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OLD HARMONY CHURCH
150th ANNIVERSARY OBSERVANCE SPEECH
October 19, 1969

 


Picture above taken by Linda Weekly or Dee Randall.

Picture above taken by Linda Weekly.

All pictures not taken above by Linda Weekly 2001
were taken September 2001 by Dee Randall.

The third picture down from top is the Old Harmony Graveyard at the top of the hill to the right of the church (first picture) thru a "cow" gate and then another gate at the top of the hill.

The fourth picture is down the road called Hacker's Creek Road or Berlin road from the Old Harmony Church.

You will see the Morrison Cemetery in the last picture here, behind the Hacker's Creek Marker. The Morrison Cemetery is on Hacker's Creek Road on the farm of Paul Alkire and it is said to be among the oldest cemeteries in Lewis County. I notice Martin Post 1809-1894 buried here. (An relative Edy Belt was in his household before she married. There are a number of Bonnets, a few Hinzman's, a Sarah Gaston, but other than that, there are no obvious relatives of mine in the cemetery.

 

 

This document was lovingly given to me by a woman when I stopped by at her house unannounced to inquire about the Old Harmony Church and told her that I was a direct ancestor of Rev. John William Mitchell. She had attended this church all her life.
The document looked as if it had been hand- typed and not a carbon copyJohn William Mitchell.


See my notes below for relationships of families mentioned.

OLD HARMONY CHURCH
150th ANNIVERSARY OBSERVANCE SPEECH
October 19, 1969

This is the address delivered by the
Rev. John L. Holbert
at the
Harmony United Methodist Church on
Sunday afternoon, October 19, 1969,
at the
One hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary Observance of the founding
of the
Old Historic Harmony Church.
Rev. John L. Holbert, 1712 34th St., Parkersburg, W.Va. 26101

THE OLD HARMONY CHURCH

In the town of Jane Lew, West Virginia on Route 19 the state has erected a memorial tablet on which the following statement occurs,

“TWO MILES EAST STANDS THE OLD HARMONY CHURCH, WHICH WAS BUILT IN 1819. IN THIS CHURCH IN 1829, JOHN MITCHELL AND DAVID SMITH ORGANIZED THE FIRST METHODIST PROTESTANT CHURCH. MITCHELL WAS ITS FIRST PASTOR. NEAR THE CHURCHYARD IS HIS GRAVE”.

We have come together this 19th day of October, 1969 to celebrate the founding of this “Old Historic Church”. We come now this afternoon to turn back the parched and soiled pages of history that tells about the birth and growth of this church. Also, I am sure many of you, like myself, will let your minds go back over the years during which time you have had a knowledge of and association with the Old Harmony Church.

Time, nor your patience, will permit me to tell all that is related to this church during its days of travail, birth, and growth to this present day. However, I want to give you a brief history of the church from its beginning up to the present time. This will be done through research I have made, information secured from various persons, and my own personal knowledge of the church.

The Old Harmony Church was brought into being by “Indian fighting”, ‘God loving”, “courageous”, “hard-working” pioneer people. It had its beginning at the home of John Hacker, the first settler on what is now known as Hacker's Creek in 1769-70, whose cabin stood near the forks of the Bloody Run Road and main Hacker’s Creek. The late French Smith said, “The ruins can be seen as you travel the Berlin-Jane Lew road. Just a pile of stone by the side of the road, on the farm of the late Willard Swisher, where the cabin was built in l769-7O”.

Rev. Henry Smith, states in his journal, that from West’s, that is West’s Fort (located at Jane Lew on a raise just back of the home owned by the late Burgett Hall), from West’s Fort he went to the home of John Hacker on Hacker’s Creek, about whom he said, “I believe he could read but not write; and yet he (page 2) was magistrate and a patriarch in the settlement, and gave name to the creek, having lived here more than twenty years. He raised a large family and lost but one of them by the Indians, and one scalped and left for dead; but every year, when the Indians were troublesome, they were in danger. He was a man of good commonsense, and I think was honest and a good Christian, and among the first to take in the Methodist preachers. His house had long been a preaching house and a preacher’s home, and also a place of refuge in the time of danger”. So this was really the beginning, about two hundred (200) years ago, because since Mr. Hacker was a “good Christian man”, he, no doubt, opened his home for worship from the time he came to Hacker’s Creek in 1769-70.

