Saturday, August 29, 2015

Rise and fall of Mt. Carmel Church

Photographs of Benton Township's Mt. Carmel Church are rare, so I was happy to find this battered image the other day in a box of photos waiting to be processed at the museum. It's postcard sized, torn, badly cropped and the emulsion has turned a muddy brown --- but at least you can see what the modest building looked like.

Affiliated with an outfit known as The Evangelical Association, later the United Evangelical Church, it was built in 1882 on land donated by the Myers family with, if the stories are to be believed, Daniel Myers Sr., my great-grandfather, as principal carpenter.

The Chariton Patriot reported on Nov. 1, 1882, that "The Evangelical associates will soon have complete, a fine new church in the Myers neighborhood; will be dedicated on the 19th of Nov. There will also be quarterly meeting held at the same time, commencing on Friday evening and continuing over Sabbath."

And on Nov. 29, 1882, The Patriot reported: "The good people in the Jacob Myers neighborhood in Benton township dedicated a new church last Sunday. John Clouser, of Lincoln, who was present, managed to exchange overcoats with some unknown person. He wants to trade back, as the one he got away with is too small." Jacob Myers was my great-great-grandfather.

Here's how the neighborhood looked about a dozen years after the church was built. The home of Daniel and Mary Belle (Redlingshafer) Myers was a quarter mile west and Daniel's mother, Harriet, lived just across the road west of that on land still tangled up in the Jacob Myers estate, which Daniel had been struggling to unravel since his father's death in 1883, going so far as to pursue one hapless creditor so far as the Iowa Surpreme Court. The Myers School was across the road south.

Daniel later would purhase the farms marked "Emma A. McCurdy" and that property became my grandparents' farm. And many others in the neighborhood were related. James Parsons, Clark Gookin and Charles Houck were sons-in-law of Jacob Myers (Sarah Houck, his daughter) and Abram S. Myers, his eldest son. Aaron Hupp was my great-grandmother's uncle and the Hills were Myers cousins.

Most of the people named on the map attended Mt. Carmel because it was the neighborhood church rather than because of any strong commitment to a particular denomination.

The Evangelical Association, sometimes known as the Albright Brethren after the Rev. Jacob Albright who founded it about 1800 in Pennsylvania, was quite similar in theology and polity to the Methodist Episcopal church but most of its earlier members spoke German --- an ethnic group not served by English-speaking Methodists. 

By 1882, language no longer was an issue and all were welcomed. Some members of the Association, including the Benton Township contingent, broke away from the Association to form the United Evangelical Church in 1891, then reunited with their former brethren during 1922 to form The Evangelical Church.

Trinity Evangelical Church (later Center Community Church), organized in 1888-89 southeast of Russell, was Mt. Carmel's sister congregation and their joint pastor lived at a parsonage in Russell. When the mining town of Olmitz was founded in Pleasant Township during the "teens," a substantial church was built there and it became the third point of a three-point parish for a time, but died with the town.

The Evangelical Church merged with the United Brethren in Christ during 1946 to form the Evangelical United Brethren Church, then that denomination became part of the United Methodist Church during 1968.

Even before the first merger, however, Mt. Carmel had been doomed by declining rural population and the automobile. Although resurrected briefly as a community church, the building was abandoned when I was a kid. It later was sold to Walter and Edna (Reynolds) Relph, both cousins of my dad, and moved to their farm north of the Chariton River for use as a farm building.

Just a couple of years ago, a storm finally brought the venerable old building down and Keith Dachenbach, grandson of Walter and Edna and owner of their farm, brought the church sign to the museum, where it now is kept inside Otterbein Church.

This was never a grand church building, but it did at one time have a congregation that filled it. Here's a favorite photo of mine --- a Mt. Carmel Sunday School class dating from about 1905.

Boys in the front row are Newt Hupp (left) and Elmer Smith. In the second row (from left) are Nellie Redlingshafer, Daisy Myers, teacher Maggie Hupp, May Schreck and Minnie Hupp. Back row (from left) are Grace Smith, Addie Gookin and Harriet Myers. Daisy and Harriet were my great-aunts.

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