Normandy Church near Centerville was once an opulent private residence--several residences, actually, brought by the first owners from the French city the building is named for. The brick walls and ceilings, balconies and porticos and staircases were reassembled into this one gigantic structure.


It now stands on West Alex-Bell Road, just inside I-675 and therefore technically in Dayton, but when wealthy businessman Richard H. Grant bought the land he purchased six adjoining farms, 780 acres far outside the city limits. The house was built in Medieval English Manor style between 1927 and 1930, is three stories tall with thirty-eight rooms, and cost nearly a million dollars.


Grant's attention to detail and taste for luxury gave his home some extravagant touches. Items brought from Europe include the eleven marble fireplaces, stained glass window panes, and ornate entrance gate. Hand-carved wooden paneling in the main hall and library dates from 1603 England. The house also features eight-inch-thick concrete floors, eighteen-inch outer walls, and six-inch roof topped with slate and drained by leaden pipes.


Until 1955 the place was known as Normandy Farms. That year the Ohio Miami Conference of the Evangelical United Brethren Church purchased it for just $125,000--a price tag which included a seven-room gatehouse and swimming pool, along with fifteen rolling acres of land. Two years later Richard H. Grant's funeral was held in the main chapel, a room which had once been his living room. Many people who have spent time at Normandy Church feel that he and his family never really left.


Janitors report odd noises throughout the main building, but especially in the chapel and the church school and offices on the second floor, which were the Grants' bedroom area. Odd noises are heard, and many report smelling Mrs. Grant's particular type of perfume.

The presences in the house are usually described as benign, but a story often told about the big main spiral staircase hints at a much darker side to things. One of the Grants' caretakers (or possibly a visiting female family member; no one seems to know for sure) was driven to an unsuccessful suicide attempt. She jumped over the railing at the top of the stairs and fell to the hard stone floor. Though she didn't manage to do away with herself, she seems to have been driven to make the attempt by a presence in what was then Normandy Farms.


T.M., a custodial employee at Normandy Church, writes in with the following account of his brushes with the otherworldly on the graveyard shift:

"I am a janitor that cleans there weekly. The past few times that my partner and I have been there some really strange things have happened.

"First let me say that the smell of perfume just blows by you quite often so I can say that story is true. This week we came in as normal to clean and I turned on all the lights as always and unlocked doors to get us started. While walking to the front of the church there was a table in front of the altar with a Bible and two unlit candles. I bent down to pick up a piece of papers and my partner behind me screamed. I looked up, and the candles were burning. I was stunned for a moment, then walked up to them. The flame didn't flicker or move at all. It was weird so I blew them out but I saw that they didn't smoke at all, then I saw that the wick still had a wax film over it and wasn't burnt at all. That spooked us so bad that we left right then without cleaning.

"The next day at work we had a complaint about the work not getting done at the church the night before and had to go back and finish it. So we did it not to lose our jobs. We cleaned as usual 'til we almost finished. My partner was in the women's restroom cleaning sinks and I was just outside the door cleaning the water fountain and I heard him say, 'What are you doing in there?' I looked in the door and asked who he was talking to and he said, 'You, I thought! I thought you were in the toilet peeing or something.' I laughed...but then we both heard it. It did sound like someone peeing.

"We opened the stall door. No one was there, but the toilet sounded like it was boiling and thick smoke was pouring out of it! I reached my foot over to flush it to make it stop, but it didn't, it got worse. Then they ALL started boiling and smoking! Well needless to say, we didn't finish that night either. We both left very scared and thinking we had mental problems or something."

Very scary things do seem to happen behind the doors of Normandy Church, though they're most common after dark.


The church itself, which became Normandy United Methodist Church following the April 1968 merger between the Evangelical United Brethren and the Methodists, is a national historic landmark, placed on the register in 1984. Richard Grant and his former land holdings comprise much of what is today Washington Township, which makes him an important figure in the history of Montgomery County. There's even a book about his contribution to local history: Normandy Farms: The Land and Legacy of Richard H. Grant, Sr., though no author is credited. That his manor home is still visited by his wife's ghost and his own is a widely-accepted postscript to the whole story.


You can visit Normandy UMC during regular service hours, or attend religion classes there during the week. They are an admirably progressive and open-minded sect, as churches go, with women pastors in positions of authority. Though Jenny and I actually explored the grounds of Normandy Church one spring evening in 2004, we weren't able to get past the locked doors. The exterior of the building was interesting to examine, but it can't fairly be called an investigation until we return and see if any of the Grants appear to us inside. You can contact church administrators for more information at (937)433-1636.

NormandyUMC.org


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Sources

Normandy Farms: The Land and Legacy of Richard H. Grant, Sr. Dayton: self-published, 2002.