The History of the Napoleon United Methodist Church goes back to the story of the first Settlers who came from the east to the Michigan Frontier. With the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, settlers began to come from New York by way of the canal, across the black swamp and up to our area of Michigan. Prior to 1829, there was not a single village or settlement anywhere in Southern Michigan west of Ann Arbor (at that time, a village of 4 or 5 hundred persons, 3 or 4 stores and 2 taverns). Horace Blackman arrived in Ann Arbor and then headed west to be the first settler in what is now the City of Jackson. Jacksonburgh, as it was then called, grew fast until by the 1870’s, it was the 3rd largest city in Michigan.
In 1830, Jacksonburgh and Grass Lake became preaching points on the Ann Arbor circuit of the Methodist Church. The circuit rider had to travel an additional 80 miles to take in these 2 villages.
The story of Napoleon begins in May 1832, when an Indian trader, A.B. Goodwin, chose this spot on the Nottawa Sepee Trail to settle. During that year, Napoleon was rapidly settled. The out-cropping of sandstone brought some of the people here. In that year, Calvin Swain, a Baptist Minister, came to Napoleon and began the work of the Baptist Community. His wife was the first schoolteacher, opening up the first school in Napoleon in 1833. Reverend Swain moved to the Brooklyn area in 1834 to found that town but continued to have contact with Napoleon.
Another settler, Major General Abram F. Bolton, also came to Napoleon in 1832. He came from Coldwater and his interest was in the sandstone. While in these parts, he laid out the plans for the towns of Napoleon, Waterloo, Marengo, Moscow and Moscow Plains. He had been an admirer of Napoleon Bonaparte and was the one to suggest the name Napoleon. He was also the prime mover in the establishment of the Methodist Church.
In December of 1832, the first post office was opened up and in 1833, the area was organized as Napoleon Township, including what is now Norvell and Columbia Townships. On November 13, 1833, the Methodist Church in Napoleon had its beginnings when a traveling preacher spoke to the citizens of his Lord. Since that time on, Napoleon has been continually listed as a preaching point or a change or charge of the Methodist Church.
For this section of history, we turn to the history written by Charles C. Dewey, a charter member of the church. Mr. Dewey wrote up the early history of the church in his later years, after all the early church records were destroyed by vandals who broke into the parsonage between the change of pastors in 1833.
(The following history was written by Charles C. Dewey for an anniversary of the church organization in 1883):
“In every nation and perhaps in every community, the annual returns of certain days are watched with interest. They have become historic, they are anniversaries and are commemorated by religious rights or ceremonies or some exhibition of respect
The 4th Day of July is a proud day to Americans. It is ushered in by demonstration of joy. It brings to the mind of every student of American History, the heroic deeds and wonderful achievements of our forefathers. We love the day and hold in grateful remembrance, the patriots of the stormy days of the Revolution.
We are assembled today to commemorate the fact – a pleasing one to our minds and rich in results, those years ago in the old stone school house, the present M.E. (Methodist Episcopal) Class of Napoleon, was formed. It was composed of Ralph Covert, Leader; Margaret Covert, Elsie Meeks, John H. Chapman, Miranda Chapman, Minerva Chapman, John Logan, Peter Elliot. Twelve in number, just equal to the number selected by Our Savior, for his immediate followers.
The first sermon preached in Napoleon by a Methodist Minister, was in the evening of November 12, 1833. This date is determined with certainty, as it occurred on the night of the great meteoric shower, which was visible all over the United States when the whole firmament was in fiery commotion for several hours and was viewed with great interest by scientists of that ay and with great consternation and fear by others. (A fragment of a meteor, which fell that night, lies in an arbor, outside Lyle Antcliff’s on Brooklyn Road.)
The name of this first preacher is not known for certainty, but it is supposed to be Henry Colclazier. He was traveling when night overtook him at this place and he kindly consented to feed with spiritual food, the few pioneers who were here at that early date.
Ministers were sent by the Conference to this and surrounding neighborhoods as early as 1837. (A map of Methodist work in Michigan in 1834 shows Napoleon as one of 6 preaching points on the Ann Arbor circuit.) Brown, Davis and Jackway were among the number. Several classes were formed, but owing to the sparseness of the population and the difficulty of obtaining places of worship, they were all discontinued, with the exception of one a few miles west of us. It was not until the Sabbath in April 11, 1845 that a permanent organization was effected.
At that time, Reverend Hiram Law, junior preacher on what was then called the Jackson Circuit, Albion District, at close of a successful revival effort, formed the present class. A characteristic of those early conversions was that they were soundly converted by the Lord. Falling away were expectations and not the rule. A circumstance worthy of notice and almost without a parallel, that after the expiration of thirty-eight years, one-half of the original number are still alive, having been mercifully preserved by a kind providence while multitudes have fallen in death. The Bishops of the Church, at that time five in number, the presiding Elder of the District and two Circuit Preachers have all passed away.
The founder of the Class was a man whose memory will be fondly cherished by all who knew hi. He was then a young man, strong, robust and energetic and well adapted to the hardship of pioneers and labors of pioneer life. As our exhorter, his powers were wonderful. As a revivalist, he was eminently successful. In his personal appearance, he was prepossessing: He loved everybody and everybody loved hi. It was needless to add that he was kindly received everywhere. HE was opposed to superannuated relations to Conference. He often expressed close of a Sabbath service he fell and with an exclamation of Glory on his lips, he peacefully and triumphantly departed to the Glory Land. His work was done. He died with the harness on! (Hiram Law lies buried in the Cemetery on the south side of Grass Lake)
His co-laborer, H.M. Roberts was a quiet man, while he has done no harm; he read his sermons, which in that early day was not fashionable among Methodist.
In consequence of that habit, he was familiarly called the Presbyterian Preacher. He drifted south, fell into bad habits, he was picked up during the War by some our Northern Preachers, restored to the pulpit and he labored again for his Master.
