|"Churches & Cemeteries of Huron Township"
from Country Living 1835-1976 Huron Township
Compiled by Mrs. B. Frank Hedges, B. Frank Hedges, Ray Creelman & Jas. Duncan
Transcribed by Karen McAtlin, 6 September 2012
Edited by Richard Harrison, 10 September 2012
Huron Township has had 3 churches: Swedish Lutheran at Amityville—1868, Huron Methodist Episcopal Church (The Hawkeye Church)—1890, Apostolic Christian Church—1904.
The first church erected in 1872, one half mile east of Amity school, came from the need of a place to worship and the work of willing hands. Their forefathers migrated from Sweden to Huron Township in and around 1852. They were deeply religious and met in homes and the Amity school to conduct their worship services. Their passports to this country also called for their church membership papers. In 1868, Rev. B. M. Holland, or Haland, of Burlington, Iowa assisted with the organization of this first congregation known as the Swedish Evangelical Church of Amityville. Later this was changed to Emmanuel Evangelical Church. A constitution was adopted Dec. 26, 1868, with forty charter members, and the charter was signed in the Amity school house. Martin Nelson and Alexander Davis were among the first members. In 1869 it was decided to affiliate with the Augustana Synod. In 1870 the building of the first church was proposed and in August, of 1872, it was completed. Much time, labor and materials were donated. Prior to 1875 services were conducted by laymen with visiting pastors for communion service.
This little church was a beautiful, quaint church and priceless in its heritage. The first church to be constructed in our township was on the bluff at Amityville where our Swedish settlers founded their homes. A cemetery lies at its north side. One large room formed the chapel with the usual benches, altar, organ, and stove. What struck the eye as one entered was a 10 ft. by 20 ft. painting which portrayed Christ at the Rock of Gethsemane. It was located on the wall behind the altar. A large wrought iron coal oil ceiling light was next visible. There were sconces, each holding an oil lamp, the shades, which were of milk and clear glass in two short sections for easy lighting. This, together with side reflector lights, gave adequate lighting. Wide boards were used for flooring and the benches were made of a contrasting wood. A red velvet kneeling cushion below the altar rail gave color and grace to the sanctuary. As with most early churches, the choir benches faced the altar on one side with the organ placed on the other.
Their pastors were:
During World War I, the congregation voted to use English in their otherwise Swedish worship service. This caused much concern but it was agreed to chiefly because one who then spoke a foreign language came under suspicion. Also the Swedish children had begun to marry the German Lutheran settlers' children and when attending the Swedish Church they could not understand the service.
Each September a Homecoming Sunday was held at their "Little White Church" as they called it. An annual basket dinner was held on the grounds and a Homecoming Service held in the afternoon. In 1941 a special Homecoming was arranged. The church was renovated both inside and out for the occasion. This was a meeting given in the setting of olden days and solos in Swedish were featured. Many out-of-town people came. Guest speaker for the afternoon was Rev. Emil F. Bergren, a minister of Des Moines, who was raised in the community and the church.
The congregation recently felt it necessary to remove the "Little White Church" because protection was needed to keep it secure. It was offered to the Mt. Pleasant Threshers Association but they found it too wide to transport. They decided to take the furnishings and put them into another country church that was easier and closer to move. Thus the painting, altar, rail, and some of the benches will still charm the viewers. The organ was placed in their Mediapolis church, and fixtures were sold to its members. Now torn down, Huron has lost one of its early landmarks, but may its telling keep alive its memories.
The early gathering of people of the Methodist faith was in the same vicinity as the Amity church at the farm home of C. H. Hukill. At a quarterly conference in 1843, the appointments on the circuit for that year included Joshua Swanks on the Bottom Road. By 1846 Wesley Chapel had been built at the Hukill farm where they held Sunday school and church. Later, when the Chapel joined the Wesleyans, it was disbanded. (from Merrill History of Yellow Spring and Huron) For years Sunday school and church were held at the Hawkeye School.
The organization program of a church on the Bottom Road was carried out by J.P. Wagner who was its first preacher. It has been called the Huron Church, and the Hawkeye Church, but its official name was Huron Methodist Episcopal Church. Rev. Wagner was also a horse trader and when asked by one of the carpenters how he could be a horse trader and a preacher, he replied, "Sometimes in my trading the truth won't do."
On March 18, 1890, at the office of Justice of Peace, Phillip Coonrod in Huron Township, six men, namely M. M. Peck, Charles Doran, Henry Carter, Leander Blake, J. L. Swank and R. W. Wilson, met for the purpose of establishing and maintaining a religious society and the erection of a church in accordance with the discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church. In January of 1890, Mr. and Mrs. J. L. Swank donated one acre of ground on which to erect Hawkeye Methodist Church.
