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 North Manchester, Indiana

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Source: Helm, History of Wabash County, 1884

The Christian Church

Probably the first sermon ever preached in Chester Township was delivered by a representative of this denomination. The occasion was the fall of 1835, when the families of Col. Helvy, James Abbott and and Peter and John Ogan assembled in Peter Ogan’s cabin to participate in the religious exercises led by Elder Bryant Fannin. Mr. Fannin had made his appearance in the settlement a few days previously, to select land, and, remaining over Sunday, delivered the first sermon on that day. Shortly after his return as a permanent resident of the settlement, he and his neighbor, Joseph Spencer, organized a society of this denomination in the house of Mr. Fannin. This was probably in the year 1841 or 1842. The society had a membership of not more than a dozen persons, and met twice a month, in the Fannin cabin, and subsequently in a schoolhouse south of North Manchester, known as the Walters Schoolhouse. At a later date, the schoolhouse at New Madison was adopted as the meeting place, and in this they worshiped until after the close of the war [i.e. Civil War]. In 1866 or 1867, the congregation purchased a lot in the village of New Madison, upon which they erected their present house of worship, a substantial brick building. The church has grown and prospered from the first, and now has a large congregation. It is under the pastoral care of Elder Rittenhouse. This denomination has two other houses of worship in the township [i.e. Chester Twp.]; the first, known as Pleasant Grove Church, is situated about three miles east of North Manchester, and the second, known as Antioch Church, is about three and one-half miles southeast. The Pleasant Grove congregation was organized in 1844, under Elder Joseph Roberds, at the house of Isaac Robbins, whose house continued to be the meeting place for a few years. Finally the members of the church united with the citizens in erecting a house which was used for a log schoolhouse during the week, and a church on Sunday. A tract of land was donated by John Simonton and Joshua Simpson for a cemetery, with the privilege of building a church upon this tract, extended to any denomination who would permit their church to be used by all other denominations for funeral services. The conditions were accepted by the Pleasant Grove congregation, who in 1858 erected their present house of worship. The church is a substantial frame building, plain and unpretentious. It has maintained a strong organization, and now ranks among the foremost churches of the township. Elder William McClurg is the present pastor [1884].

Antioch Church was organized in 1861 by Elder George Abbott, who still resides at North Manchester. Mr. Abbott occupied the pastoral office for about four years, during which time the public services of the church were conducted in private houses or a neighboring schoolhouse. The society prospered from the first, and its membership increased. In 1866 a lot was donated by John Dunbar, in Section 14, upon which they erected their present chapel—a neat brick edifice. The church is now under the pastoral care of Elder William Heflen [1884].

Source: Newsletter
of the North Manchester Historical Society, Inc.
Volume XXI Number 3 September 2004

History of the North Manchester Congregational Christian Church
presented to the Members Meeting of the North Manchester Historical Society, June 14th, 2004

by J. P. Freeman, Minister and his wife, Michelle.

Early History written in 1926 by W. E. Billings, editor

The North Manchester Christian church is a youngster compared with some others, for it was not organized until February 15, 1884. The meeting was held in the Lutheran church in North Manchester at which this was organized and the ministers present at the organization were George Abbott, James Atchinson, David Hidy and Peter Winebrenner. There were 32 charter members. Ministers who have served the North Manchester congregation include David Hidy, P. L. Ryker, W. D. Samuel, I. F. Ulrey, R. L. Amber, W. W. Riley, B. F. Kemp, E. T. Spohn, Edward Goehler, J. W. Yantis, Rev. Ritchie, Roy Lucas, J. J. Beisiegel, and B. A. Hartley. Of this list Rev. W. D. Samuels now lives in this city, having retired from active ministerial work, and Rev. B. A. Hartley is the present pastor of the church.

A short time after the congregation was organized a church was built at the corner of Fourth and Walnut. This building was used as built until a few years ago when it was completely remodeled and extensive additions put to it. There may be others but as nearly as could be found, Mrs. David Hidy of Alexandria is the only one living of the original 32 charter members. Mrs. Rosa Baker of this city went into the church a very short time after it was organized but was not a charter member.

Mention has been made two or three times in these sketches of Bryant Fannin who preached the first sermon in North Manchester being a Christian preacher. There have been some exceptions taken to this, some saying that Bryant Fannin was a United Brethren preacher. The misunderstanding seems to hinge on there being two Bryant Fannins, father and son, both preachers. The elder Bryant Fannin is generally credited with having been of the Christian faith, though in those days denomination did not make anything like as much difference as it did forty or fifty years later. In the early (18) thirties or forties a traveling preacher was hailed with delight and folks would come miles to hear him, just so he talked good sense and good religion.