Like all early “Methodist Societies” in America, this society grew too large to continue meeting in the homes. So a plot of ground was cleared out on the hill at the southern end of where the old cemetery is now located. In 1818-19 a log church about fifty feet long and forty feet wide and twelve to fifteen feet high was built. It had a gallery in the rear and on the two sides which held half as many as the main floor. The windows were in the gables and on the side near the pulpit. The door was at one side under the eaves. The church was, no doubt, heated by an open fire built in a fire box, and it was lighted by tallow candles at night, and the sun’s ray, no doubt, penetrated the church through greased paper placed over the windows in the day time. The seats were made of long planks supported by two legs at each end. A very crude and primitive building and furnishings.

Among the charter members of Old Harmony Church were: John Hacker and family, John Waggoner and family, Rev. John Mitchell and family, Henry Bonnett, the first Class Leader, and family, Martha and Elizabeth Alkire, Mary Straley, Christina Wimer, James Bent and wife, Cornelious Lister, James Straley and wife, and colored servant Elaline, Thomas Sims and wife, George Brent and wife, David H. Smith and wife, Otto Means and wife, and Peter Waggoner, a long time Indian captive, and wife.

(page3)
Up to the year 1784 there was no Methodist Church in America. There were only “Methodist Societies” in America until the Christmas Conference was held in Baltimore on December 25, 1784, at which time the Methodist Episcopal Church was formed.

The Old Harmony Church was most likely built and dedicated as a Methodist Episcopal Church. It evidently operated as a church in the Methodist Episcopal Conference for about ten years. However, there seemed to be much dissatisfaction among the members during this period of time, mainly because the authority of the conference lay in the hands of the bishops and traveling preachers. It has been said that a layman had the right to do only three things, “Pay, pray, and obey”. Also, it is claimed that the laymen had no choice of a Pastor, or the removal of an undesirable one. Now you can see clearly that this would not be acceptable to the “founding Fathers” of Old Harmony.

There was an attempt, by a representative group to change the Discipline at the General Conferences, beginning in 1820 and continuing through 1828, but with no success. At the General Conference in 1824, all the Ministers who favored the change in the Discipline were left without an appointment or expelled, some laymen were included. Many of the friends of those expelled and others who were in sympathy with the change desired, withdrew from the church and formed them -selves into societies, similar to the “Methodist Societies” first formed in America, before the organization of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

In November 1827 a general convention of reformers was held in the city of Baltimore, and a memorial and petition was adopted to be presented to the next General Conference to be held in Pittsburgh in May 1828.

This memorial and petition asked that all expelled ministers and laymen be restored to their former status and that each charge should be represented in the Annual Conference by a lay delegate, elected by the members of the charge. But (page 4) this petition was voted down. Therefore, there was only one thing left to do. That being, to form a reform movement. So on November 12, 1828, more than one hundred delegates met in Baltimore. John Hacker, David Smith, and Henry Bonnett represented the Old Harmony Church. It was there that they adopted the “Articles of Association” by which they agreed to form a new church embodying the principles in which they believed.

In October 1829, the Rev. John Mitchell and David H. Smith organized a “society” at the Old Harmony Church, under the “Articles of Association”. This society included practically all the membership of the Old Harmony M.E. Church. Thus, the Methodist Protestant Church was organized, of which, the Old Harmony Church is recognized as the “Mother Church” of Methodist Protestantism in West Virginia. Although, as stated by Rev. I. A. Barnes, “It was erected and dedicated as a Methodist Episcopal Church”.

The Old Log Church on the hill was used until 1880, when the present church we are assembled in was built and occupied. I do not know what may have been brought down from the old church to be used in the new church. I suppose as few old items as possible, for, no doubt, they as we, want everything new when we move into a new church. I am sure it was a great day and rightfully it should have been, for I am sure this church was built at a great sacrifice to those people who lived in this neighborhood eighty nine years ago.