Much of the work of hauling material for foundation and building was donated by people of the community. Among the legal papers is a receipt for $67.50, which a Swedish stone mason received in 1890 for laying the church foundation. In available records the exact date of dedication is not given.
These ministers served in the pulpit:
The medium-sized white clapboard building had large stained windows, three on each side and a large one in the front with several small ones in the vestibule. A tall, slender steeple with a belfry tower fashioned in the center section gave a picturesque appeal to the countryside. The walls were papered and kerosene bracket lamps were fastened around the sides. Box socials had been given to purchase a piano. A large jacketed stove at the back was fired by a neighbor boy who was given 25 cents a Sunday for his chores. One cold day these neighbors were asked for a shovel of fire to start the stove as a young couple wished to be married. One can only ponder if the fire had made its first crackle before the marriage service was over.
The Ladies Aid gave many socials and Election Day dinners to keep the treasury replenished. That there was work, fun and loyalty is evident by several items through the years. September, 1902. "Remember the date of the Huron Picnic, Saturday of this week, Arrangements have been made for an interesting program. The speakers for the day will be Rev. Smith, Oglevee, Tague and Leeplejack. There will be plenty of water for drinking purposes also for the horses. Good shade and refreshment will be served. Everybody is invited to come and have a good time."
1916 - Temperature meeting program held at Huron Church on Sunday. Everybody cordially invited to attend.
1917 - Home Defense meetings at Huron Church.
1929 - "Old Fashioned Mother," a dramatic parable of the mothers we love will be given at the Huron School for the benefit of the Huron Methodist Church. Cast of characters – Mrs. Chas. Bailey, Mrs. Alfred Kester, Mrs. Harry Sutton, Frances Hedges, Mary Faris, Helen Sutton, William Matthews, Avery Adolphson, Floyd Schweitzer, John Peterson, Frank Hedges and Ray Luckenbill.
Changes in land ownership in the community and a large increase in membership in its neighbor church, coupled with easier transportation, reduced the attendance of the Church until in 1936 it seemed best to discontinue services there. Since then only an occasional funeral had been held there until it was sold.
The sale of the Hawkeye Church was held in 1941 with Mr. Edwin Swank buying the building, the acre reverted to his ownership as the will stated. The community and friends bought mementos of their days at church. As Mr. Swank wrote in an article that was published in the Huron Chiefton School Paper – "Thus the Hawkeye Church is of the past, but its influence for good will live on."
In the year 1903, several families of the Apostolic Christian faith came from Minnesota and Illinois to settle in the community and in 1904 established a church. This Apostolic Christian Church became one of the sixty-five of this relatively small denomination in the United States. It was formed here by Otto Gerst, Theophil Fischer, Andrew Yackley, Henry Gerst, Peter Glazer and John Voelpel.
This small group held their meetings in the one-room Williams schoolhouse, which was located on the farm now owned by David Sheridan, until their first church was finished. Settlers of this faith were mostly of German origin, many having been natives of France or Germany. Soon came Julius and Gene Gerst, Albert Reiman, Chris Kuntz, William Frank and their minister Albert Rauhaus.
The first church built in 1904 was a half mile north of the Williams school building, directly east of the Robertson home on the Otto Gerst farm. Mr. Noah Schrock, who came from Congerville, Illinois, in 1916, became their minister at age 25. In 1935 there were thirty-five families attending church so the building was moved from the bottom location to a site along the Bluff Road, in September of 1936. This was a place known as the Mills estate and was built on the Mills and Bjork home site that had been destroyed by fire. Here the building was remodeled to fit the needs of that time.
On a Sunday, November 5, 1944, while firing for the days services, a defective furnace caused a fire which destroyed the church building. Due to war restrictions, a new building was delayed a year. Church services were continued at the Presbyterian Church in Oakville when they had completed their morning service. A new church was built in 1946. On September 21st, 1947, the first service was held in the new church and in 1948 it was dedicated.
It is a light brick structure of Gothic architecture, with a pointed, pitched roof and buttresses. There are two aisles for center seating and a large vestibule. The entry is large with double doors and glass fanlight. Side glass lighting gives a gracious welcome to its members and friends.
A balcony at the back over the vestibule was completed in 1958. It made a seating capacity of about 450, the center front being arranged for the choir.
In 1965 with increased Sunday School enrollment, the congregation decided to build a new dining area on the main floor level, adding a wing to the back south side. This left the entire first floor for Sunday School use as well as a larger dining area. This remodeling was ready for "Open House" on June 25th, 1967. Mr. Noah Schrock is Elder of the church, and the ministers who serve presently are Mr. Harvey Heiniger, John Steiner and Edward Lanz.
The first Monday of each month the women meet at the church and work on relief which is delivered throughout the world by the Mennonite Central Committee. Their handwork of bedding, bandages and stuffed toys are distributed when local needs arise.