Many were the delayed funerals that were preached in those days, possibly long after the grave had become grass grown, for Death was not always kindly enough to wait until a preacher was near . In later years preachers of different denominations began to appear and a rivalry sprang up that for years was pretty fierce but which is now rapidly vanishing. So while Bryant Fannin, sr. was probably a Christian preacher as far as denomination was concerned , his hearers in those days seldom stopped to question it. Even in his own family it seems that no very tight line was drawn for Jesse Fannin, who died here in 1902, was a Christian minister, another son, Bryant Fannin, jr., was a United Brethren minister; his son, Marshall Fannin, is now located in Boston, and a letter from him was used in this series of articles some time ago.

Bryant Fannin, to judge from the county records, must have made his first visit to this locality in 1833, for on October l of that year it appears that he made the first purchase of land in Chester township, buying what is now a little three cornered piece north of the Second street bridge and on the east side of the river. Later he bought other land, and with his family moved here in 1836. His home was located on the northeast side of the angling road leading from the covered bridge to Servia and was not very far from where the Bonewitz cement block factory was located.

George Nichols grandmother was the second wife of Mr. Fannin and one thing about the old home place that stands out in George's memory is the fish pond that was made by putting a dam across the small creek. Willows were planted on that dam to hold it in place and those willows have now grown to be nearly three feet in thickness. George remembers his delight when Grandfather Fannin would say, "Let's go out and feed the fish," and they would take a small boat and row out into the pond, scattering bread crusts that were eagerly snapped up by cat fish that George's childish memory pictured as only one or two degrees removed in size from the whale that swallowed Jonah. For more than forty years the elder Bryant Fannin traveled over the country as a circuit preacher.

Reflections on the Church

by Margaret Leonhard

If you will pardon me, I would like at this time to tell you how I became a member of this church. It was back in 1881 that my father was born to Rosa and Wm. E. Baker at Liberty Mills, Indiana. My grandfather hauled for a living. In 1884 he got the chance to become night watchman for the merchants of N. Manchester. (As a little sidelight, when I worked at Oppenheims, I saw from some of their old records that they had paid $l.00 per month for night watch duty.) After this, a chance came for more work. Grandma and Grandpa thought they better move to North Manchester. After moving, the first thing they did was to find a church. They started to go to the Christian Church. By this time, the church had grown from 32 charter members to be large enough that they felt the need to build a church of their own. Grandpa helped to haul the bricks for this church. Think how proud those people must have been of their new church house. My Dad grew up in this church.

Clara Miller had been raised for the most part, at South Whitley, and had always gone to a Christian church there. When 1909 came, she decided to come to North Manchester to work. She got a job in Smith's grocery downtown. She chose the little church on the corner of 4th and Walnut because it was a Christian denomination. There were several young people attending church, so they decided to form a Sunday School class. The Alpha class was formed with nineteen charter members. Mother and Dad were acquainted, started to spend much time together and were married February 24, 1910. There was no class for young married people so they stayed with the Alpha class. As the church grew, so did the Alpha class. When it got so large, the younger folk left and formed the Volunteers and some older ones formed the Banner class.

My mother was the teacher for the Banner class. The year was 1916. On December 10th she taught as usual. On December llth I came to live with Mother, Dad, and my brother, Richard. I was such a little mite (3 ½ lbs. to be exact) that mother carried me around on a pillow. We missed church two Sundays, then we were back teaching the Banner class. All the difference was, I was lying on my pillow on the church pew where Mom could keep an eye on me. So, I grew up in the church and here I am. I have always appreciated the fact that Mother and Dad put their church first in their lives. They did not have a lot of money but they sure had a lot of faith.

Now back to the church. This was the time when the pulpit was on the north side of the sanctuary. The pews ran east and west. There was a little church out south and east of town called Antioch. I remember when they came and joined us to give a program. Eileen was in that program, too. A picture was taken of the people who participated in that program. At that time Rev. Beisiegal was minister and in the four years he was with us, we gained 156 new members. With the church growing like that you can see why we needed more room. That is when the front and the back were built on. The chimney was built at that time, too. I don't know for sure, but I think that is when the basement was put in (not the kitchen, but the rest of it.) I remember how thrilled everyone was about the new addition. It meant a lot of work to earn money to pay for it, but by working together, they became a stronger church.

