Franklin Township Churches
Reminiscing in Franklin Township and Big Hollow
Harold Linder
edited by
Bryan Pierce and
Pam Miller
transcribed by
Teresa Kesterke

Old Stone Church

     Old Stone Church was the first organized church in Franklin Township and one of the first in Des Moines County. It is located three miles west of Sperry in Franklin Township.
     February 8, 1840 at the home of Christian Clymer, a meeting was held by a group of local pioneers and it was decided to organize a church to be known as the Regular Baptist Church called West Liberty.
In September, 1844, plans were made to build a meeting house on the plot of ground where a cemetery had been started. Christian and Elizabeth Clymer transferred one acre of ground in 1846 for $5. This land came from the farm now owned by Mrs. Arthur McCarty. At the same time, Nancy Clymer deeded one acre of ground for $5. This land was from the farm now owned by Lillian Schulte. James L. Gilmore and John Burkhart were the trustees at the time of the transaction.
     The church was completed and services began in 1847. It was of the Baptist denomination known as the Separate or Hardshell Baptists. James L. Gilmore was the first preacher. Thus organized religion was brought to the wilderness.
The building of the church was under the direction of James L. Gilmore who was also chosen moderator. The construction of the church was a slow process. It was built with volunteer labor and everything was done by hand. The materials were moved with horses and oxen. It took many trips to the quarry for the stone which was quarried southwest of where the church now stands. The quarry was on land owned by Jefferson Orr at the time when the church was being built. The old quarry is located on land now owned by Frances Meller and on the east end of the Des Moines County Big Hollow area.
     The lime for the mortar was processed at the old lime kiln down Sawmill Creek from the quarry. It took loads of sand and mortar for the project.
     Some of the special stones were quarried at Rocky Ford creek near Pleasant Grove, but most of the stone came from the Orr quarry nearby.
     Building the church was a labor of love and sacrifice by the members as many were farmers who were also involved in clearing land and building their own homes. It took rugged individuals to carve an existence out of the wilderness.
     James L. Gilmore ministered to the congregation of Old Stone Church until shortly before he died. He had moved to Kentucky a few months before his death in 1865. He was brought back and laid beside his wife Sarah in their lot about 60 feet southwest of the church. His work and Christian influence left a permanent record in the history of Old Stone Church.
     There is no record other than visiting moderators who took charge from October 1865 to 1870. On May 7, 1870 Elijah Ping was ordained to the gospel ministry and he became the minster or moderator, as they were called, for many years until his death on October 1, 1884. He is also buried in the cemetery there in the family lot.
Following 1884, the church was again served by visiting moderators. The records are vague during this period as to whether regular services were held there. It is indicated that at times other churches held services there.
During the time between 1895 to 1905, permission was given to the Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Pleasant Grove to hold services there. Reverend Stewart, Reverend Johnson and Reverend Collins had charge of the services during their pastorship there for the Pleasant Grove Church.
     In October 1909, B.L. Nay presented his letter from Litchfield Church and his wife from Harmony Church and they were received into the Regular Baptist Church. In April 1910, Elder B.L. Nay was called to the pastorship of the church, which he accepted. He was the last minister to serve the Regular Baptist Church.
     In 1894 the original West Liberty Cemetery Association was organized. The Baptists turned the cemetery over to them with the reservation of 15 feet of ground to the west, 10 feet to the north, 30 feet to the south and 45 feet to the east, so they could hold basket dinners there. It was customary then to take basket dinners to church and hold both morning and afternoon services. This also gave the members and friends a chance to visit.
Those taking part in forming the association were F.W. Line, J.M. Sperry, C.C. Woolf, J.B. Kline, H.H. Riepe, L.F. Jones, Wm. Granaman, Lou Smith, Wm Jackson, G.A. Lloyd, W.H. Thompson, Martha Ibbotson, T.W. Kline, Job Todd, and Zic Todd. A permanent fund was started at this time for the upkeep of the cemetery for the years to come.
On September 13, 1919, the Baptists sold the church to the Cemetery Association for the sum of $25. The Board at this time was Henry Riepe, President; Ed Stucke, Vice President; Chas. Kopp, Secretary; F.H. Riepe, Treasurer, and John Archer and Levi Nihart, trustees.
     There are some in the community who still remember those who served on the cemetery board at that time.
There are also descendants of the association officers in this area, and there are a few who can trace their genealogy back to the original members of Regular Baptist Church. They gave great-great-great-grandparents and great-great aunts and uncles who were also involved in the church and cemetery association.
     The church is one of the few buildings left standing that was built during this period. Old Stone Church is a monument of the past history of the area. The church and cemetery are situated in a rustic setting; they are well maintained with perpetual care.

