s 2020 citizen-of-the-year and historian Chris Keys has urged for Keysborough’s oldest public building to be saved from ruin.

The president of Dandenong and District Historical Society has a long family connection to the Keysborough Methodist Church which stands in disuse and disrepair.

“How many public buildings in Keysborough are built before 1900?

“We have a number of private homes build before 1900, diligently restored and maintained but only one public building and it is being left to fall down.”

Built in 1877, the building now owned by the Uniting Church is preceded only by Keysborough State School (1874).

However the latter is in private hands and hidden within a housing development.

“How can the oldest and only public building in Keysborough be left to just fall down and be exterminated from our city?” Ms Keys says

“We have a number of private homes build before 1900, diligently restored and maintained but only one public building and it is being left to fall down.

“I praise the (Greater Dandenong) council for their commitment to history in the city and ask them to help once again in preserving our history.”

Ms Keys said the church established by pioneers including her ancestors helped “bond the little settlement into a tightly knit community”.

It was designed by renowned architect John Beswicke – who was also son of Ms Keys’ great great aunt Elizabeth Keys.

Before the church was built, George and Margaret Keys held Wesleyan services at their home from 1854.

A weatherboard church was then built on land donated by her great great grandfather Isaac Keys.

In 1876, Thomas Keys, John Keys, William Keys, James McMahen, John McMullen, Joseph Foster, Charles Parris, William and Thomas Corrigan, Caine Thorne and Thomas Seager were elected as trustees to “oversee the building we see today rotting”.

In its construction, John Smith offered to “burn the bricks at 24/- per 1000”, and John Keys “cut and carted the wood for the firing”, Ms Keys said.

The new church was opened with “great excitement in the community” in April 1877.

Of its £617 cost, £200 was subscribed locally, £100 obtained free of interest from the Church Building Fund, and £300 from a private lender, Ms Keys says.

It featured a gabled entry porch, and windows pointed in a Gothic Revival style with splayed edges.

The windows’ coloured glazing were “very significant” history, including stained glass memorials to John, William and Thomas Keys and their families.

Greater Dandenong-wide, the church is the fifth-oldest surviving structure.

Before it are St James Anglican Church, Dandenong (1864), Laurel Lodge (1869), Dandenong Park (1873) and Keysborough State School.

The Keysborough Methodist Church is listed as significant in Greater Dandenong’s heritage study.

However the council has conceded it is effectively powerless to compel the Uniting Church to preserve the building.

Greater Dandenong Council has written to the Uniting Church offering to help preserve the heritage building.

City planning director Jody Bosman said the council and Uniting Church were in “ongoing discussions regarding options to retain the church building”.

The Uniting Church did not respond to the Star Journal.


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