Four cemeteries and three family burial grounds are in our township. Hawkeye, being the first, is a three acre plot high on the bluff overlooking the bottom land, in Section 11. Here the tallest pine tree in our community stood for many years, being planted by Mr. Paul Sheridan in just about the center of the cemetery. It became a landmark and people driving towards the west would look up at its beautiful branches. After many years of grandeur, lightning struck the lovely tree and it became necessary to remove it. The land for the cemetery was given by the Swank family, presumably, when their daughter America died at the age of 2 yrs., in 1837. This grave is said by the D.A.R. of Burlington to be the oldest grave in the County. A section of this cemetery was purchased by the Apostolic Church for their burial grounds years ago. Hawkeye has 5 Civil War soldiers buried there. James Swank, Wm. F. Swank, T. M. Darnold, W. M. Wilson, and J. H. McKee. Signs, which were the first ones ever placed there, were made and erected at Hawkeye and Dolbee in the late 1960s. A long, steep hill off Hawkeye Road takes one up to the fence-enclosed grounds. It is not as easy to find or to park there as it is at Dolbee, but it is well cared for and has a graveled approach.
Dolbee was next platted, built on the bluff farther south with an entrance from the Mediapolis Road, in Section 23. Dave Luckenbill gave land which surrounds the family burial plot of the Dolbees. This ground was given with the stipulation that any Luckenbill could be buried there, and a large section on the east side was designated for such use. The Dolbee family plot, separated by an iron fence, is on the highest point of the hill which overlooked the Dolbee home on the adjoining hill. A stone dated 1848, marking the grave of 2 mo. old Priscilla Caton, appears to be the oldest grave. Dolbee consists of about one acre and has but few grave sites left for sale. One of the old markers has this poem engraved on it:
---"Remember me as you pass by
---As you are now, so once was I.
---As I am now, so you will be –
---Prepare for God and follow me."
Trustees with the Peppy Pals 4-H Club held impressive memorial services when the flag poles were erected. Dolbee has 13 Civil War graves of the following: Peter Dolbee, Wm. H.H. Dolbee, Henry Dolbee, John Bain, John P. Peterson, C.P. Bailey, Dell Fletcher, Wm. Harrington, Garrett Hinson, Sylvestor Bain, John Holcraft, Henry Coonrod and John F. Waddell.
The little Apostolic Christian Church has their cemetery on the bluff along the Northfield Road, in Section 11. The cemetery covering 3 acres with more to be added, was laid out in 1950 with the first burial in June of that year. It is carefully landscaped and well-fenced. The church maintains its own ground and like the others the wooded area gives a country tranquility.
Sometimes memorial money is given by the relatives for use for gravel or some care of these cemeteries. There were many years in which the families were responsible for the individual graves. With relatives gone who could see to their repair, some old stones remain toppled and broken. Decoration Day finds may friends and relatives visiting as they come to decorate the graves with some having planned to meet there. The Legion men are in charge of placing the flags on the soldiers graves.
A family plot at the southeastern part of the township is spoken of as the Hukill or Van Nice family grave site. It is called the "Little Cemetery" and these family graves are fenced and undisturbed. While the deed is a family possession, the Trustees have paid for material to keep it protected. The Hukills and Van Nices were early settlers, both coming in 1842 and settling in Section 33. There are about 24 graves in this small cemetery and the names include Thomas, Hukill, Van Nice and Scaresborough.
Another family plot is just over the top of Amity hill, back in the pasture owned by Chuck Hutchcroft, located in Section 35. It is fenced from cattle and holds 8 graves. Names of Driskel(l) and Hudson are among them.
No known graves were on the bottom because of the high water. The town of Huron came to the Bluffs for burial services. Many graves are unmarked and several unrelated families, relying on stories handed down by their families, believe their ancestors are buried in the same place.
About 1860 a family who lived on the bottom secured permission to construct a natural burial vault out of a natural cave in the rock bluff along the Bottom Road at Swanks' Corner. A wall was put up and a door frame chiseled out of the rock. As the various members of the family died, their bodies were placed in this natural mausoleum. When the last member died, the door was sealed and the relatives felt certain a permanent resting place had been provided. As time passed, the walls began to crumble and wild animals worked their way into the vault rolling out the bones and skulls. A neighbor gathered up the bones and buried them in nearby Hawkeye Cemetery. Another source said the name was Driscol, and four persons and one child, at least, were buried there. The vault is 20 ft. in depth 10 ft. wide and 6 ft. in height. (From clippings of Oakville Sentinel.)
There was a cemetery on Huron Island where a few were buried. Mr. Centner said, in 1896, his cousin was buried there and an aunt, Mrs. Willie Charbonneaux, in 1898. The cemetery was located at the north end of the island in a space of about 24 by 30 ft. and was enclosed by a wrought iron fence. When the destruction of the island was foreseen, the bodies were removed to the mainland.
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