Methodist Churches

The Methodist Episcopal church at Sperry built in 1886. It was the fourth Methodist church to be built in Franklin Township. The Sperry church was dedicated Sunday, October 17, 1886.
This is the second building after an extensive remodeling under the leadership of Reverend S. P. Trostle, in 1916.

Sperry Methodist Episcopal church in 1985. Reverend Gene Gardiner was the minister at the date of this publication.
Baptism in the creek many years ago. Quite a congregation present for the event.

     The Methodists in Franklin Township were represented by the greatest number of church buildings. Perhaps the Methodists had the most members but the Baptists and Catholics soon became quite numerous as well.
The first recorded Methodist services were held in a log cabin in 1836 by Daniel G. Cartwright. The first class leader was Wiley Ballard. Since the circuit riding preachers were not able to attend services regularly, the early churches would have a class leader who would hold services when the circuit preacher was not there to preach. It took a rugged individual to travel by horseback from church to church to deliver regular sermons. The circuit riders would alternate services with the different congregations. Sometimes they would preach only once a month at each church.
    In 1844 a hewed log chapel was built at Franklin Mills, some distance back from Telegraph Road. It served until 1866 when a new building, which was called Ballard Chapel, was erected nearer to the road. It was in use until the 1930’s when it was torn down.
     The first quarterly conference, which included Mediapolis, Dodgeville, Linn Grove and Franklin Mills, was held in Mediapolis. The second quarterly conference of the Methodist’s circuit was held at Franklin Mills Church, January 12, 1878.
     Daniel G. Cartwright was the circuit riding preacher at the time. He exhorted at Franklin Mills, Mediapolis, Linn Grove and Dodgeville. He was one of the early leaders in the Methodist Church in Franklin Township. His son, William H. Cartwright, was active in the community affairs in Mediapolis. He gave the land there for the park named in his honor.
     The first Methodist Church services in the Dodgeville area were held in the home of Tillman Smith, one of the early settlers with his home located west of Dodgeville, until the church was organized at Dodgeville. Thomas Kirkpatrick was the first preacher to preach at Dodgeville in 1849. The first Methodist Church building there was built in 1856 on Lot 3 in Block 18 on the south side of Dodgeville Road near Main Street. It served the society for many years. The first class leader at Dodgeville was Henry Kynette.
The third quarterly conference of the Mediapolis, Linn Grove, Dodgeville and Franklin Mills circuit was held at Dodgeville, April 3, 1878 and the fourth was again held at Mediapolis June 15, 1878.
     At the 38th session of the Iowa Conference held at Knoxville, Iowa in September, 1881, Mediapolis was made a station. At that time Sperry, Franklin Mills, Dodgeville and Tamatown constituted a circuit known as the Sperry Circuit. At this time Michael See of Mediapolis was named to the Sperry Circuit. One thing remembered by people who heard Michael See was his powerful voice. He served the Circuit for several years.
     According to the records available when the Mediapolis, Linn Grove, Dodgeville and Franklin Mills Circuit was constituted, it consisted of 120 members in the four churches.
     For a time there were four active Methodist Churches in Franklin Township which included Franklin Mills, Dodgeville, Kline later called Bethel, and Sperry, which is still holding services. Methodist services were first held at Franklin Mills under the labors of Daniel G. Cartwright.
     Dodgeville became a preaching place in 1849 under Thomas Kirkpatrick. Kline Church in the southwest part of the township was organized in 1881.
     The first services at Sperry were held at the Sperry Hall until 1886. In 1882, J.W. Lewis was appointed to Sperry and in 1883, J.E. Rutledge served. The new Sperry Methodist Episcopal Church building was dedicated Sunday, October 17, 1886. T.S. Pool was pastor of the church at that time. Several ministers have served the Sperry Methodist Church down through the years.
     The building has been remodeled at various times. The two most extensive were in 1916 under the leadership of Reverend S.P. Trostle. Then again in 1963, under the leadership of Rev. Eldon Haworth, the church was remodeled. This was an extensive remodeling project. The church was raised and the basement was made into a meeting area and with a kitchen facility to serve meals to large groups.
     Sperry Methodist Church is the only Methodist Church left in Franklin Township. They now share a minister with Mediapolis Methodist Church. Sperry Methodist and St. Mary’s Catholic at Dodgeville are the only two churches left in the township where once there was a total of nine churches.
     Sperry Methodist Church still has an active membership. The highlight of the year is the smorgasbord supper held in October of each year.

