Christian Church

Van Wert, Iowa
Christian Church
"A Century of Memories" of Van Wert, Iowa
1880 - 1980, Pp. 34 - 36

In January 1866, just after the Civil War, or about ten years after the first Methodist Church was founded, Josephus Porter held a meeting in a log cabin (the former home of Henry Branscomb) which stood approximately one mile south of town where Beardsley's Orchard now stands.

The log cabin later became too small for the congregation. In 1879, H.V. Dyer made a first visit. He left and returned in 1885 to find the membership had dropped to 36 for no accountable reason. Then Bro. Stater pastored and nine more were added to the roster. J.C. Porter occasionally preached and a few more joined the church. In September 1886, A.B. Cornell came one Sunday per month and the church barely kept alive this way. Only the faithful Sunday School saved it.

By 1888, 75 members attended the Christian Church. It was then reorganized with the following officers: Isaiah Thompson and Ebenezer Price as elders and Edmund Thompson and James Whitecar as deacons. They held these posts for many years. Bro. Price served as elder until his death in October 6, 1972. Bro. Thompson was also with the church until he died in April 9, 1912, all but the two or three years when he resided at Leslie.

When the undertaking of the erection of a new church was started, it was a big chore. Lumber was hauled by team and wagon from Ottumwa to the nearest railroad station. It was said, "Men with a will could undertake great things. Their course was just and right, their strength equal to the duty required."

Lot Four (4) in Block Two (2) of the Original Town of Van Wert was purchased on the southeast corner of Main Street, behind where the Post Office now stands.

Rev. Porter was still pastor when the church was built and continued to commute from Leon until the new building was done. He was asked to preach the dedication ceremony for the new church.

For ten to twelve years, rough benches served as seats. Bro. Porter continued to preach most of the time with Springer Harlan and his son or nephew, Reuben Harlan, preaching some as well. In 1897, the first church building was moved and rebuilt south of where the brick church remains now stand, (The Duane Otto residence). In 1905, the church was refurnished with new seats, a pulpit set, and a light plant. Later the building was again moved and became the home of C.A. Walker. Mr. and Mrs. George South owned the property for a time, but it is now the home of Mr. and Mrs. Terry Hainline and daughter, Jody.

Annual protracted meetings were held at the church. The following list of brethren has been compiled:
Frank Lemon Bro. Shepherd Bro. Hopkins
1888-1889 1890 1892
H.H. Guy and Edgar Price R.W. Caster Bro. Garwick
1892-1894 about three years & other ministers
Bro. Crewdin J.B. Lemon, Bro. Bateman, Bro. Simpson
1900 C.F. Ward 1904 1906
E. Youtz J.H. Ragan Bro. Croyle
1904 1906 & 1910 4 months in 1910
Bro. Preston Edwin Priest George E. Moore
9 months in 1910-1911 1st time minister
Feb. to Sept. 1912
Clinton Thomas
November 1912-April 1913
In December 1909, the young people of the church put on a Home Talent Play. "The Deacon" was under the direction of J.M. Davis and Roy Hawkins. Those who took part in the play were Raymond Storey, Chas. Allen, Gary Saylor, Loran Thompson, Orlan Hanks, Cliff Johnson, John Smith, Ray Lantz, Will Fuller, Arta Smith, Edith Lantz, Jesse Holt and Inez Seymour.

On May 28, 1914, a house was torn down and the makings of the present church was begun with Bro. A.B. Cornell assisting. It took six days for members and other workers to dig the basement. On June 10, 1914, the contractors began their work. After a delay of ten days caused by slow delivery of materials, the cornerstone was laid July 15, 1914. Later on November 29, 1914, the church was opened free of debt at the cost of $16,000. J.V. Coombs of Danville, Illinois, gave the dedication. A communion table was then donated by the pastor and his wife, Rev. and Mrs. A.B. Cornell.
The Christian Church held some of the largest Bible Schools in the history of the community. The largest on record was held August 28, 1921 when 621 were present. Officers of the Bible School were:
Superintendent - A.E. Price Secretary - Violet Bruner
Treasurer - Gilbert Edge Chorister - Baalis Halstead
Asst. Superintendent - E.B. Saylor Asst. Secretary - Mrs. Harold Hanks
Pianist - Mrs. Ray Easter
The ladies aid of the church was organized in October of 1911 as the Kings Daughters. The following officers served: president, Mrs. J.M. Halstead; vice-president, Mrs. Fred Hall; secretary, Mrs. Elsie Saylor; and treasurer, Mrs. Porter.
 On May 15, 1943, a bad storm hit the church and caused considerable damage. Mattie Halstead, a long time Sunday School superintendent and teacher, was secretary of the Kings Daughters at the time of the storm and wrote the following in the record book:

Wed. May 12, 1943 - "Kings Daughters met at the church for their annual Guest Day. There were 75 ladies present."

Next entry -- "Since disaster has overtaken us in the demolishment of our beautiful church, although our heads are figuratively bloody, they are not bowed in defeat. Steps have been taken to restore the building, if not to its priestly beauty, at least something approaching it. In the meantime, work of the church is going forward and we pray our misfortune may prove a blessing in disguise. It behooves each of us to don her working clothes and 'shake a leg' most vigorously."

The next services were held for the Christmas Program, December 24, 1943 after much rebuilding.

The younger ladies of the church had a club of their own, known as the Triangle Club. Recollections of former members tell us that once in a while the Triangle Club had parties and the members brought their boyfriends. A favorite refreshment at these parties was made when all the girls brought either canned or fresh fruit. This was combined together in a large dishpan and served with cookies. They once had a Halloween party at the schoolhouse and had to enter through the coal chute since there was no other entrance to the building unlocked and readily available.

Rev. Tom Helmick and wife, Nancy, were the last pastors. They had two children, Kelly and Tom, Jr.

On April 13, 1969, the last service of the church was held and the doors were closed due to the lack of attendance.

After the church closed, all records were turned over to the State Board. All memberships are on record at the state office.

They won't be sent to an individual, but if a member wishes to move his or her membership to another church, they can have the church write to the State Board and request membership transfer. Otherwise, they'll stay on the original record.

On March 12, 1975, some former members met at the Methodist Church basement for an enjoyable evening and a potluck supper.
Sunday School class of the late 1920's or early 1930's.
Mrs. Thompson, Mrs. Templar, Mrs. Traupel, Mrs. Clanton, Mrs. McMurtrey, Mrs. Moran, Mrs. George Johnson, Mrs. Jane Trisler, Mrs. Flora Price, Mrs. Peckham, Mrs. Millie Fry, Mrs. Lenora Hedrich, Mrs. Margaret Gill, Mrs. Jennie Oliver, Jessie Fisher, Dora Barnett, Mollie Fry, Mrs. Githens (not pictured.)
Van Wert Christian Church, 1910
Contribution courtesy of Larry McElwee, Dodge City, Kansas,
Church Index * Decatur County IAGenWeb