Thursday, February 10, 2011

Friendly harmony at Smyrna

We were visiting again yesterday about the accelerating scarcity of country churches in Lucas County and that brought to mind Smyrna Friends --- not in Lucas County but located just over the Clarke County line to the west.

To get there from here, drive down the Mormon Trail past Goshen and Last Chance, then keep meandering west and a little south to Smyrna Friends Cemetery. The church is located less than a mile south of the cemetery, but the road that links the two is dirt --- so if it's muddy you'll have to go around.

This is another of my favorite church buildings --- small, simple and light with carefully thought-out detail, including the lovely west window. Inside, the meeting room is oriented east-west with curved seating facing a platform located in an extension to the north. That extension when paired with the entry gives the church a cruciform shape.

Although this building dates from the early years of the 20th century, the Smyrna meeting was organized in 1858 by pioneers from Henry County, to the east and a hotbed (if Quakers have hotbeds) of the Friendly persuasion. The original meeting house was at the cemetery, but this land --- donated in 1879 --- has been in the Smyrna family for a long time.

This is an historic spot for other reasons, too. Those early Mormons bound from Nauvoo to the Great Salt Lake in the late 1840s traveled the same route you do now from Chariton to Smyrna Cemetery, where they had an option --- turn south to Garden Grove, Brigham Young's first major waystation along the trail west and pass the current site of Smyrna church, or continue west to Mount Pisgah.

In that bitter and snowy winter of 1846-47 when the Nickerson party got stranded at Chariton and inadvertently became our first settlers, another party got stranded, too --- some distance to the west of Smyrna at a place called Lost Camp.

Smyrna Friends remains active, affiliated with the Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends. It was the home church of my great-uncle and great-aunt, Nolan and Mary (Stephens) Myers. And in one of those odd twists of life in general, the wife of a recent longtime pastor was a distant cousin --- descended from Edward and Zella (Clair) Hockett, Iowa natives who moved in the 1870s with their families to Kansas, married and ministered as a couple for many years to Friends meetings there.

While the Clarke County Rural Electric Co-op was a wonderful thing, lighting up rural Clarke County as it did, sometimes its poles can be a distraction --- as one certainly is here along Smyrna's south front.


Martin said...

Once, years ago, had a burial at that cemetery; never thought that I would find it, and almost got lost trying to get back to Chariton.


Lynne said...

What a beautiful church. When the weather is better, I will enjoy finding it.

Marie said...

May I use your information about Smyrna in a booklet I am writing about Iowa Yearly Meetings?

Chevybrice said...

My grandparents owned the farm land where the town of Smyrna once used to be. I have been trying to find out more history of this area. Was a great place to visit as a kid. Sadly though, it is a time and place long forgotten.