St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church

Confirmation class in 1904. Back row: Wm. McCarty, Chester Dugan, Earl Slaven, Father A. Schoeningh, Luke Slater, Earl Slater. Front Row: Grace Sutcliffe, Rose McLaughlin, Mary McLaughlin, and Augusta Wiegard.
St. Mary's church with the twin spires before it was damaged by fire in 1930. The steeples were not replaced when the church was rebuilt and the towers finished with stone. Organized in 1850, St. Mary's is the oldest church in Franklin Township now holding services.

St. Mary's in 1985. The present building was built in 1903, dedicated in 1904, severely damaged by fire in 1930 and rebuilt as it stands today—the most outstanding stonework in Franklin Township.

     In the early settlement days of Franklin Township, prior to 1850, the first Catholic Church services were held in a log building southeast of Dodgeville. And again it was thought to be located east of Sperry.
     There is also the possibility that it was near Burkharts Point or Jacksonville which was the first mail station in the township before Dodgeville was established. This was east of Dodgeville and south of Sperry.
     Another possibility is that the services were held in different homes until the first brick church was built in the 1850’s. Regardless, those who were dedicated to their faith held workshop services in spite of their inconveniences. Early records state that people would travel quite a distance to be present for the Holy Sacraments. They would even walk to get there, often in times of inclement weather. Before a church was established, Priests from Burlington would ride out on horseback, braving the elements – snow and cold in winter, mud much of the spring and fall, and the heat in summer – to serve the faithful. They were rugged men determined to carry on their missions.
     In 1850, the Catholics in the Dodgeville area decided to build a church in Dodgeville. The site selected was in Block 13 on Lot 7 and 8 in Dodgeville on Calhoun Street now Dodgeville Road. The church was built of brick standing just east of the present building on the site where the rectory now stands.
     Services were conducted by priests who came out of Burlington. In 1896, Father Schoeningh came to West Burlington. He spent a good deal of his time in the country upbuilding the country parishes and serving as pastor at Dodgeville for several years.
     It was then decided to remodel the brick church in 1896. They celebrated the 50th year of services in it in 1900.
Having outgrown the old brick church, in 1901 it was voted to build a new church west of the brick church. Father Schoeningh was quite involved in the work for the new church.
     Theodore Beckman Jr. , Frank Vorwerk, Frank McDonald and Daniel McCallen were appointed to serve on the building committee. Frank Vorwerk was designated chairman. John O’Farrell donated stone for the basement and some of the members started hauling stone from the O’Farrell quarry east of Franklin Mills (now the Robert Reif farm) and others were employed digging the basement.