However, during the enjoyment of the “worshipful environment” of this church building, someone let a terrible thing happen on the hill. The “old log church” was torn down and destroyed by some means. The late Judge J.C. McWhorter, who spoke at the one hundredth celebration, fifty years ago, called it “vandalism”. I quote from his address, “My friends, the tearing away of that old church build ing was one of the most thoughtless pieces of vandalism ever perpetrated in this State. The thought of it should bring a flush of shame to the cheek of every (page 5) resident of this magnificent valley. Rich beyond measure in its historical lore, and in the sacred memories associated with it, that building stood there as the very embodiment of romantic, heroic, daring and fearless frontier life. It was the very heart of Methodism in Northwestern Virginia, and represented faithfully the religious faith and sacrifice of world-building pathfinders. To lay the hand of destruction upon that building, was like laying a desecrating hand on a Mother’s tomb.

Also, Judge McWhorter, fifty years ago, reminded the people of this valley about the tombstones in the cemetery on the hill of our “founding fathers” of this church, whose names are being erased by the stroke of time from the sandstone slabs. Again, may I quote the words of Judge McWhorter in his address. “Men and women of Hacker’s Creek, I ask again, are you going to lose these precious possessions, or will you, with just pride and public spirit, erect in that cemetery one great monument on which all their names shall be carved in imperishable granite?” After fifty years have passed, I ask you, what has been done about it? Was it a worthy challenge? After fifty years have passed, is it still a worthy challenge? I am grateful that a marker has been erected where the old log church was located.

I am more grateful for the memory of going with my Father to Jane Lew and getting Mrs. Allie B. Jackson and going on the hill to locate and plan the marker which now stands as an eternal reminder of the old log church and it’s location. I am grateful for the D.A.R. (Daughters of the American Revolution) for erecting that marker.

Let us now come down off the sacred hill to the church in which we are now assembled, which was built in 1879-80 and was dedicated on the 16th day of May 1880 by Dr. Thomas H. Lewis, President of the General Conference of the Methodist Protestant Churches. Dr. Thomas preached in the morning and Dr. J. J. Mason, (page 6) President of the Annual Conference, preached in the afternoon. Dr. D.J. Helmick was the local Pastor of the church. This had to be a great day at Harmony Church with such great preachers participating. Little is recorded about the dedication, except the date, place and participates. However, I am sure there was preaching, praying, singing, and lots of hearty amens.

Another historic date was in October, 1919 when the people of Hacker’s Creek Valley celebrated the one hundredth anniversary of the dedication of the Old Harmony Church, by a great gathering at the New Harmony Church, at which there was more than a thousand people in attendance. Judge McWhorter, of Buckhannon, R, Ad Hall of Weston, Dr. F.T. Benson of Baltimore, editor of the Methodist Protestant, and Dr. J.A. Shelby, President of the Conference, delivered addresses. Rev. Josiah Payne, Pastor of the Lewis Circuit, was master of ceremonies. Rev. Barnes says, “It was a great occasion”. I am sure it was. I was two years old then. I cannot remember anything about it, except what I have heard my parents tell. It surely must have been a great day. I was there, a two year old boy, clinging to my Mothers dress tail or holding to my Fathers hand, stumbling around among the hundreds of people in attendance. What a day it must have been, dinner on the ground, singing, preaching, shouting and amens all over the place, because “amens” were not out of date at that time.

