of the North Manchester Historical Society, Inc.
Number 1 February 2007
Indiana Recognizes Brethren's Annual Meetings
It not only takes a
village to raise a child; it takes a whole community to
host an Annual Conference. At least it did in the
nineteenth century. This was never more true than when
as many as sixty thousand visitors crowded into the tiny
town of North Manchester for the great Brethren's Annual
Meeting of 1900! The population of North Manchester was
about four thousand at the time and the entire county
(Wabash County) had barely thirty-thousand. This was
certainly the largest crowd at any Annual Conference at
any time, and the largest gathering for a religious
meeting in the State of Indiana up to that time.
In the early years the
Big Meetings were hosted by individual congregations,
with help from neighboring churches as needed. Because
of its location at the intersection of three major
railroads, North Manchester was a suitable site for the
conferences. Three conferences of note were held here
during that period; 1878, 1888 and 1900. Twice later
(1926 and 1945) conferences were held in North
Manchester, but by then the conferences were planned and
conducted by denominational agencies and commercial
centers were usually chosen as sites for the meetings.
Because of the huge
crowd, preaching services were scheduled in a number of
the community churches. At the 1878 conference, Sarah
Major was chosen to preach at the Lutheran church.
Perhaps because of the novelty of hearing a woman
preacher (she was likely the first woman preacher to
appear in North Manchester) the church was filled to
overflowing. The local newspaper said, "The anxiety to
hear her was so great that only a small number of the
vast crowd that went could get into the church." At
least 1500 teams (horses and buggies or wagons) were
offered by the community to transport visitors from one
place to another. At least fifty-six train coaches full
of delegates arrived for the meetings.
In 1888 huge tents were
erected in a wooded area adjacent to the fairgrounds to
provide for meetings places and eating places.
Electricity and running water were installed on the
grounds. One of the railroad companies constructed a
plank walkway from the depot to the conference grounds.
The most notable incident occurred when James Quinter,
President of Juniata College and editor of the Gospel
Messenger, was to speak. Quinter was by far the
best-known Brethren leader at that time. Otho Winger,
later President of Manchester College, said, "The
greatest desire of my heart was to see and hear Elder
James Quinter." Before a huge crowd, Quinter was leading
in prayer when he suffered a stroke or heart attack and
died on the spot.
But the 1900 Annual
Meeting was the biggest and most spectacular of all. The
Conference grounds were set up in the east end of
Harter's Grove, where the present Warvel Park is
located. Five carloads of lumber (100,000 board feet or
more) were bought to construct buildings for conference
use -- a tabernacle 100 x 120 feet, a dining hall 60 x
120 feet, and a lunch room 18 x 150 feet were the
largest. Again, electricity and piped water were
supplied. About 100 tents were set up in the grove
nearby. Most people stayed in homes of the citizens of
North Manchester and the surrounding rural areas. "Many
houses in town accommodated twenty and thirty and even
as high as forty lodgers in a night, and there was
hardly a residence without someone." Some charter trains
were left parked near the conference grounds so
passengers could sleep there. A special forty-car
excursion train came from Dayton, Ohio, just for Sunday,
The Sunday crowd was
truly extraordinary. A newspaper account stated, "early
in the morning rigs of all descriptions began to arrive
from the surrounding country and neighboring cities,
towns and villages. Carriages, buggies, road-wagons,
spring wagons and farm wagons filled to overflowing came
pouring in from every direction, and each was loaded to
its utmost capacity. The streets and sidewalks were soon
little less than a great moving mass of activity.. . .
By noon there were at least 45,000 people in the grove
and scattered through the city." Total estimates of
50,000 to 60,000 were heard.
The support and
cooperation of the businesses in North Manchester and
the surrounding area was almost complete, as well as the
participation of almost all residents of the community.
Of course, the returns to the community in terms of
money and publicity was extensive. " It has taken an
immense amount of provisions to feed this great
gathering, but so far as we are able to learn, all were
provided for, though it taxed the town to the utmost."
It was the immensity of
the crowd and the total involvement of the community
(not just the Brethren) that impressed the Indiana
Historical Bureau that these meetings were historically
significant. When one reviews the "social and economic
impact of the Brethren Annual Meetings in North
Manchester", it is clear that these events are worthy of
one of the Historical Markers awarded by the agency.
These markers, about two by three feet, in deep blue
with gold lettering, are very attractive. The State of
Indiana has awarded about 460 such markers throughout
the state, honoring important people, buildings, natural
features and even special meetings. This is the first
such marker to be awarded to North Manchester and the
first marker by any state agency to recognize the Annual
Meetings of the Brethren. The wording on the marker
(side one) CHURCH OF
THE BRETHREN FOUNDED IN 1708 IN EUROPE. BY 1778,
BRETHREN MET ANNUALLY TO DETERMINE CHURCH POLICY. FIRST
ANNUAL MEETING IN INDIANA WAS IN ELKHART COUNTY 1852.
