Sunday, December 16, 2012

Ogees, stars & my BFCF in Newbern

The purity of its simple exterior, an amazing ogee roofline on the bell tower and to cap it all that unexpected star of David skewered by the turret's finial add up to make this my current BFCF (best favorite church forever). Contributing are the building's ability to survive in such good shape although its congregation officially departed in 1993 --- and its location in Newbern, a ghost town that really isn't.

Newbern Community Church from the northwest.

This is the Newbern Community Church and it has survived federation, renovation, being knocked off its foundation by a tornado and the diaspora by death and other factors of its people.

Newbern itself is very old by southern Iowa standards, only two years younger than Chariton. It was surveyed for Ransom Davis on Sept. 9, 1851 --- 24 blocks around a town square that later became the location of the school, then a ball diamond. It is as close as it can be to Lucas County without actually being in it --- Newbern's south limit is the Lucas/Marion county line road.

Streets were named from north to south Water, Poplar, Main and Washington; and from east to west, First through Sixth. Although only a few houses, the church and the first floor of the old brick Stierwalt Store remain, a significant portion of the street grid is evident --- and usable.

The remaining first floor of the Stierwalt Store, under a new pitched roof, is in the middle distance here.

When founded, Newbern was located on high, level, unbroken tallgrass prairie. But just to the west, settlers hit timber first, then a sharp descent into the beautiful White Breast Creek valley. Bricks for the Stierwalt store reportedly were burned from clay gathered along White Breast Creek.

The Newbern Road snaked south from the village to Chariton and a similar early track connected Newbern and Knoxville, the Marion County seat.

Although it developed into a lively trading center for a tri-county neighborhood (Warren County is just to the west), failure to attract a rail line caused its eventual decline. The Stierwalt Store was the last business in town. Now its remains are part of a workshop.

The church from the southwest.

The church, serving one of three congregations in Newbern at the time, was built by Methodists during the winter of 1908 and spring of 1909 at a cost of $3,112. It was dedicated on May 9, 1909, during services at 10 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. with a former pastor, the Rev. E.O. Douglas of Madrid, as dedicatory preacher.

A newspaper account of the dedication declared the church building to be "a well built and attractive structure, a gem of beauty in its exterior and a joy to Methodism and the community." The building looks much as it did when dedicated, although a tall arched window once was located where the exterior chimney now stands on the west facade.

I'd like to know who commissioned the ogee roofline of the bell tower, unique so far as I know in southern Iowa. It remains as built, clad in pressed metal. The star of David is fascinating. Many protestants of this era were skittish about displaying crosses --- lest they be mistaken for Catholic --- but stars were not usual either. Perhaps it's just the remnant of a weathervane. Should have been carrying binoculars.

According to notes compiled by Evalee Hunerdosse, the last active member of the congregation, Newbern's three congregations united to form one federated congregation during 1920. The other congregations were Cumberland Presbyterian and United Brethren. The Methodist Church building, in the best shape, became the new congregation's worship center; the Presbyterian building, a meeting place for young people; and the United Brethren building, a meeting place for women.

The church was furnished with pews from both the Presbyterian and Methodist congregations, the Methodist communion table and the United Brethren altar rail, pulpit and chairs, according to Evalee. It became the Newbern Community Church in 1943.

The church from the southeast with its unisex restroom.

The exterior door now located midway along the south front was installed as a safety measure after a fire involving a gas lantern in the vestibule during 1929. In order to escape that fire, several had exited through windows.

In 1943, the building was knocked off its foundations by a tornado, but moved back into place. Electricity, according to Evalee, was added in 1948.

The church from the northeast.

The building continued to serve its congregation until 1993 when the supply of people simply ran out. Evalee and Jesse Hunerdosse maintained the building until his death and her move to Newton. As of 2005, according to Evalee's notes, my cousin Colene Greubel had assumed responsibilty for administering the building and maintaining it as a museum and site for an annual reunion. I do not know what its current status is, although it seems to be in a very good state of repair.


Colene Greubel said...

What a beautiful article about the Newbern church. Evalee turned everything over to me in 1999 and I started having a yearly reunion with past ministers speaking and special music followed with a potluck dinner at our house. It has been a continuing ever since. We usually have 100 or so that come.
When I took over the first thing I had done was new shingles on the roof. Then had to wait a couple of years to have it painted. We take up an offering for upkeep each year. About 3 years ago I had it painted again. Right now it is in pretty good repair.
I try to get more of a concert now that all the speakers have been used.
If you would ever like to see inside just let me know. Or better yet, come to our reunion the last Sunday in June. People come from far wide. My late husband and I put a new home on the east street right north of the church.
Thanks for the article.
Colene Greubel 641-218-4366

Frank D. Myers said...

And thanks for the update. I'll watch for notice of the next reunion!

Anonymous said...

Agree with my cousin, Colene, very nice article & perfect pictures. This little church has been a blessing to my family. Since 1967 off & on I have attended services there during the churches active years. Over recent years, I have been blessed by the yearly reunions. The presence & glory of God continue to touch many people!