From the time of my boyhood days until now, I have seen many things take place and many changes come about in this church. Some humorous - some reverent -others sad, but each brought about by the change of time. I faintly remember the old oil lamps and then the gas lights and then the electric lights. I remember the two old pot-bellied coal stoves on each side and then the natural gas stoves and now the bottled gas. Speaking about the old pot-bellied stoves, brings to my mind the time when my two brothers and I came up to build a fire for church early one Sunday morning. We had the fires going hot when one of the long stove (page7) pipes slipped out of the flue at the ceiling and moved enough to let the heat hit the wood which began to smoke. We, being thoughtful boys, jumped into the old 1927 touring Chevrolet and hurried down to the farm and got a bucket of water and a hand spray-pump and hurried back to the church and sprayed water on the flame at the ceiling and put it out. If we had not been quick thinking and acting boys, this church would not be standing here today. I saw the old organ go and the piano come. I remember when the men sat on the right side of the church and the women on the left. Now it matters not. I remember the long benches in the “amen" corner, but “amens" died out, so chairs and tables took their place. I remember the stand at the front of the church on which a pitcher of water and a glass was always provided for the preacher during the “protracted meetings”. The sermons were long, and as the preacher preached and sipped water, it was the first time I knew a wind mill run on water. I remember of seeing people coming from all direc tions to church with their lighted lanterns. They were coming to church to worship God and they did it in a most meaningful way. The people waded through the mud, stomped their feet outside, and came on in the church. I heard my Father tell about scooping mud out of the front doors with a scoop shovel. They didn’t have wall-to-wall carpet in those days. They didn’t have pride. They were humble God-fearing people, and rightfully so. For it has been said that some of the sermons preached by those old preachers were so hot that the listeners would have to lift their feet from the floor to keep them from burning. I tell you they would pull their coat off and push up their sleeves and preach about a burning hell in such a way that you could feel the heat. What preaching! What shouting! What praying! I remember Mr. Maze, who would kneel and pray, and the longer he prayed the redder the top of his bald head would get and the happier he got. I have seen people shout all over this church. I saw the “holy kiss” given in this church one Sunday morning during a testimony meeting. A large lady by the name of Mrs. Stalnaker was (page 8) shouting all around the church. She came up to Rev. F.E. Smith and threw her arms around him and kissed him and went right on shouting. Permit me to reminisce one more time. I remember when the entire Lower Jesses Run School would be dismissed and we would walk over the hill with the teacher and attend the “morning service” at this church when the revival was going on. And to think, today, a teacher is forbidden to use the Lord’s prayer in the school room.

The Church has been going through a time of trying transition which has brought it into strong competition. The coming of the automobile replaced the horse and buggy. The invention of the radio, movies and television has taken many people from the churches. There was a day when the church was the center of social activity in each community. Every person in the surrounding community attended. It was true of this church in by gone years. I can remember when everybody in this community attended church, saint and sinner. They were all there, mainly because there was no where else to go. But it isn’t true any more. There is every conceivable thing under heaven to keep people from attending church. The rural church, especially, is having it’s hardships. The “old faithfuls” have either retired and moved to town or passed on to their eternal reward, and those who have moved in are often not interested in church. Those dear old people, many who sleep in the cemetery on the hill who stood by this church, would turn over in their graves, if they saw the unfaithfulness to the church that exists today.

I have seen this church go through trying days. I have seen it up and I have seen it down in attendance. I stood by it, with many here today, during good days and bad days, through hardship and prosperity, through encouragement and discouragement, through certain and uncertain days, but thank God it has always weathered the storm and stands today as a lasting evidence of the Grace of God.

This old church has a warm spot in my heart. It was here my Mother brought me as a baby in her arms. It was here I received humble but sincere Christian (page 9) teaching and nurture. It was here that I taught a Sunday School Class of ten to twelve year old boys and girls, when I was sixteen. It was here I served as Class Loader at age seventeen and later Superintendent of Sunday School. It was at that Altar where I kneeled and washed it with my tears of repentance. It was there where interested people gathered around a neighborhood youth and prayed and sung the words, “Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe”. It was there - then that I was saved and gave my young life to Jesus Christ. It was the environment of this church that helped me to be sensitive to the call of God to preach. It was from this pulpit that I preached my first sermon at age eighteen. I do not think there was a dry eye in this church that Sunday afternoon nearly thirty five years ago. Why, because God had called one of their neighborhood boys to preach and it touched their hearts and tears of joy flowed down their cheeks. I shall never forget the “power of God” that surged through my young life that day. Thank God it is still here today! It burns within my soul!

In conclusion may I say, we have had a wonderful day celebrating the founding of the Old Harmony Church, thinking about the past up to the present. I am thrilled to see the work that has been done on the outside and inside of this church building, so as to be ready for the observance of the one hundredth and fifty anniversary of the founding of this historic church. Many have been the times I stopped by and looked at this beloved old church building when I was back in my home community for a few days. It hurt me to see it running down. And I have stood and wondered and prayed, “How long, 0 Lord, how long?" Thank God, a worthy cause has called the people of this community together in a cooperative spirit to accomplish that which is visible and invisible today.