It was in the early twenties that the church purchased the house across the street to use for a parsonage. Milt Kessler and family were the last minister to live in that house. We later sold it because we had bought Blickenstaff's property in 1966 and the church house to the south of us. Also in the twenties, the ladies, who were working so hard to make money to pay bills, felt the need of a kitchen. One Sunday night after church, a group planned how they could make a hole in the basement hall and dig out for a kitchen. Night after night, men came, filled their buckets and passed them up the line to the outside. The ladies came and made food for the men and kids. They cooked on oil stoves in the part of the basement where the children meet to sing. That was a lot of fun for us kids. We not only got to see the kids on Sunday, but through the week, too, until the kitchen was done.

The twenties was a very fruitful time. The J. O. C. class was organized. A picture taken one Easter morning showed 52 people in attendance. Someone asked me not long ago what the J. O. C. stood for. It is Jesus Our Companion. I remember when Mom had a class party for the J. O. C.'s at our house. I was considered too young and to go to bed. I sure didn't like that.

It was also during this time that the children's work in the basement was organized into graded Sunday School lessons. They gave Mother that job of being superintendent of the basement. Lona McClure was assistant and Mary Louise Little was pianist. She was about ten years old. Stella Little was leading the choir upstairs at that time. (Stella was Mary Louise's mother.) One Sunday she led the choir singing, "I Need Jesus." By the next Sunday she was gone. Then, as now, the loss of one so suddenly leaves the church in shock.

Alvin and Alma Overholt and their son, Jerry, moved from South Bend during the twenties. They came to our church and with them came music. God gave both of them a wonderful talent and they used it. Alvin had the choir until he was killed in 1945. They gave so much to the church. Best of all, they gave us Jim, who is carrying on God's work to this day.

As I recall, the church had many faithful, willing workers who have gone to their reward. Among them are Paul and Hazel Stone with all their little Stones, John and Dosia Honius, Bert Ober, Henry Reiff, Lyman Stands, Ed and Bertha Mowrer, my parents and many more. The church meant much more than a place to go on Sunday. They did a lot for the church during the week as well. There was always Sunday might service and prayer meeting in the middle of the week. Times have changed. Let us move on to the thirties.

Rev. C. A. Duncan became our minister in 1933. He and Mrs. Duncan were so very much interested in the young people. Plays, duets, quartets, parties, hayrides and fellowship - you name it they promoted it. With their encouragement, we as young people joined in and helped the church move along, too. I was married in 1936. George was attending and playing in the orchestra at the United Brethren Church at that time but it was just a short time until he moved his letter to our church. It was no time at all until we both had Sunday school classes. His was a boys' class and mine was a little class in the basement. And so it goes - our kids grew up in the church, too; however, when they got married they went with their mates to other churches. That is fine with me, just as long as they go. The Victory class was organized in the thirties, too. We didn't attend right away because we were both teaching classes.

Now we are ready for the forties. A lot happened during that time, too. The Wing family bought the Card greenhouse that sat where Hooks Drug store is now. This brought Mary, Lorren and the girls to town. It also brought Elmer and Anna, Lorren's parents. Then soon Odealia, Mary's sister, and her husband, Harold and son, Jimmy, followed. This happened in 1944. When nine willing workers were added all at once, it was a great help to our church. Mary and Odealia worked with the Dorcas choir and the children, and Mary is still down there, helping with the little ones. Some wonderful programs have been given in this church and much enjoyed by the spectators, but more so by the participants.

In 1941, a dream was fulfilled. We got new stained glass windows. The committee that worked selling the windows. bought the window for the ladies' rest room. They had their name put on that one. The windows were bought in memory of loved ones. There is a copy of the report --$728.00 - Can you imagine?

Our sanctuary was beginning to need a lot of work done on it. Wilber Krider was the chairman of the building committee. In May, it was all complete and ready for dedication. On the 16th of that month the service was held - a great day! The little church that I had mentioned earlier, Antioch - was no longer able to operate and, with improved transportation, people were driving to town for church so they decided to close their doors. Several faithful families came to us.