At the next session of Conference, Jackson was made a station. The remaining territory took the name of Grass Lake Circuit. Hiram Law was preacher in charge and Daniel Jacokes was Junior Preacher. This class had preaching once in two weeks. This was the first work assigned to Brother Jacokes after his return from the Indian Mission. He was interesting as a speaker. In general, intelligence he had but few equals. He was not a quarrelsome man, but in defensive warfare he was always equal to the emergency. He has his place in the Church and ministry and fills it well. This was a prosperous year for the Church. The membership had increased to sixty.
The next D.C. Jocokes and his brother Thomas H. Jacokes were sent to the work. A.M. Litch was presiding Elder. Thomas was a sweet spirited man and a favorite with the people. Some valuable additions were made to the Church.
The next five years, Mothersill, Wooster, Gardner, Buchanan, Pengelley, Root, House, and Goodell filled the pulpit. These years were not particularly eventful.
In 1852-53, M.B. Camburn and Richards were the preachers, assisted by W.H. Smith. The Church was revived and received larger additions to its membership.
In 1853-54, the boundaries of the circuit were again changed. Grass Lake was taken off and Leoni was added. The work this year took the mane of Napoleon Circuit. Benjamin Sabin was preacher in charge and William H. Smith, Junior Preacher. Brother Sabin had been for several years superannuated, was made effective again this year. He told his Brethren in Conference that he wanted to be sent to some place where the Brethren were poor and lived in log houses. Napoleon could fill that bill. We received the new preacher with open arms and kindly invited him to share with us the hospitalities of our log cabins.
This Brother is remembered by the old settlers as an old man who had in early life done efficient work in his Master’s vineyard. He received for his year’s work, $120. In a conversation with the writer a few years after he left, he said in reference to his labors in this place that his wants were all supplied, he lacked nothing. An explanation to the apparent enigma is he was a man of considerable wealth and had ample funds to draw from in time of need. Such men find their place in bridging over the poverty of feeble charges.
In 1854-55, the work was supplied by William Rhodes, a local Preacher living near Round Lake. Leoni had been dropped from the work and Jefferson added. He was an acceptable Preacher and exerted a healthful influence, outside of religious circles.
There was a revival under his labors. Our Congregational Brethren were laborers with us and shared largely in the results.
The following year, 1855-6, F.M. Root a local Preacher living in Jackson, supplied the work. Napoleon, East Plains and Manley’s were the preaching places. The year was noted as being the one in which the first church festival was held. An oyster supper for the support of the Gospel. Our Grass Lake Brethren, with commendable Christian zeal, surprised us with a large attendance, bringing with them a brass band, which gave additional interest to the occasion.
In 1856-57, William H. Smith had charge of the work by appointment from the Elder. The year was a quiet one and pleasant for the young Pastor and people. In this connection I remark that Brother Smith was received in full connection January 23, 1848, was licensed to preach in 1852, ordained Deacon in 1857 received Elders orders at a session of Conference held in Detroit in 1869. He has preached 31 years on nearly every Sabbath – most of the time in neighborhoods not accessible by the regular pastors. In olden times the local ministers were important factors in the church. They were self supporting and supplied destitute neighborhoods graciously with the bread of life. They were the pioneers who formed the classes out of which have grown flourishing and important charges. (William Smith was a local boy who lived on Cady Road. His descendants still live in this area. The church presented its first pulpit Bible which was in use from 1845-1891 to him in 1891.)
In 1857-58, J. B. Russell occupied the pulpit the first half of the year. Owing to a little friction between the pulpit and the pew he left the work. The balance of the year Rev. Q.G. Finch performed the labor.
In 1858-59, William M. Triggs was the Pastor. It was his first year in the Conference. He entered the work with a good deal of youthful energy and commendable zeal. During the winter he…assisted in a protracted effort by a professional revivalist by the name of Wells. Fifty converts were reported as the fruit of the effort. Among the converts was John Wesley Moon who resides now in Muskegon. The Lord has greatly blessed the Brother in basket and in stone. He is a pillar in the church. His benevolence is proverbial. Many poor churches have been made glad by being the recipient of his bounty. A late contribution of $500. to the Jackson Church is well remembered.
In 1859-60, Henry Carlton was the Preacher. He was a young man, full of ambition and aspiring to larger fields of usefulness. He left us for Lake Superior, remaining there a few months and soon went south as Captain of a Company, which he had raided. He died in the service. He is kindly remembered by all who knew him.
The next four years, C. Mosher, O.J. Perrin and S.W. Warnes, were the Preachers. These years were not eventful. The usual routine work of the Church was done with varying results.
In 1864-65, Giles Belknap was sent to the work. He died during his second year of labor; and was succeeded by George Barnes, who was formerly a member of the New England Conferences. He had been a Chaplain in the Army. After his return from the south, he came to this State. During his pastorate here, there were large additions to the Church membership obtained by the ordinary means of Grace, without the intervention of a protracted effort with its usual excitements. It is worthy of note, that the Thursday evening prayer meetings were unusually well attended through the busy months of summer. While the Brethren were diligent in secular affairs, they not unmindful of life’s greater duties – religious work.
Since Brother Barnes left the work, Burnett, Benson, Ball, Warren, Hale, Hazen, Nicholes, Priestly, Bradley and the present incumbent have dispensed the bread of life to this people.
But a few incidents need to be mentioned. Brother Priestly departed this life for a better one in 1880. He had labored on this charge acceptably for a few months, when his life’s work was finished. (His wife remained in the community and added greatly, as a member of the Church in years to come.)
John M. McLaughlin was employed for the remainder of the year.
During the administration of O.B. Hale, it was decided to erect a new church edifice. The old one was removed to give place for the new one. While we cherish in our memories, many fond recollections of the old building with its pleasant associations, we extend a kind welcome to the new one and hope it may be the birthplace of many souls.