The challenging question I want to leave with you is, “Will this church be a “shrine” or a “service”? I mean will it now become a place which shall stand along the road as a reminder of one hundred and fifty years of worship and service or will (10) it continue to be a place of worship and service where the doors are open for boys and girls, men and women to come and worship and learn about God through His Son our Savior Jesus Christ. God help, that as it has been in the past and is in the present, so may it continue to be in the future.

 


Names that are familiar to me from the above paragraph:

Among the charter members of Old Harmony Church were: John Hacker and family, John Waggoner and family, Rev. John Mitchell and family, Henry Bonnett, the first Class Leader, and family, Martha and Elizabeth Alkire, Mary Straley, Christina Wimer, James Bent and wife, Cornelious Lister, James Straley and wife, and colored servant Elaline, Thomas Sims and wife, George Brent and wife, David H. Smith and wife, Otto Means and wife, and Peter Waggoner, a long time Indian captive, and wife.

Rev. John Mitchell and family - My direct ancestors
Henry Bonnett - There are Bonnetts married into my genealogy.
Martha and Elizabeth Alkire - Philip Alkire and Mary Straley, d/o Christian Straley, had
Nicholas Alkire
Mary Straley - d/o Christian Straley & Christina Straley, my direct ancestors
James Bent and wife - my direct ancestors James B. Bent and Mary Isabelle Mitchell Bent
James Straley and wife, and colored servant Elaline - I believe this spelling is Emaline/Emmaline (There is confusion on my part between Emaline, a daughter and Emaline, a colored servant. There is information regarding Emaline elsewhere in Straley research which indicates they are two different persons.)
George Brent - This may be a relative, George Bent instead of George Bent. I dont' know, even though I have a George Bent in my Bent genealogy.
Otto Means - I am familiar with the Means surname as marrying into one my my families.
Waggoner - connected thru marriage thru my Straley family - I have collected no Waggoner genealogy to speak of -- even though it seems there are many Waggoners buried in a cemetery near Spurgeon, WV. It is called "Pleasant Valley Church Cemetery" at the top of the hill from the Church where many of my Wanstreet family is buried.
Sims, Thomas - regarding Sims: I have been looking for a Jane Sims Scarf (nee Sims) who applied for her husband, James Broadbelt's 1812 war pension. I am not sure if I am connected to this particular Thomas Sims as I have found no information on her; however her husband James Broadbelt is probably by direct descendant, as his sons or grandsons changed their surnames to Bent and Belt

 

This information comes from page which is p. 20 of the book
"The Cabin Home of The West Virginia Pioneer"
by Judge J. C. McWhorter

Mt. Harmony church,built on Hacker's Creek in 1819, by the Reverend John Mitchell, was the first in the valley, and the second Methodist Church constructed in West Virginia. Prior to the building of this edifice, now unfortunately gone, religious services were held in this McWhorter cabin. In Indian times the people congregating in this cabin for worship stacked their guns in one corner of the room and posted sentinels ouside.

In the previous paragraph Judge McWhorter writes of a man who for sixty years was a member of the Methodist church and "class-leader" of the settlement, a deeply pious man who was recognized as the "patriarch" of the colony and all came in their hours of distress. The way that it leads into the next paragraph I would assume he is speaking of Reverend John Mitchell, but I am not sure. But it certainly soundslike the facts are correct.

The McWhorter cabin was moved to Jackson's Mill, Lewis County, WV. It was the home of HENRY McWhorter born in NJ in 1760 m. Mary Fields. The moved to Hampshire County, (W) VA in 1786. In 1789 they moved to McKinneys Run in Harrison County. (This is where some of the Bent/Belt's lived.) In 1793 they built a log house by West's Fort on Hacker's Creek. This is the house that was moved to Jackson's Mill in 1927 - it is not the boyhood home of Stonewall Jackson. In 1827 Henry returned to McKinneys Run for financial reasons. He died in 1848 and is buried beside his wife in the McWhorter Cemetery.

 

17 February, 2002