NORTH MANCHESTER CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN HOSTED ANNUAL
MEETINGS 1878, 1888, 1900; LAST TWO MEETINGS HELD HERE
IN HARTER'S GROVE. HAD ENORMOUS SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC
IMPACT ON AREA.
(side two) BUSINESS MEETINGS AND PREACHING BY PROMINENT
BRETHREN LEADERS DREW THOUSANDS FROM U.S. IN A FAIR-LIKE
ATMOSPHERE, VISITORS HAD ACCESS TO MODERN CONVENIENCES
OF THE TIME, INCLUDING IN 1888, ELECTRIC LAMPS. AREA
RESIDENTS COOPERATED IN PROVIDING VISITORS WITH HOUSING,
TRANSPORTATION, VAST QUANTITIES OF FOOD, GOODS AND
CLEAN, RUNNING WATER.
The marker was
presented to the town and dedicated on Friday, August
11, 2006. About 150 persons heard a choir of local
singers present some favorite old-time hymns, heard a
talk by Sarah Major (aka Joan Deeter), witnessed the
unveiling of the marker and heard further remarks by Ms.
Paula Bongen of the Indiana Historical Bureau, Ferne
Baldwin, president, North Manchester Historical Society,
Don Rinearson, president, Town Council, and Kurt
Borgmann, pastor, Manchester Church of the Brethren. The
marker is located in the park just off seventh street,
the actual site of the 1900 Annual Conference. After
this ceremony, about seventy people gathered at the
North Manchester Center for History to hear an
illustrated lecture on "The Social and Economic Impact
of the Brethren Annual Meetings in North Manchester" by
The Social and Economic
Impacts of the Brethren Annual Meetings on North
Manchester - Details
Three railroads made
North Manchester a transportation center.
- The Detroit, Eel
River and Illinois R. R. (later known as the
Vandalia) reached N. Manchester in 1871.
- Cincinnati, Wabash
and Michigan R. R. (known as Big Four) was completed
- Chicago and
Atlantic R. R. ( Erie R. R.) came in 1883.
The first two crossed
in North Manchester and the Chicago and Atlantic south
of town on a line from Ijamsville to Servia.
The Headquarters for
the Conference were at what is now known as the West
Manchester church. A large frame tabernacle, 272 feet by
80 feet wide was constructed. One half was used for
meetings and the other half for dining. After the
conference, the land was donated for use as a cemetery,
now the Pleasant Hill Cemetery.
The dining hall was a
large tent 67 feet by 100 feet with tables and benches
built as combined units. A tent 100 feet by 140 feet,
seating at least 5000 was used for meetings. There were
electric lights on the grounds as well as water
throughout the grounds. Thirty head of cattle were
fattened specially for the meeting and averaged 1200
pounds. The dining room served eight tons of bread, 2000
pounds of butter and many barrels of potatoes, eggs,
pickles, sugar, coffee, tea, rice, salt, pies, cakes and
The welcome was signed
by fifty local citizens and read: We, the undersigned
citizens of the town of North Manchester, by the consent
of the committee of arrangements, request that the Rev.
R. J. Parrett deliver an address of welcome to our
German Baptist friends at their coming annual
The Welcome by Rev. R.
J. Parrett read: "I esteem it a great honor to be chosen
by my friends in harmony with the wishes of your
committee to deliver this address of welcome to you. It
is with no little degree of interest that we have all
looked forward to this great national gathering. We have
as citizens in common felt a degree of pride because of
the consideration given us as a community, and the
preference shown in deciding to hold your annual meeting
here. Indeed we feel like complimenting your committee
for the good judgment displayed in the selection of a
place, North Manchester being the "Mecca" of the United
States, with her splendid railroad facilities,
unsurpassed for their kindness and generosity, situated
in the richest of agricultural valleys on the banks of
one of the purest and most beautiful rivers, with
population of church-going and peaceable citizens known
by all who ever pass this way for their charity and
The preceding is a
brief statement of the meeting of one of the strongest
religious bodies in the country and one of the largest
gatherings ever held in our state. Our citizens should
extend an open-hearted welcome to all and use every
effort to make it a pleasant meeting to all so that
North Manchester will be long remembered in the hearts
of the visitors with feelings of gratitude."
Note from local
newspaper, May 7, 1888. ...
"Will publish a daily
edition, the DAILY JOURNAL, to keep people posted on the
daily proceedings of the conference. "Business man will
find it a valuable advertising medium". The DAILY
JOURNAL will be published for six days with a
circulation of 2,000 copies daily. Fifteen cents for the
week or 3 cents per copy.
The C.W. & M. railroad
is preparing to build a plank sidewalk from their track
north of the depot to the grounds in Harter's grove for
the transfer of baggage and passengers coming to attend
the Dunkard conference."
A Resolution --
We, the members of the
many churches representing our beloved Brotherhood, do
with pleasure express our thanks,...