I give a few incidents of miscellaneous character:
In September, after the formation of the Class, it was determined to erect a place of worship. A Board of Trustees was appointed, consisting of Z.Bevins, Ebenezer Manly, R. W. Squire, Ralph Cover, Gardner J. Gallop, John H. Chapman and C.C. Dewey (the writer). It was organized by electing Z Bevins, President, R.W. Squire, Treasurer and your speaker (Mr. Dewey), Secretary. It was decided to build of stone.
William S. Blackmar gave the lot. Then the problem presented for solution was how to build a Church with but little money. The membership was poor and numbered only eighteen and the community was poor. Necessity suggested the expedients. A bee was made, the Brethren and friends responded to the call. In one day, nearly all of the stone was quarried and delivered to the lot.
Lumber was wanted. The same financial difficulty presented itself as in the former case. Another bee was resorted to. The Brethren repaired to the woods, chopped the logs, hauled them to the mill and when sawed, hauled the lumber home. Shingles were needed, fruitful as ever in expedients, our beloved Pastor went to Flint and obtained them by donation from Methodist friends. John H. Chapman and your historian hauled them home with teams. Not forgetting to take with them the Pastor for pilot and spending money.
One difficulty after another was overcome and the House was finally completed and on the 11th day of November 1847, was dedicated to the service of Almighty God, according to the rules and usages of the M.E. Church. The late Professor Hinman of Albion College preached the dedicatory sermon from a text in Matthew 16:18 – “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.”
A debt of $500.00 was contracted, which was an annoyance for two or three years, but was paid under the pastorate of P. A. Buchanan. The Church was free of debt and the people were glad.
This history would not be complete if I should not in this connection mention the name of the late General A. F. Bolton. This gentleman was not a professor of religion, but he manifested a deep interest in the prosperity and welfare of the M.E. Church and was to the end of his life, its firm friend. We were indebted largely to his labors and efforts for the success of the enterprise.
Among the early lay workers of the Church, Ebenezer Manley and Jesse Bevins should be mentioned. The former was for many years, an exhorter in the Church. He was interesting and instructive as a speaker, so much so that his services were sought for as an occasional supply for the village pulpits. Like the men of his day, he was intensely Methodistic.
His neighbor, Jesse Bevins, was a man of considerable talent and more than average intelligence. He was a safe counselor in church matters, he loved the Church, was liberal in giving to religious objects and his hand was always open to relieve the wants of the poor. He was regarded as the Good Samaritan of the neighborhood.
The Parsonage was purchased November 9, 1863, at a cost $900.00. The bell was purchased April 2, 1869, at an expense of $333.00.
In making these two additions to the Church property, we received liberal contributions from the citizens of the village and surrounding neighborhood. Upon numerous other occasions, we acknowledge their generosity in responding to the call of the Church. I will add here that the Citizens of Napoleon have the reputation of making speedy and generous responses to worthy calls of benevolence. Kansas, the Chicago fire and burnt districts of Michigan are memorable examples.
There have been 34 Minister sent to this work – 11 of whom have died. 2 of the number died on the work. There have been 10 presiding Elders on the District – 4 are dead.
The present membership of the Class is 170.
From statistics prepared with much care, it is ascertained that the average annual increase of members of all Protestant Churches is five; annual death to each Church is one. If these statistics are correct, it shows our growth, as a Church is equal to that of others. It is well to remember that its moral power is not determined by its numerical strength, but its influence penetrates every fiber of society, constantly restraining from evil and stimulating the good.
A few words outside of Church history will be admissible.
Fifty-one years ago, the first settlement was made in this town. The early settlers were mostly New Yorks, they were moral men. They made an impression on society like that made by the Pilgrim Fathers, the influence of which extends through succeeding years. As a result, the town has ever been comparatively quiet with a healthy atmosphere. During a residence here approaching a half a century, I assert I have never during an experience of twenty seven years as a Magistrate, I testify with pride, that I have never had a trial before for assault and battery where the offense was committed in or near the Village of Napoleon. A better record – a cleaner record cannot be produced by any Township in the State.
I do not mean these remarks merely for brag, but I bring out prominently and with considerable emphasis, the great truth that moral and religious influences are transmissible. They do not perish with the using, but like leaven in meal, their office is to permeate all their surroundings. A motive then is here presented to a continuance in well doing.
It is sometimes said that we have too many Churches in town. In extenuation of the fault, if it is one, I remark that it costs less to run two Churches than one Saloon. A fuller expression to the truth is that as churches and schools multiply, the inmates of prisons, jails and poor houses diminish. The steeples of these four Churches, pointing heavenward, are eloquent rebukes to immorality and irreligion and are of themselves, powerful incentives to a higher and a better life.
I have now briefly passed over the history of this Church from its inception to the present time, if its labors and results accomplished are not entirely satisfactory, they are sufficiently so to inspire hope for the future.”
The Napoleon United Methodist Church has come a long way since the first class was formed in 1845, following a revival service in the old stone school house, which was located on Nottawa Sepee Street, across from the Baptist Church. The class continued to meet in the school until a Church could be erected later that fall. The architects for this first church were Porter and Hawley (the latter’s descendants still being active in both the Methodist and the Baptist Churches in Napoleon.)
The first Church served only thirty years. This beautiful structure with its imposing, centered tower was torn down to make way for a new Church in 1875, to keep pace with the Baptists across the town square, who had finished their new structure some four years previously. The cornerstone of the first church was imbedded in the wall of the entranceway in the new Church – the same building in which we now worship some 95 years later.
The years following the building of the new Church in 1875 were years of some struggle. The task of building the Church was more awesome than some had anticipated. After the walls and roof were up, the congregation ran out of money. For three years the congregation worshipped first in Blackmar Hall and then shared the Congregational Church on Center Street, with that congregation. These two Churches were very close in spirit and friendship up through the time that the Congregational Church closed.
During the Ministry of Thomas Nicholes in 1878, work was resumed on the completion of the ground level of the Church and the dedication of that unit took place late in that year. During this time, money was still short. It is noted that the congregation resorted to an ice cream social to pay the Pastor’s back salary. In 1882, a second reed organ was purchased to aid the congregation in its music ministry for the first one had served out its life.