Bishop Henry Rohlman, head of the southeast Iowa Diocese, visiting at St. Mary's. Late 1920s, early 1930s.
St. Mary's after the fire in 1930.

     Very little construction was done in the fall of 1901 due to cold weather. The work was continued the next year. It took a considerable amount of stone. The old Buhrmaster mill was torn down in 1903, it had a lot of stone in it and the stone was donated and hauled to St. Mary’s Church.
     The corner stone was laid in 1904 for the new St. Mary’s Church at Dodgeville. The cornerstone contained the mysterious inscription “Deo Ignoto”, which puzzled many a clerical critic who came to admire the new stone edifice. Translated from Latin, the inscription means “To The Unknown God”. St. Mary’s Church was an unique piece of architecture as it was adorned with two lofty spires or twin steeples as they are usually called.
     The first high mass was held in the new church on December 10, 1905. Father Schoeningh officiated for the first mass and other visiting priests also participated in the dedication. In 1914, Father Schoeningh left West Burlington after serving there for 18 years and also Dodgeville and Kingston at the same time. Many of his eighteen years were spent without the convenience of good roads or an automobile. Many of his trips were made by horseback and at times under adverse conditions.
     Father Schoeningh was replaced by Rev. John Scherf who served 11 months and was again transferred, and then Rev. N.J. Peiffer was appointed, who was also a zealous priest.
     While Father Peiffer was serving at St. Mary’s in Dodgeville in 1918 it was decided to build a school where the old brick church stood. The brick church was torn down and a new two story school building was built which operated until 1930. The top floor served as a community hall and the lower section was used for class rooms. It was designed to be used for a high school which didn’t materialize. It did serve as a dance hall for the young folks and older ones too. The hall was used some after the school closed.
     After Father Peiffer left Father Lawler was appointed in 1921. It was then decided to build a rectory and Father Lawler was the first resident priest at St. Mary’s in Dodgeville. He also had charge of the Kingston Parish.
In 1954 it was decided to remodel the school into the new rectory. The top story was taken off and the building was made into a beautiful ranch style home. The old rectory was acquired by the Leonard Beckman family who moved it east a few hundred feet and remodeled it. James Beckman now resides there.
     Through the years St. Mary’s Church has managed to maintain an active congregation in a rural area while other churches have failed to survive.

Kline (Bethel) Church
(German Methodist Episcopal)

