HUNTERTOWN M. E. CHURCH
The History of the Huntertown Methodist Episcopal Church by SIDNEY M. DUNTON
(Sidney M. Dunton, 1866-1949)
To give a full and complete history of the founding and organization of the Methodist Church in Huntertown, the records in their inception are not fully complete. However, the first recorded history is of a religious meeting being held at the house of HORACE F. DUNTEN in the year of 1834 by a MR. NICKERSON, and exhorter of the Methodist Episcopal Church. A few weeks later, a meeting was held in a log cabin that stood on the west side of the road in Huntertown. These services were conducted by a REV. RANKIN, a Presbyterian minister from Fort Wayne. In those early days, there was no religious organization in Perry Township and services were held at irregular intervals by ministers of various denominations.
The first organization was composed of six members being organized by REV. STEPHEN R. BALL of the First Methodist Church, Fort Wayne, and meeting at the home of JAMES THOMPSON in 1836. From these meetings grew the Methodist Church of Huntertown. The original cook book published by the Willing Workers, sometime after the year of 1896, and which sold for 25 cents, gave Mr. and Mrs. VERSIL HATCH as the only two surviving members of the original church. This we cannot verify but it is true that they were very early members. These meetings continued for about 2 years after which they were held in the Caswell schoolhouse.
By 1846, the organization had grown until they felt the need of a church home. A frame building was erected (which is still standing across the way) at a cost of $1,500, WALTER PARKER being the carpenter. After its completion, REV. JESSE SPARKS was assigned as pastor and served until transferred to another charge.
This frame church was built with two front entrances, setting the women apart from the men. It was heated by a large box stove located in the center aisle. Later a stove was placed near each entrance.
In 1845, the annual conference urged the pastors to take a missionary collection. In January 1846, the pastor of Little St. Joseph Mission reported the result of his labors at Hunterville (Huntertown), “Total $1.75, ten cents of which is spurious”.
In the years intervening between 1834 and 1874, Huntertown was served first by pastors from Fort Wayne and later by circuit riders of the Little St. Joseph Mission and Allen Circuit to Huntertown Circuit, with the residence established at Huntertown. He served the people 2 years.
In 1885 or 86 (indefinite) the congregation decided to purchase a bell and the unanimous decision was that it should be tuned to Key of G. A wooden framework was erected a short distance from the southwest corner of the church building and the bell installed. This framework was enclosed and served also as a woodshed. This bell later was placed in the tower of the new church where it still remains.
About 1888 the first parsonage was purchased, then known as the STURGIS property, but which is now the home of JENNIE BAKER. On October 6th, 1890, under the pastorate of REV. T. F. FRECH, the Willing Workers Society was organized with officers as follows:
Pres. MRS. FRANK GREENWELL, Sec’y MRS. CORA DUNTEN, Treas. MISS MARY SMITH.
The first objective of this Society was to buy chairs for the church. Accordingly a supper was given to provide the necessary funds. Some of these chairs are still in use in the church.
In 1899, the congregation, having outgrown the old frame building, decided that a larger and more modern edifice was needed. So the Trustees composed of THERON V. HATCH, S. BRENTON HATCH, ANDREW J. SURFACE, GEORGE V. KELL, and FISHER WEST, cast about for a suitable location. They finally decided on the property where the church now stands. This was purchased from CATHERINE E. SECHLER on May 19th, 1899, for the sum of $400. The stone for the basement walls were gathered from creeks, brick purchased and hauled from Leo and the contract for the building let to a Mr. JOHN DOVE.
In the winter of 1900, MR. WEST resigned as trustee and SIDNEY M. DUNTON was elected to fill the vacancy. By the last of June of that year, the building was completed and ready for dedication. Previous to and during the building of the church, the REV. WILLIAM E. MURRAY was pastor and much credit is due him for the realization of the present structure. On Sunday, June 24th, 1900, dedication services were held, the sermon being preached by REV. W. D. PARR, pastor of Wayne St. Methodist Church. For several years while services were being held in the old church, the usher was WILLIAM CAREY and the new church was completed, he was retained in that capacity, doing his work to the satisfaction of most of the congregation.
Coincident with the completion of the church, Mr. T. VERSIL HATCH (Father Hatch) passed away and his funeral was the first service held in the new church, just a day or so before the dedication.
Under the pastorate of REV. N. PAUL BARTON in 1904, the present parsonage was built, work being done by SNYDER AND MAURER, contractors.
In 1937 a movement was started by the pastor, REV. H. M. THRASHER and the Ladies Aid (Willing Workers) Society to repair and re-decorate the church. By heroic effort the Willing Workers raised the sum of $960 in the fall of 1938, after a canvass had been made for donations work was started and is now carried nearly to completion. Much credit must be given to all for their tireless efforts in carrying forward the work as they gave freely their time and money that the church might be a more beautiful and better home for the Worship of God.