When Rev. A. W. Wilson came in 1883, work began again on the upstairs of the Church. In 1884, the stained glass windows in the sanctuary were installed. Rev. Wilson left Napoleon for six years during which little was accomplished in finishing the building.
One of the first things Rev. Wilson did when he returned was to form an Epworth League. Napoleon went on record as having one of the first Epwoth Leagues in the State – the Senior Epworth League being chartered in 1891, followed by the Junior Epworth League in 1894. Prior to this time, the young people were organized in what was called “The Young People’s Society”. They seem to have been on the forefront in the desire to complete the audience room (sanctuary) of the Church. In 1890, the Trustees go on record, complimenting the Young People’s Society for the work they had done in fixing up the audience room.
In the winter of 1891 and 1892, Rev. Wilson led the people in an effort to complete the sanctuary. Consent was gained of the presiding Elder by agreeing not to put the Church in debt. The first work was to replace the ladders leading to the upper story, with stairways.
Next a bee was held and the two and half foot thick, rough, stone walls were lathed and plastered; still there was money left. Members and outsiders alike were anxious that our Church should be completed. The Ladies Aid Society purchased the doors and the kerosene lighted chandelier for the new building and contributed towards the pews and the carpet. So our auditorium was finally completed at a cost of $1,751.00. The total cost for the Church, amounted to $6,000.00.
June 12 1892, was a day of great rejoicing. After the dedication sermon by Washington Gardner, President of Albion College, sufficient money was raised to pay all indebtedness and nearly pay for a new furnace.
During the early years, Napoleon as a small village Church saw many problems arise in terms of pastoral leadership. The Pastors assigned to Napoleon were usually elderly men on the verge of retirement or perhaps men who were supply or part-time Pastors. This practice continued as long as Napoleon was the hub of circuits involving small village or rural churches.
Then, in 1893, the Church historian, Hugh Hess, records that our first boy
Preacher, Rev. William Wallace, was sent here. Rev. Wallace was one of the more popular pastors. He, with the help of Evangelist F.E. Morehouse, held the largest revival in the history of the Church. Ninety-two members join the Church as a result.
From 1853, when Napoleon ceased to be an out appointment of the Grass Lake Church, Napoleon had been on its own. During these years, Napoleon had been the chief appointment with the Minister resident in Napoleon. Some of the smaller churches served, as out appointments from Napoleon were Leoni, Jefferson, East Plains and Manley’s, Brooklyn and Norvell. It should be mentioned at this point that the Brooklyn Methodist Church existed from 1860 until 1893 when it was united with Napoleon. Most, but not all, of the time Napoleon and Brooklyn were on a circuit together. Also, there was evidently a Methodist Church in Norvell for a while around the turn of the century, but it apparently did not last long and was merged with the Napoleon Church.
From the earliest days, it was the custom to have “Bees” to out the firewood for the Church. When the weather became too severe, worship was held in the Chapel Room, rather than in the sanctuary, since it did not hold the heat well. For many years, they even boarded up the west windows of the Church during the winter months.
Sometime during the early years of this century – probably about 1915 – Elmer Luce, Uncle of Walter Luce, decided to do something about the poor lighting in the Choir loft. He went to Forest Andrews woods and took some oak lumber to fashion the lampposts. These were accepted in recent years as being a part of our uniqueness. Others, more or less fondly, referred to them as “our telephone poles”.
The first electricity came to our Church in 1921, when the downstairs and the two ceiling lights in the Sanctuary were wired. Direct current was received from a generator powered from the steam engine in the old cider mill and later a larger generator at the L.J. Beal Garage, which also served to light a few streets and some private homes. At 9:15 p.m., a repeated dimming from the mill and garage warned storekeepers and residents that power would cease at 9:30 p.m. In 1925, the church was further electrified and the chandelier was converted from kerosene to electricity by Lyle Kennedy, father of Pearle Barrus. The power company had reached Napoleon with A.C. current And twenty-four hour service in November 1926. Brooklyn Road, the main road connecting Napoleon to Jackson, was not paved until 1928; and it was 1954 before the dusty gravel road (Nottawa Sepee) serving in front of our Church and Parsonage was paved.
It was also during the 1920’s that the old horse sheds at the rear of the Church lot, were torn down. The barn that was used to house the Pastor’s horse and buggy was left as a garage for the Pastor’s car. It was the custom that more families rented their own stall in the stables for their use on Sunday or during the week, when they came to town. School children would park their rigs in the stables when they drove in from the country to school. Since the Methodists did not have enough horse barns of our own. Some families rented stalls from the Baptists, who had extras.
In the course of the history of the Methodist and Baptist Churches it is interesting to note that a certain rivalry existed between the two Churches. The Baptist Church was organized first, June 1834. They continued stronger until the mid 1870’s, after which the question was not which was the stronger for many years but which was the weaker. The Methodists built the first Church in Napoleon in 1845, with Baptists hard on their heels. In 1869, the Baptists began work on their present structure, completing it in 1871. The Methodists began their present structure in 1875, but did not have it entirely finished until 1891. The “Steeple War” was the chief race between the two Churches from the 1870’s until 1927, when the Methodists gave up their lead by tearing down their spire, which proved too difficult to maintain and the lowering the tower.
Good relations and fellowship were the hallmark of the competition between the two churches. Both Churches held many successful revivals. The cooperation was evidenced by the mission work carried out by Rev. Hartbough of the Baptist Church and Rev. Rowe of the Methodist Church. For several years following 1910, the cooperated in conducting Sunday worship services in the Griffin schoolhouse, west of Napoleon, for those who could not travel the distance to Napoleon.