- To the Brethren,
Sisters and citizens of North Manchester and
vicinity for their kindness
- To and hospitality
in entertaining us as they have.
- To the railroad
companies and their agents.
- To the Committee
of Arrangements for the supply of all our wants.
- To the watchman
for the good order preserved during the
The Conference was held
in the eastern part of Harter's Grove (today Warvel
People began to gather
on Friday, June 1 with some worship and preaching
services on Sunday, June 3. Again, many Brethren
preachers held services in local churches. "In addition
to the services in the tabernacle, the pulpits in the
United Brethren, Lutheran, and Methodist churches were
filled by the visiting Brethren and the various places
of worship were filled to overflowing at every service."
Sunday was the biggest
day of the conference. Estimates of the Sunday crowd
ranged from 40,000 to 50,000. "The largest crowd that
was ever seen in the little city of North Manchester was
on the annual meeting grounds. Early in the morning rigs
of all descriptions began to arrive from the surrounding
country and neighboring cities, towns and villages.
Carriages, buggies, road wagons, spring wagons and farm
wagons filled to overflowing came pouring in from every
direction, and each was loaded to its utmost capacity.
The streets and sidewalks were soon little less than a
great moving mass of activity. Excursion trains soon
began to arrive and a huge mass poured into the grounds
The Dining Hall seated
800 people. There were 45 cooks and 75 waiters. The
daily demand was for 1900 pounds of bread, 150 dozen
eggs, 600 pounds of ham, 25 bushels of potatoes.
Thirty-one 1200 pound beeves had been killed to Monday
of the meeting. Besides the Dining Hall, there was a
lunch room 18 x 150 feet, arranged to serve people on
both sides. It is a "model of its kind."
After the conference
was over, the Brethren had a great auction to sell the
materials and supplies used to conduct the meeting. For
sale was 100,000 feet of lumber, queensware, glassware,
cutlery, tinware, twenty new iron bedsteads, one hundred
and fifty new bed springs, seventy new mattresses and
many other articles
The oldest man on the
meeting ground was Addison Sebring of near Silver Lake,
born in March of 1800 and a little over a hundred years
of age. He was well acquainted with Gen. Harrison and
had seen Henry Clay and Thomas Jefferson. I. J. Morris,
the oldest resident of Warsaw was in town. He knew North
Manchester when Peter Ogan's cabin was the only house in
F. J. Bechtold & Co.'s
new soda parlors and drug store were open all night
during the big meeting. There were two newspapers in
North Manchester; both published daily editions during
the conference. In order to avoid "conflict of
interest", the MORNING JOURNAL published in the morning
and the DAILY RAYS OF LIGHT appeared in the afternoon.
The grounds were wired
for electric lights and piped for water. About 100 nice
tents were put up in the grove to accommodate those who
prefer them to other lodging
The railroads helped.
The Big Four road ran an excursion train of forty cars
here for Sunday from Dayton, Ohio.
The Wabash railroad
(Vandalia) arranged to build a platform 1,000 feet long
beside its track at the entrance of the grounds where
all trains stopped, thus permitting passengers to alight
at the very entrance of the grove.
Calvin Ulery had charge
of the bicycle checking stand on the annual meeting
grounds. The charges were very reasonable and all wheels
were carefully looked after while in his care. It was
necessary to check all wheels taken to the grounds as no
one was allowed to ride on the grounds.
Comments from some of
the neighboring newspapers included the following -
"It is said there were
50,000 or 60,000 people at North Manchester last Sunday
at the big Dunkard meeting. After eating out the
boarding houses and everything else in sight they spread
out over the country and surrounding towns in search of
victuals. This is the misfortune of pulling up the
meeting from Peru after it was located here and taking
it out into a little country town."
"The Sunday crowd was
good natured and the best of order was maintained. The
day was pleasant, the exercises novel, the crowd simply
immense and the sentiment of the excursionists is that
they had an "awfully nice time." It is conservatively
estimated that 4,000,000 bags of peanuts were eaten
Sunday and enough lemonade drank to float the United
The committee paid out
something over $6,000. Butter, $300, Fruit, $1200;
Bread, pies, buns and other bakery goods, $900; Beef
cattle, $1600; Other meats, $400; Potatoes, pickles,
apple butter, etc. $150; Milk, $50."
Remember the population
of North Manchester was 4,000 at that time.
The last word from The
Manchester Journal, June 14, 1900
"Not only did the great
gathering do the town much good from the very
considerable amount of money spent here, but it has
proven an inestimable advertisement for the place.
People were here from nearly every state in the union
and the attendance from those states having a large
Dunkard population was immense. These people have gone
home feeling that they were excellently treated and that
their lines had fallen in pleasant places. These
visitors will have a good word for North Manchester.
They not only were pleased with the town but say that
the arrangements for the meeting generally were superior
to any they ever attended."