Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pleasanton Methodist Chapel

Pleasanton is still a pleasant place, tucked down against the Missouri state line in Decatur County, even though much of it has vanished as the years have passed, the number of farms has diminished and declining population has wiped out its retail business district and schools. As buildings have been taken down, the village has opened up into fields with remnant structures scattered across them.

I guess it’s remote, in a way, but I’ve never thought of it that way because it is at the crossroads of two of my favorite southern Iowa/northern Missouri drives. The first involves driving south from Humeston on Highway 65, turning right onto paved county roads at the north limits of Lineville, then cruising west up and down sweeping hills and through deeply-cut creek valleys parallel to the Missouri line with wonderful views off to the south. (If you follow my trail, make sure to take the left turn at the curve a couple of miles west of Lineville --- if you stay on the Lineville road, you’ll head northwest to Highway 2 east of Leon.)

Once at the “T” intersection on Pleasanton’s north edge, you’ve got a choice. Take a left, and you’re in Missouri before you know it. A mile or two down the road, turn right and follow the Little River bluff tops for a curving picturesque ride down into Canesville, an interesting little town in its own right with some wonderful old buildings.

If you take a right, the road curves northwesterly past the entrance to Nine Eagles State Park, one of Iowa’s best, then down and around the hills into which Nine Eagles is tucked and out across the Grand River valley to Davis City. Hang a left onto Highway 69 and you’ll arrive shortly at Interstate 35 and, just beyond it, Lamoni.

Just across from the Nine Eagles entrance is the Pleasanton Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). Although the congregation’s current building is an innovative and somewhat surprising dome, that dome houses the earliest of Iowa’s Community of Christ/RLDS congregations.

Some will know, and many won’t, that this part of Decatur County was where many Latter-day Saints who chose not to follow Brigham Young to Utah came together around the family of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith Jr., which also was estranged from Young. Lamoni became the focus of this emerging church which eventually moved its headquarters to Independence, Missouri, but left behind the vibrant Graceland University as well as Joseph Smith III’s restored home and other interesting stuff.

Although there is a “Chief Lamoni” motel at Lamoni, don’t be fooled into thinking we’re talking about Sac and Fox here. Lamoni, according to the Book of Mormon, was a Lamanite king converted by the missionary Ammon back to the law of Moses, thus becoming righteous. Community of Christ is a fairly recent change in name undertaken, I suppose for a variety of reasons: Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a bit bulky, its members quite frankly got tired to explaining that, no, they weren’t a branch of the big boys in Utah and, finally, Community of Christ better reflects the denomination’s 21st century mission.

But that’s a side trip for another day, especially since I forgot to photograph the Pleasanton Community of Christ when out roaming around Monday --- something I’ll have to do another day.

What caught my eye Monday, as it has a couple of other times, is the Pleasanton Methodist Chapel which, unlike the Community of Christ, is actually inside Pleasanton’s village limits --- tucked away down a dead-end side street. It’s a wonderful survival, I think, and still used for regular Sunday services according to its neighbor, who I talked with briefly.

Country churches of the Protestant variety are sometimes called, somewhat dismissively by those who want to generalize, “preaching boxes.” Part of the reason for that is that unlike Catholic, Episcopal and even Lutheran churches, where the sacraments are a major focus, Methodists, Baptists and the like focused instead on the sermon. So the pulpit rather than an altar is front and center in many of these buildings. Beyond that, many of them look a little like shoeboxes with pitched roofs.

But if this is a preaching box, look at how wonderfully it was embellished --- the fish-scale shingles centered on diamond-shaped windows in the eaves; a wonderful little apse on the business end of the building, pointed carpenter gothic windows. It’s just wonderful on a very small scale.

The bell mounted near the entrance suggests that there was once a tower to house it, perhaps over the vestibule that is inset into the southwest corner. Firmly locked, there was no way to explore the interior, but I’d guess that there’s a sunny Sunday school room to the right of the vestibule with the nave to the north.

The neighbor said the foundation is a little shaky --- it looks as if it’s the original. But for now at least the Pleasanton Methodist Chapel and its congregation are hanging in there, still balanced on solid rock and defying winds of change and Morton Building aesthetics.

I stopped twice at Nine Eagles Monday, once on the way to Eagleville when it was cloudy and again, headed home, after the sun came out.

The first stop was more productive in the wildlife category. Wild turkeys, lots of them, were emerging from the woods, scooting across the roads and then disappearing again. From the south lake overlook, I watched an immature eagle fishing --- quite a sight, but of course the camera wasn't handy. Sun turned the lake and surrounding woods into postcard material. This shot was taken from a high point on the north side of the late looking southwest toward the dam and beyond.

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