A high point in the Methodist-Baptist fellowship came during the ministry of Rev. Fred Ambler, at the Baptist Church. He served here during the early 1920’s, left and came back during the 1930’s. During this time, union prayer meeting services were held between the Churches, as well as Sunday evening services. Although Pastor the Baptist Church, he was endeared to the Methodist as though we were one of our own Pastors. The story is told of a revival service at the Methodist Church under the leadership of Evangelists Littrel and Moody. Rev. Ambler wrote the number one hundred on the west door post of the Methodist church setting this as the goal of the number of conversions we hoped to reach. During these services, one hundred and four persons gave their lives to Christ.
From the early days of the Church’s History, up until World War II. Sunday school picnics at Aikens Lansing on Big Wolf Lake and Eagle Point on Clark Lake were the highlights in the Church’s year. It was common for Methodists, in past years to offer adult Baptism by immersion. Such Baptism services for Napoleon were held at Sunset Beach on Little Wolf Lake. Some ill will was stirred up in the congregation sometime during the 1920’s when a Pastor refused to administer Baptism by immersion.
This isn’t the only time there was a stir in the congregation. Walter Luce tells the story of a Sunday morning worship service that was disturbed by the smell of popcorn in the sanctuary. It seems that two of the boys in the congregation, Harry Schaefer and Harold Lloyd, were busy popping popcorn in the furnace room during the service. Little did they realize the smell was wafting up into the sanctuary causing quite a commotion.
One of the projects during the 1920’s was the Fresh Air Program. Members of the Church volunteered to have deprived children from Detroit visit them in their homes for a weekend during the summer. Even then, the inner cities had problems.
Another awesome project during the late 1920’s, was removing the old wood shingles on the entire Church roof and replacing them. This dangerous task by volunteer laymen, took more than a month to complete.
Rev. Paul Havens, who served in 1921-23, came as a young single student Minister. He lived upstairs in the Parsonage as the ground floor was rented to the Mellencamp’s. Rev. Havens soon married a young girl from Detroit, thus dashing the hopes of many young girls in the community.
During Rev. William Snyder’s Pastorate (1924-29), special evangelistic services were held. The speaker was George Bennard, composer of “The Old Rugged Cross.” This was a memorable event in the life of the Church, as members were inspired by Mr. Bennard’s preaching and singing.
Hubert Beariss, Napoleon’s first band director, came to town in 1935. He affiliated with our church and for a period of six years, we had a Sunday School Orchestra, which played primarily for the opening and closing of Sunday school and at special services. During this same period, the Church sponsored a girl’s organization known as the Queen Esthers, first directed by Mrs. Ezra (Ruth) Eby, and then succeeded by Mrs. Albert (Jennie) Miller. This group was a Junior Women’s Society and studied missions. A vested Youth Choir was formed in 1936, instigated by Mrs. Orin (Helen) Heselschwerdt.
In 1939, the Methodist Episcopal Church, of which we were a part, united with the Methodist Episcopal Church South and the Methodist Protestant Church to form the Methodist Church. This merger brought together the three major branches of Methodism. Following this, on September 22, 1940, the former Ladies Aid Society was dissolved and the Women’s Society of Christian Service, was formed. The Queen Esthers disbanded and the Epworth League became the Methodist Youth Fellowship.
It is interesting to note that no formal Church wedding occurred in the Methodist Church in Napoleon during the first 95 years of its organization. Most couples were wedded in simple ceremonies as befitting the budgets of rural folk. Weddings were usually held in the bride’s home or occasionally in the Parsonage. The first formal wedding in the Church, took place between Shirley Campbell and Virgil Hawley on October 4, 1941, with Rev. John Bunney officiating.
Rev. Bunney had the distinction of serving for 11 years – the longest pastorate of any Minister. He was an Englishman and wore a cut-away swallowtail coat for preaching.
During the dark days of World War II, with many of our young men in the service, there was a void in the Church and community. Under the leadership of Orin Heselschwerdt, a Christmas Eve War Memorial Service was held in 1944 to honor those serving from our community.
Several times in the history of the church, following completion of the sanctuary in 1891, it became necessary to repaint the walls and ceiling. This was not a job easily done. Originally, the church as decorated with intricate calcimine designs around each of the windows, the top of the wall and over the ceiling. Also, on the Chancel wall, a large mural with the words “Thou God Seest Me” (to go with the eye in the Rose window), provided the focal point. This lasted in one form or another until the church was repainted in the late 1940’s. When the church as painted, it required scaffolding the entire inside to work on the walls and ceiling. Rev. William Johnson recalls the time the church was painted in the early 1930’s, saying this took rededication at its best, to undertake such an awesome task. William Levengood recalls that at that time, there was some controversy as to how to paint the ceiling. In the end, they left only one section of scaffolding standing – put rollers under and moved it back and forth the length of the sanctuary, painting the entire ceiling in just several hours time. The most recent repainting took place in 1968, when the entire inside was scaffold.
As we have mentions from 1929- 1946, the Napoleon Church had been on a circuit with Manchester. In 1946, Manchester decided that they wanted to be free of an out appointment and we were ready to be challenged to go it on our own, financially requiring a considerable increase in the church budget. Somehow, the church managed to make the transition with the aid of part-time and student ministers. These were years of increased growth and new vitality in the church, as we had to shoulder our own weight again.
In 1946, Brother E.O. Davis was sent to us. During this year, it was decided that the old sandstone parsonage was no longer suitable for use for the minister’s family. At first, it was decided to sell the parsonage and lot and build a new parsonage adjacent to the church on the west. Instead, with the financial aid of Dora and Frank Gallup, the old parsonage was torn down and a new one built on the same spot. Building at this time was difficult due to the shortage of building supplies after the war. This was overcome by the dedication of those willing to work had to track down needed materials. As a result, a very pleasant and comfortable two-story brick parsonage was provided at a cost of $14,000.
In September of 1947, Rev. Rev. M.A. Vance, who was also a Professor at Adrian College while here, moved into the new parsonage. Under his leadership, bonds were issued to cover the building debt. A new Hammond Organ was also purchased during this year. For quite a few years, the church had gone without an organ in the sanctuary.