     Kline Church, or Bethel as it was later known, was organized in 1881 by J. M. Kopp. The church building was located in Section 28 in the southwest corner of Franklin Township 2½ miles south and 2¾ miles west of Sperry. The church was in the northwest corner of the Kopp farm located in the northeast ¼ of Section 28. The farm is now owned by the Joseph Eberhardt family.
     John Martin Kopp became an active worker in the Methodist faith, and was instrumental in organizing Kline Church, later Bethel. The Kopp family came to America in 1846. John Martin Kopp was 10 years old at the time. The father, mother and seven children settled near West Bend, Wisconsin about 40 miles from Milwaukee. John and an older brother Frederick went to work in the woods. An older sister Katherine went to work in Milwaukee. Perhaps his zeal for preaching the gospel can be attributed to his sister who exerted her influence upon him and his brother Frederick while they were working at the lumber camp some 30 miles distant. After she heard a missionary revivalist who had arrived in Milwaukee speak in their own German language, she was so enthused that she thought the brothers should hear him. The sister then decided to walk the 30 miles to inform her two brothers about the wonderful revivalist. At first the brothers thought their sister somewhat demented, which accounted for her wild enthusiasm and interest that inspired her to walk 30 miles to tell them about it.
They decided out of curiosity to find out more about why the sister should have been so urgently concerned in their hearing the very sincere speaker in their own language.
     They walked back to Milwaukee, the 30 miles, with the sister. The result was a profound unexplainable conviction and a genuine conversion and commitment to Jesus Christ after they heard the revivalist.
     Following the death of their mother, the brothers headed west. Frederick went to St. Paul, Minnesota and John Martin Kopp came to Burlington Iowa. The daughter remained in Wisconsin. Frederick soon became active in the German Methodist Episcopal Church. Frederick was an organizer and builder of churches. John Martin Kopp came to Burlington; here he met and married Mary Wagner who lived in the Kline vicinity. He then settled on a farm near the Wagner home.
     John Martin Kopp, like his brother in Minnesota, became an active worker for and in the church in Des Moines County. After 6 months probation for membership in the German Methodist Episcopal Church, he was also granted a Local Minister’s license to exhort, to form, and to instruct new classes for membership in the church.
     John Martin Kopp was instrumental with the help of a Mr. Henry Heuer Sr., a mason, in organizing and building the Stone Methodist Church on Washington Street in Burlington. This church became the center of German Methodism between St. Louis and St. Paul, Minnesota up and down the Mississippi River.
     John Martin Kopp was also involved in the German College in Mt. Pleasant. In the German College the language was German while Iowa Wesleyan College taught in English.
     Soon after the Stone Church on Washington Street was built, Mr. Kopp had the inspiration for a church house in the country. He donated one acre of ground in the northwest corner of the Kopp farm. The land was granted by deed to the St. Louis German Conference – the church property, building, and land with the stipulation that it would remain in their trust as long as church services were held in the German language. When the services in German ceased, the land would revert to the original owner. Some of the lumber used in the church was also cut from the Kopp timber. The church was named after the Kline place on the corner, one half mile north, where the mail was delivered once a week by horseback from Burlington. Mary Kopp, John’s wife, was the postmistress at that time and the post office was at the Kopp home.
     Kline Church did eventually use the English language after John Martin Kopp and his wife retired to Kansas City. Charles Kopp, a son, took over the duties at the church. It is not clear who took over the preaching there following John Martin Kopp.
     Oscar J. Fix and Lulu Kopp, a grand daughter of John M Kopp, were married at Kline Church and he then served as pastor there for a while. This was after 1907. There were several resident pastors who lived in a home around ¾ of a mile west of Kline. One was a Rev. Knauhaus; when and how long he preached is quite vague.
There was an interesting incident that took place one Sunday morning. Mr. Kopp, keeper of the keys, decreed that he wouldn’t open the church until the district conferences agreed to put a preacher right there in Franklin Township rather than sending someone from the “sin city” of West Burlington.
     It was Kopp land the church was on; he was custodian and repairman, and he provided the wood for fuel to warm the church. The congregation and the preacher stood there locked out on Sunday morning. Prayers were said, some hymns were sung, they shook their heads and then they slunk home.
     Mr. Kopp was in control, not God, on that day. Whether he won or lost is uncertain. Somehow the differences were resolved and Kline continued. It was eventually associated with West Burlington for a while and the name Kline was changed to Bethel, then later it shared pastors with Sperry Methodist.
     Carl Stiefel, now retired in Burlington, served as pastor there before the church was closed in the 1940’s.
Like many rural churches faced with the loss of members and support, Bethel finally was disbanded and the church building sold. Hard surfaced roads made access to the larger town churches more attractive to the younger folks, and Bethel just faded away.