At the beginning of the forties, Mark Ashley was our minister for about one year. There was enthusiasm during his time with us. Mark suggested the lighted revolving cross on top of the steeple. The boys of the Victory class worked many long hours at night to complete that project. We were getting more involved in World War II by that time and Mark felt he was needed in Red Cross work, so he left the church to go into service. We then got Rev. R. H. Miller to fill the pulpit. He was much loved, but his work was on a part time basis. He was still teaching at the college. He got us interested in writing to the service men. That was a good ministry because it kept the boys in touch with the church. We would have loved it if he would have become our full time minister but, being a Brethren all of his life and his father before him, he just couldn't leave that denomination. The pressure was great enough that he felt that he had to leave us.

When Rev. Conkling was hired after Rev. Miller left, no one dreamed that it would be for fourteen years. Fred was a Methodist and Nevada (Mrs. Conkling) never felt that she could come and worship with us Christians. There was a need for a minister's wife, plus many people thought that it wasn't good for the church to have a minister on a part time basis. Rev. Conkling led many children to the Lord during his stay, our children among them.

In 1951, the choir gave a musicale, "The Minister's Aunt." Some of the stars were Pat Windmiller, George Leonhard, and Harland Yentis. My! What faithful workers Harland and Maxine were! I remember the Sunday morning that Maxine showed me her diamond she had received from Harland. We were both in the choir side by side. After that, they were both taking their place wherever they were need. It was such a thrill for the church when they got Gary. A year from the day that Gary came, Jill came to live with them. She was just 10 months old. The church was all thrilled again. They were so excited about the children and were such good parents.

In 1960, Milt and Pat Kessler came to the church. They were young and full of ambition. They only stayed two years because he was interested in conference work. So it was that we were in need of a minister again. The deacon committee decided to ask Jim {Overholt?} if he would fill the pulpit for a little while until we could hire a minister. We were all so thrilled with his ability to speak to us that we asked him to stay. He was ordained into the United Church of Christ.

We saw Beth and John grow to be a fine young man and woman. We saw the church filled many Sunday mornings. We shared much love. People lost much interest in Sunday school; in fact, the Victory class was no longer meeting. In the sixties, the Progressive class was organized. Audrey Reiff felt the call to do that. This class must carry the load of the church. Jim and Iona asked to be relieved of their duties from the church. The church offered them a full time position, but they declined. They felt it best if they moved on. When they left several families moved with them. I pray that they come back to their church so that we all can worship our God together.

It is now 1977. John Curtis was a high school history teacher. He felt the call to God's work and I am sure glad he did. Ours was his first church. He and Anne have worked hard. The most recent Sunday school class to be organized is the Zacchean class. He also has led us in the Bethel studies. I am sure that will be a step in the right direction for our church. After much persuasion, he got me to say that I would try to lead the Victory class. I feel so inadequate, but we are having good times again and are enjoying God's Word together.

After eighteen and a half years, John and Anne left the church. He made many close friends while here. They loved living in North Manchester and said that they wanted to retire here. This was the time to look for another minister. The Conference recommended that we have an Interim Minister while we looked for someone to fill the pulpit full time. It took the church a year to hire Sue Hahn. Rev. David Carlson served us. Many loved him but he wanted to stay an Interim Minister.

By Sue Hahn coming, it seemed to unite the Church. Everyone was anxious to serve. She introduced mission work to the congregation. We had prayed for missions through the Conference but we sure did not have the enthusiasm that we had after she came. It was a rough rocky road the years she was with us. Time to choose another minister; another search committee was chosen. During the time of searching ministers from the community filled the pulpit. The officers of the Church worked very hard to keep the church afloat.

In September, 1998, Jeff Freeman came to be our pastor. The Church began moving again. Jeff, his wife and daughter were from Texas. It looked like this was exactly the right move for the Church. He has so much talent. He could sing like a bird and play the piano and organ just beautiful. This was his first church and he hadn't the experience of working with people. As the By-Laws read, he came up for a review. In May, after his first year, the church voted against keeping Jeff. There were hurt feelings by Jeff and several members.

The Lord works in mysterious ways. Pastor J. P. Freeman had been in Flora, Indiana uniting three Brethren congregations. J. P. wanted to move back to North Manchester. He always wanted to become a Minister of his home church. They heard that the Church needed a minister so he called the Head of the Deacons and made application for the position. He is now our Interim Minister. After he is here the Church will review and vote for him. At this point, there is no doubt how the vote will go.

Since J. P. returned to the community about fifty people have joined the Church. Everyone is working hard and having a wonderful time. It looks like we will have a wonderful God-fearing pastor for a long time.

With all this reminiscing, you will be convinced that I am not a young woman. The 37th Psalm, 25th verse says, "I have been young and now I am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, or His descendents begging bread."