Lucille Hess Carpenter, Church Historian, following in the footsteps of her father, Hugh Hess, and Grandfather, Charles, remarks, “In 1948, history repeated itself and we were given another boy preacher – Rev. William Stone. His friendliness and sincerity have endeared him to young and old alike.” That fall, on November 14, 1948, Bishop Marshall Reed, who was a classmate of Lucille Carpenter at Albion College, was present for the dedication of the organ. Ole Foerche, a renowned organist from Detroit played the dedicatory program.
One of the more noticeable chapters in the church and community occurred in 1952, when Pastor Stone grew tired of late evening parties in the Town Hall in the park across the street. He decided to see if we could purchase the building. The Township Hall was built in 1889 and had been used for a variety of affairs. Band practice, school plays, commencement exercises, elections, American Legion meetings, village livery, school gymnasium, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Baptist Church services and even a few weddings.
Since the Town Hall was not being used much, it was purchased from the Township for $1,200.00 and moved in March of 1952 to the rear of the church and placed over a basement already dug and laid up with block.
In 1954, under the pastorate of Sherman Richards, the kitchen unit was built connecting the church with the Town Hall. An interesting sidelight to this occurred when the Pastor’s daughter borrowed Walter Luce’s car. She accidentally turned too short around the church only to drop to a stop astraddle of the open tunnel, which had been excavated to connect the Town Hall and church basements.
Other additions during the late 1950’s were a fireplace and chimney on the Youth Hall, a garage and an outdoor bulletin board. These were all faced with sandstone and constructed Virgil Hawley.
From 1957 to 1961, Donald Krushaar was Pastor here while attending seminary. Under his ministry, the church continued its gradual but encouraging rate of growth. During this time, the choirs flourished under the leadership of the Pastor’s wife, Doris, who was an accomplished performing vocalist, having her Masters Degree in vocal music. She received her certification as a minister of music while ere. She upgraded the level of music the Adult Choir was using, formed a Carol Choir for junior age children and reorganized the Youth Choir. In 1961, the Youth Choir made a record of their spring concert. She also established a rhythmic choir in 1957. This choir was composed of high school girls who interpreted sacred music through rhythmic movement. It has become one of the most outstanding groups from our community and their performances have been featured on local television, in the spring Children’s Choir Festivals and in guest appearances at various churches in Southern Michigan.
Edith Buffett worked with the youth during this time. She was a high school physical education teacher and took an interest in the education program of the church. We went on to Garrett Theological Seminary for a Master of Religious Education degree in 1962, and left for Ypsilanti, where she took an education position in the First Methodist Church.
Rev. Richard Cheatham pastured from 1961 to 1967. While here, Rev. Cheatham finished his college work, completed seminary and did course work for his Doctorate. The church continued to grow and showed a desire to refurbish the old structure as time was taking its toll on the building. In 1961, the present Pastor’s office was paneled. It had been used as an office for some time, but still looked more like the kitchen it had once been. Also, the fire door leading out of the sanctuary was put in through the three foot thick stone wall to comply with fire standards.
In 1963, the stone walls looked like they might crumble, so they were tuck-pointed. The floors and foundation were propped up and a new foundation was poured. Our leaning towers were also shored up. The final step was to put partitions in the basement of the Town Hall in July, 1965 to provide more Sunday school space.
An interesting story often told about Rev. Cheatham was when he was baptizing an infant, to his dismay; found that he had forgotten to put water in the Baptismal font. The red-faced Pastor had to send an usher after the water before the service could proceed.
On a more serious note, the congregation remembers sitting through the Palm Sunday Cantata in 1965, in what appeared to be a bad storm. The storm turned out to be the infamous Palm Sunday tornadoes that churned up much of the countryside and towns just a few miles south of us and which also leveled the Devils’ Lake Methodist Church.
In June of 1967, Conference felt that Napoleon had shown enough strength to graduate from being a student appointment. A full time Minister, Rev. Robert Kersten, was sent and spent and spent two years here. Just prior to his coming, the Smorgasbord Dinners were started to raise money for the music committee to purchase a new organ speaker and to repair the organ. This turned out to be a good money raising project and was taken over by the Trustees to earn money for needed repairs and renovation. New gas furnaces (to replace the old oil furnaces) were installed in 1968 and the sanctuary, Chapel and choir rooms were painted and redecorated. In 1967, a land contract was signed between the church and the Darrell Crosses, providing for the church to buy their property for $7,000.00. In September 1968, twin girls were born to the Kersten Family – another first in our history.
In April of 1968, the Methodist Church united with Evangelical United Brethren Church to form the United Methodist Church. Napoleon was transferred from the Ann Arbor District of the Detroit Conference to the Albion District of the West Michigan Conference. Soon after the church merger, Napoleon received a former E.U.B. District Superintendent and Pastor.
Rev. Robert Hinklin was received as Pastor of the Napoleon Church in June of 1969. In the past year and a half, the church has continued to experience growth and strength that has remained constant since we were placed on our own in 1946. Our membership has risen to the 250 plus mark, with attendance wavering between 130-190 and an average of about 160.
As an outgrowth of the Smorgasbord Dinners, the church has experienced much physical change the past year and half. The Town Hall unit has seen the stage boarded up, the ceiling lowered, the walls paneled and the basement painted. The front entrance way has seen new cement sidewalks, the placement of the old wood doors with glass ones and a carpeted and paneled front hallway and stairs. The sanctuary has had the Chancel remodeled and the floors carpeted. In our future plan, we envision adding needed space for Choir and Sunday School in back of the sanctuary above the kitchen unit. Work has begun on the development of a new parking lot on the rear part of the Cross property.
Throughout the last 125 years, there have been many who have contributed to both the material and spiritual welfare of the Napoleon United Methodist Church. This history Has dealt mainly (as history does) with the material change and growth, but it has been the spiritual change and growth that has lent the impetus. In these few pages, we cannot give proper credit to all who have served their Lord well in our community. We cannot measure the change that has been brought about through Christ’s love, but we know the change has been great. Only the Lord knows where we will go from here. We do know that he blesses and leads day-by-day, as well as year-by-year. And although the printed words on the Chancel wall are no longer there, truly we can say, “Thou God Seest Me”!
