Peabody Singing Tower

 North Manchester, Indiana

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Source: NMHS Newsletter Nov 1997

Fire Destroys a Landmark

Although this edition of the Newsletter was to have been published in November, 1997, it had not yet made it to completion by the evening of January 6, 1998. Thus it is that this timely story of the loss of a North Manchester landmark can be included in this issue.

Scott Fairchild, a North Manchester police officer, was patrolling on North Walnut street about 2:00 a.m. on the morning of January 7, 1998 when he detected smoke from the Manchester Church of the Brethren. A quick look at basement windows showed live flames on the ceiling of the kitchen. His alarm brought the fire department and Pastor Susan Boyer called several members of the congregation including the custodian, John Dome, a firefighter from the Sidney Department. Other alarms brought firefighters from ten other departments: Chester, Pleasant, Henry and Noble townships, Roann, Bippus, Silver Lake, Wabash, Urbana and Sidney. Police officers and Traffic Assistance Patrol officers also gave important assistance.

At first, there was hope that the fire might be contained in the education wing but the flames continued to spread to other parts of the church. Soon fire was visible on the north end of the roof and as it crept toward the south firefighters brought furniture including a piano out of the Jubilee Room.

A crowd gathered. Soon the media arrived. Hurried plans were made to have a worship service on the front lawn that evening, and later in the day arrangements were made to have Sunday morning services at Manchester High School Performing Arts Center the following Sunday. By midday investigators from the State Fire Marshalls office and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were on site to conduct the formal investigation of the fire. The number of church fires in recent months has led to the federal requirement that the cause of every church fire must be determined by this agency.

Meantime the battle with the fire continued. The roof of the main expanse over the sanctuary collapsed and eventually fell into the basement in a jumble of great charred timbers. Firefighters were on the scene through Wednesday night because of hot spots and Thursday morning smoke was rolling from the area. As much as six feet of water was pumped out of the basement. Some 175,000 gallons of water were used fighting the fire.

This fire destroyed one of the landmarks of the town of North Manchester. The first church house on Walnut street was erected in 1881. It was brick 40 x 60 feet and cost $3300. Members of the Building Committee were: Daniel Horning, Stephen C. Ulrey and John Miller. The Dedicatory sermon was preached by Elder R. H. Miller, Sr.

The first German Baptist Brethren (Church of the Brethren since 1908) came to this area from Montgomery county, Ohio. Joseph Harter and wife settled on Eel River in 1836. Their son Eli and his wife built the second residence in North Manchester and soon after, their daughter became the first child born in North Manchester. Other settlers followed:. Daniel Swank, Samuel Ulrey, Jacob Cripe, Jacob Swihart, Jacob Metzger with wives and families. William Moss came from Mexico, Indiana and preached occasionally.
In 1852 the original congregation was divided into the Eel River and the Manchester congregations. During these early years worship services were held in houses and barns of the members. Many members only understood Pennsylvania Dutch and some preachers preached in Dutch and some in English.

The initial building was torn down in 1907 to make way for a larger church house. A committee of seven was chosen to direct the work and solicit funds. John Delauter was chair, E. L. Lautzenhiser, John P. Dickey, Jacob Baker, Jacob Warner, John Fouts, and Samuel Haines. On the first Sunday of January, 1908, the Dedicatory sermon was preached by Dr. P. B. Fitzwater, then a teacher at the College.

With the continued growth of the church there was desperate need for Sunday school space and in 1925 an addition was built to the east side of the church to provide class rooms.

Growth continued. In September, 1950 a new cornerstone was laid with Edward Kintner as the Elder and H. F. Richards the Pastor. Members of the Building Committee were Clay Syler, H. E. Leedy, Robert Cussen, Mrs. V. F. Schwalm and William Hartsough. The Dedicatory service was November 4, 1951 with Dr. Rufus D. Bowman, President Bethany Biblical Seminary preaching. During this remodeling all services were held in the Manchester College chapel.

In 1950 noteworthy changes included reversing the chancel to the north end of the building, all new pews and the carpeting of the sanctuary.

In 1982 another addition provided more rest rooms, a social room and accessibility for all. The addition currently being built provided updated Church School space and was planned to bring the offices into the church building. The new construction was not damaged in the fire.