Pisgah Baptist Church

     The Pisgah Baptist Church in Franklin Township was the third Baptist Church organized in Iowa. The first services organizing Pisgah were held in a log cabin in 1839 at a meeting place west of Burlington. The members of the congregation sat on logs. There were 15 dedicated people in the original congregation when it was decided to organize a church.
     Pisgah was a member of the Iowa Baptist Association later called the Des Moines County Association. Pisgah should not be confused with the Old Stone Church which was of a different circuit or branch of the Baptists; they were called Hard Shell or Separate Baptists.
     In the 1850’s it was decided to build a church in the area of the cross road which later became Sperry Road and Highway 61. According to early records which are quite vague, there was a log building at the northwest corner of the crossroad where the John Deere sales yard is now. The log building was originally used as a school house and possibly used as a temporary meeting place for the Pisgah congregation.
It seems strange that two Baptist congregations would organize so close together, but in the early settlements it was not unusual for settlers to come in groups of the same religious faith and settle in the same area. They naturally wanted to hold worship services in their own faith.
     Pisgah Baptist Church was organized July 10, 1855 and when the record was made John Penny, Alvin Todd, M.H. Jackson, John T. Rodgers, John Bush, J. Scremore, Eben Hill and Robert Turner were name organizers. It was agreed to build the church on the Telegraph or Wapello Road (now Highway 61) 40 rods north of the west side of the road.
The meeting house was 45 by 35 feet with 14 foot posts, and was built of bricks. One of the members, John Bush, burned 60,000 bricks for the house of worship. John Hixon built the building and put on a cupola for the sum of $2,100.00. On the Lords Day, August 17, 1856, Isaak Leonard preached in the new house of worship. The subject was “Delight in God’s House”.
     The next spring lightning struck the building causing about $100.00 worth of damage. A debt of $800.00 remained and interest of 10 to 15%. This debt was paid off about 1860.
     After a number of ministers had served it was then decided to build a new house of worship in the village of Sperry.
Four lots were purchased from William Ping and the new house of worship was built by John Downer. It was dedicated September 11, 1887 by Rev. G.J. Johnson of Burlington. The old meeting house was sold to a Mr. Zion for $125.00, the church keeping the furniture and seats which were placed in the new church building in Sperry. The congregation was free of debt. On April 28, 1888 a bell costing $90.00 was hung in the bell tower. In 1899 a parsonage was built near the church.
     After serving the community faithfully for many years and the service of a number of minsters the congregation in the fall of 1924, with a resident membership of 20, decided to disband. A sale of the church building and lots and property was held. The bell was shipped to J.L. Pickett at Morning Side Church, Sioux City, Iowa. The church is gone but the original house that was the parsonage still stands and is now occupied by the Clyde Erickson family.
The church records show that there were 435 different names on the membership roll during the 85 years that the church was in service.
     Pisgah filled a place of need in its day and did a good work; and now being a memory of the past, its influence goes on and on and many can say, “Blessed be the name of Pisgah.”
(Some of the information was supplied from the Des Moines County History of 1889 and folks in the Sperry community.)

Salem Lutheran Church

     Salem Lutheran Church was the only Lutheran Church in Franklin Township. It was located in the southwest corner of the township. The church had a picturesque setting on the top of a hill overlooking the Flint Creek valley.
The church was German Lutheran as there was quite a number of settlers of German descent in the surrounding area. In later years there were others as well.
     The church served the faithful pioneers and their descendants for many years. Down through the years several improvements were added to the building. In 1920 a bell tower was added. The sound of the bell could be heard throughout the Flint Creek valley and the surrounding countryside.
In 1942 an annex was built onto the rear to better accommodate the congregation. Then in 1957 the basement was remodeled to take care of the expansion and growth. A modern entrance was also built at this time.
In 1966 due to the loss of older members and younger ones leaving the area, Salem voted to disband. The building was sold and torn down. Since both churches were served by the same Pastor, the Prairie Grove Grace Lutheran Church and Salem Lutheran voted to merge.
     In 1969 the two churches were reorganized under the name of Peace Lutheran Church of Prairie Grove. The beautiful stained glass windows were taken to Peace Lutheran Church where they serve as a pleasant reminder of Old Salem Church.
     Salem Lutheran served the members and community well for many years. Changing times brought to an end to one of Franklin Township’s houses of worship. Memories are all that are left of the once active congregation.
There is a well maintained cemetery on the grounds where Salem Church once stood.


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