Our history ends here but it is not finished. The past has been years of growth and decline- the future is in our hands. The church is built to stand for centuries to come. But the church will continue here in Napoleon in this building or another, only as long as committed persons are willing to keep and proclaim the faith of Jesus Christ.
At such a time, as an anniversary celebration, it is fitting to take note of certain person within the parish. Our members of longest standing are Veva Brown and Forrest and Stella Andrews, having joined the church 54 years ago in 1916. The oldest member is Ella Howland, who is 89 years old.
In the course of the church, several persons have entered full time Christian service. William H. Smith, a local man, entered the Ministry in the mid 1850’s. Edith Buffett, a local school teacher and active member of this church, received theological training and served as a Minister of Education in the Detroit Conference. They were mentioned in our history. We wish to give special recognition to Walter Luce, who entered the Ministry as a Lay Pastor and served churches in the Detroit Conference for 12 years in the late 1920’s and 1930’s. In recent years, Walt has been a source of aid to our church and community as “A Pastor in Residence”. Walt’s wife Gladys has served this church faithfully for 32 years as Church Organist. Their service has been appreciated by Pastors and people.
I wish to give thanks to the many people who have worked hard on this anniversary celebration. There are many who time and space will not let us single out, but I do wish to mention Shirley Hawley, Pat Heselschwerdt, Caroline Howland and Jean Hinklin, as contributing much to the research and writing of this history. I also appreciate the help of those from near and far who have gone out of their way to provide us with information. We thank Thelma and Loris Russell, children of Church Historian, Nellie Russell, who provided us with information and pictures. Thanks too, for the contribution from Richard Smith and his brother Woody, a photographer in Chattanooga, TN, for the beautiful oil prints of our churches.
The Lord God Bless, preserve and keep you, now and forevermore.
Rev. Robert L. Hinklin, Pastor
THESE PEOPLE CALLED METHODISTS
The Methodist persuasion of the Christian faith has its origins in early eighteenth century England. As a priest in the Church of England, John Wesley, with his brother Charles and other students, first formed a “Holy Club” at Oxford University. They were called “Methodists” by their fellow students as a means of ridiculing these methodical, highly-disciplined and socially concerned students.
A few years later, after a missionary trip to Georgia in the American Colonies, Wesley was still searching for a real living faith that he felt was absent in his own Church of England.
He had become envious of the confident spirit of the Moravians and was convinced to attend a meeting on May 4,1738.
“In the evening, I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me, that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
This Aldersgate Experience is taken as the birth of the Methodist movement. Wesley soon founded prayer and study societies and organized them after the pattern of the “Holy Club”. Wesley never left the Anglican Church, but within a generation, the Methodist and Anglican Churches were separate identities.
Wesley’s ministry to the common folk was carried to all parts of the world. It came to American in the days prior to the Revolutionary War, through the auspices of Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury. These pioneer preachers soon made the Methodist movement the strongest religious movement in America.
The special uniqueness of the Methodist faith
can be seen in the statement by Wesley
concerning his Aldersgate Experience.
ASSURANCE OF SALVATION –
A knowledge and conviction that God does save us from sin.
PERSONAL COMMITMENT TO GOD –
Emphasis upon Christian experience and living
A WARM COMPASSIONATE HEART –
Real concern for Man in his world, as well as for God.
November 13, 1833, Henry Colclazier preached the first sermon, Ann Arbor
Circuit, Detroit District. Napoleon continued as a preaching station served by
Spring Arbor (Jackson) Church.
1834 J.F. Davidson and R. Lawrence Prior to 1836, Part of
1835 E.H. Pilcher and F.A. Seaborn Ohio Conference
1836 J. Kinnear and H. Perkizer 1836 Michigan
1837 J. Kinnear and J.C.C. Brown Conference formed
1838 G.W. Breckenridge and T.S. Jackway
1839 L.Davis and T.S. Jackway
1840 J.H. Pitezel and D.Thomas
1841 E.M. Crippen and S.C. Stringham
1842 E.M. Crippen and Levi Warrener
1843 A.M. Fitch
1844 Hiram M. Roberts and Hiram Law
Under the Leadership of Hiram Law, the present Society began April 1, 1845
1845 Hiram Law and D.C. Jacokes Napoleon, part of
1846 D.C. Jacokes and T.H. Jacokes Grass Lake Circuit,
1847 W. Mothersill and Wooster Marshall District
1848 T.C. Gardner and P.G. Buchanan Michigan Conference
1849 R.G. Pengelley and Root
1850 R.G. Pengelley and Root 1850 Ann Arbor District
1851 R. Goodell and House
1852 Myron B. Camburn and Richards 1852 Marshall District
(Assisted by Wm. H. Smith)
1853 Benjamin Sabin and Wm. H. Smith
1853 Adrian District, Napoleon separated from Grass Lake, Leoni out
preaching point, Jefferson out appointment East Plains and Manley’s.
1854 Wm. Rhodes
1855 F.M. Root
1856 Wm. H. Smith 60 Members 1856 Detroit Conference
1857 J.B. Russell ½ year formed Napoleon remains a
1858 Wm. Triggs part of the Adrian or Ann
1859 Henry Carlton Arbor District until 1967
1860 Curtus Mosher 81 Members
1862 O.J. Perrin 60 Members
1863 S.W. Warnes 79 Members 1863 Parsonage Purchased
1864 Giles Belknap 81 Members
1865 George Barnes
1866 Wm. Q. Burnett 100 Members
1868 W. Benson 90 Members
1869 D.O. Ball 108 Members 1869 Church Bell Purchased
1870 F. W. Warren Brooklyn Added
1872 D.O. Ball.
1873 O.B. Hale 140 Members (Including Brooklyn) Work
1875 A.R. Hazen began on present church
1876 Thomas Nicholes
1879 J.S. Priestly 190 Members (He died during the year)
1879 J.M. McLaughlin (Finished Priestly’s year)
1880 Franklin Bradley
1882 W.E. Dunning
1884 A. W. Wilson
1885 H.M. Wright
1886 D.W. Giberson
1891 A.W. Wilson
1893 Wm. Wallace Brooklyn Church united
1896 Eugene Yager 129 Members with Napoleon
1898 Beoni Gibson 127 Members
1900 W.W. Benson 116 Members
1901 D.B. Millar Novell on Circuit
1903 W.H. Benton 80 Members (Died while at Napoleon)
1907 R.H. Heigh (Finished Benton year)
1908 John Row
1913 D.J. Campbell 74 Members
1915 Fred Coates
1917 O.W. Willits 55 Members
1918 Roy C. Scott 79 Members
1919 D.H. Yokum
1920 Wm. Wise
1921 Robert Diem
1922 Paul Havens 114 Members
1923 Henry Bushong
1924 W. Snyder
1929-1946 Napoleon becomes out appointment on Manchester Circuit
1929 Wm. A. Johnson
1935 John Bunney 72 Members
1939 Methodist Episcopal, Methodist Episcopal South and Methodist
Protestant united to form the Methodist Church
1946 E.O. Davis
1947 Matthew Vance 146 Members New Parsonage built
1948 W. Stone
1953 H.M. Fikes 185 Members Truman Wright
1954 Sherman Richards supplied in early 1954
1957 Donald Kraushaar 211 Members
1961 Richard Cheatham 229 Members
1967 Robert Kersten 243 Members
1968 The Methodist church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church
united to form the United Methodist Church
1968 Napoleon Transferred to West Michigan Conference Albion District
1969 Robert Hinklin 255 Members
1973 Margorie S. Matthews First Women Bishop
1975 Brian Cellick
1977 Frank Anderson
1979 Wayne Gorsline
1988 Robert J. Freysinger
2004 Robert P. Stover
2007 Jennifer J. Jue
1845 First Church Built
1863 Parsonage Bought
1869 Bell Purchased
1875 Present Church Began
1884 Windows Installed
1891 Church Finished
1927 Church Steeple Lowered
1948 Present Parsonage Built
1952 Organ Dedicated
1954 Town Hall Bought and moved to be used as Education Unit
1967 Smorgasbord Dinners Began
1969 Remodel Youth Hall
1970 Remodel Front Entrance, Remodel Chancel, Carpet Sanctuary
NAPOLEON UNITED METHODIST CHURCH HISTORY
In 1984, we celebrated 200 years of Methodism in America. From a meeting
House in Lovely Lane Church, just a few blocks away from the harbor of old Baltimore, 60 Circuit preachers gathered together on Christmas Eve to organize the Methodist Episcopal (M.E.) Church. From this meeting has spread a membership of more than 40 denominations, consisting of 9.4 million members in the United States alone.
Some say with derision and some with pride, that Methodism is “The most
American of the American Churches”, as it was the first Christian denomination to be organized in America.
Through 1984, we were kept informed (by Church programs, inserted pamphlets, movies shown, articles read and interesting facts given to us in our Church Newsletters) by a dedicated person who worked diligently and with endless effort to provide Church members and friends with bicentennial information. So with esteem and gratitude we salute that person, Genevieve
We should note that at the North Central Jurisdictional Conference held in Deluth, Minnesota, Bishop Judith Craig was assigned to Michigan area after being the third women ever elected Bishop in the United Methodist Church.
Bishop Craig office in the Michigan area in September. We also not, here that in 1980 Marjorie S. Matthews was the first woman elected to serve as Bishop in the United Methodist Church and assigned to the Wisconsin area. Bishop Matthews was Pastor of Napoleon United Methodist Church from June 1973 to December 1975.
In March, we opened our Church to a new Christian source called “Lay Witness Mission.” The team of witnesses was headed by Mr. Ray Francisco, who programmed the weekend. Our Church and homes were opened to these people who came to spread evangelism.
Mr. Francisco, from Battle Creek, was the team coordinator. He came with his team to lead us in spirit and spread our Christian attitude out in the community.
Our members participated by inviting friends, neighbors, etc. to attend our first Lay Witness Weekend. It ended with great pleasure and love rooted messages. They were ordinary people like you and me, who wanted to share their experiences with Christ and they did.
In June, we said our goodbyes to the Ray Francisco family. Completing his requirements, Ray accepted the two-point charge to preach at Samria Grace United Methodist Church and Lulu United Methodist Church in Samaria, Michigan. Ray and Joyce, his wife, along with their children, Tommy, Jill and Mandy, can we ever thank you enough for all your work, devotion and love you have spread through our church? So, as we say our goodbyes, may God Bless your lives and Ray make us proud.
In September of 1984, the Building Committee completed their plans to expand our church. After two years of meetings, study and planning, they put forth their efforts to the congregation for financial support. This committee, through the help of the Office of Field and Finance of Global Ministries, sent Mr. & Mrs. Howard Donahue to help in the intensive phase of the fund raising campaign. The efforts of these two directors were not in vain, as 49 visitors made 145 visits to our congregation under their directions and $148, 707.80 was pledged through 1987, plus $3, 000.00 in cash. The goal was $150,000.00 and with continued pledges coming in, the building program has been successful so far. It is the objective of the Administrative Board, along with architect, George Covalle, to start construction in June of 1985.
The stairwells or entrances leading to the sanctuary were scraped, cracks filled, then painted in white, so we approach our sanctuary with a gleam of brightness.
Our church was again the packing and distribution center for Thanksgiving and Christmas boxes for the needy. All contributions came from within our own community.
So, we close another year with the record being made, the last deed done, the last word said. The memory alone remains of all its joy, its grief and its gains.
We are ready to meet another year with clear and full purposes.