HUNTERTOWN 1938 HOME COMING COMMITTEES
Program and Music: HERMAN HATCH, FREDONNA SMITH, ELLE BROWNLEE
Invitation: GLADYS SIMON, LYDIA DUNTEN, ETHEL MALCOLM
Reception: LOYAL YODER, MARJORIE McDONALD
Decoration: MABEL WOOD, ETHEL ENTLER
Basket Dinner: Ladies and Officers
GENESIS OF THE HUNTERTOWN UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
By TAFT HEFFELFINGER (born 1908-died 1985)
Now it is evident that the early settlers felt the need of religious services. This was brought about in 1834 by the meeting of HORACE DUNTEN and a MR. NICKERSON, a Methodist exhorter. No doubt they casually brought up the subject and as they warmed to the discussion it was agreed that they should hold a service in Horace’s home. You will notice by the date that Horace was just a young man and probably had acquired a new bride and a new cabin not too long ago. As for those attending this meeting, there could not have been many because the settlement was new, and what was to come after was just getting started. The number of meetings that were held between 1834 and 1836 was not determined, but in 1836 REV. STEVEN R. BALL of Fort Wayne came to the settlement and helped to start a class in the house of JAMES THOMPSON. These were not large meetings as there were only 6 in attendance, and no doubt, were two men and their wives and one bachelor and a minister. Without the aid of electric lights, and kerosene lamps not being in vogue as yet, it was no doubt necessary to hold these meetings by the help of candlelight. As a home, cabins were small and the quarters were cramped, so as the membership grew, it was decided that the best place to hold meetings was in the Caswell School, which by this time had been built. These meetings were conducted by a circuit riding minister, and when JOHN ASHLEY moved from Catskill, New York, to a place in Wallen, they started having meetings there also. In this manner, Wallen came into the circuit. Wallen continued to be in the circuit until 1923, then again for a short time in the middle thirties. The name of the Wallen church was Bethel. To complete the class organization 3 families by the names of GEORGE ASHLEY, JAMES W. FLEMMING AND U. J. COOK took place in 1840. To house this newly organized body a log church was built and given the name of Bethel. This took place in the year 1843 and was used until the village of Wallen was platted and a new church was built in the year of 1871.
In 1846 Huntertown worked themselves out of the schoolhouse and into a new frame house which sat on the land which is now occupied by GLENN SHANK’s home and was almost across from the present church. The dimensions of this church was 30’ by 40’ and in the light of the price that is proposed for the addition that is being placed on the present structure, the cost was ridiculously low. For a grand sum of $1,500 they got a well constructed wood frame church that stood up well into the 20th century. With a little bit of upkeep it no doubt would still be there, but without any help, it declined and gave up the ghost in its old age. You can just hear some wise acre say, “Well, they just don’t make them anymore like they used to!” And no doubt he is right because the proposed structure is much larger to accommodate a larger church membership and is to be made of much better materials.
There seems to be no way of verifying this, except that the evidence is still present on the ground. However, this is what I found in the records and I will present it as written.
A Universalist Church at Huntertown was organized at the house of DR. C. VANDERHAYDEN in 1850, with 17 members. WILLIAM CHAPLIN of Kosciusko Co., Indiana, was the officiating pastor on the occasion and visited the congregation at irregular intervals for meetings succeeding that date.
In 1851 they erected a house of worship on a knoll just north of the Methodist Church. This also cost them $1,500, which must have been the going price for churches at the time. With its construction, MR. CHAPLIN became pastor. The membership grew for several years and reached 63. Then in 1863, they organized a Sunday School class with a hundred pupils. As the pioneers came into the community of Huntertown they were not all of like mind and their church affiliations were of different denominations. However, these seemed to homogenize in the 2 existing churches, and if there was any rivalry it is not indicated in the records. Because of this homogenization of the Universalist Church there was finally drawn a conclusion that 2 churches were not needed and the membership dwindled until it was no more. Because the church was of sturdy construction it stood for a long time and at one time was a mutual insurance organization that existed for many years. In the early 40’s it was purchased by FRANCIS BROWN and turned into an apartment for which it is being utilized today.
In 1849 the Allen Circuit was organized. Some of the churches that were included in this circuit were Huntertown, Bethel, Wesley, Barnes, etc. How it came about I do not know but at one time during the turn of the century Huntertown was the center of the circuit that consisted of Bethel (Wallen), Cedar Chapel in DeKalb County, and Swan in Noble County. When Wallen was platted the residence of the pastor of the circuit was located in Huntertown. This must have been a rented house because there was no permanent residence until one was purchased at the corner of Hunter and Webster Street in 1888. This served well until a new one was built north of the present church in the year 1904. As for the main part of the structure of the present Huntertown United Methodist Church, this was built in the year of 1900 or should I say a little before because this was the year that it was dedicated. An addition was added in the year 1955, and at the present, another addition is being planned.
To read the rest of this story plus some lists of members, baptisms, weddings, and funerals held by Rev. Enoch Bunner, 1908-1913, go back to the church page and click on Huntertown United Methodist Church.
Huntertown church marks 150th birthday
By Sally Schlatter
Every Sunday morning, folks who live in the quiet village of Huntertown will hear a familiar chiming. The trusty old bell in the Huntertown United Methodist Church bell tower will peal out its weekly greeting, beckoning the faithful to “come to church”, just as it’s done for most of the 150 years of the church’s history.
They come by car and they’ll come by foot, men sprouting beards and women wearing long dresses and bonnets, commemorating the origination of the church back in 1836.
The Rev. Herb Buwalda plans to ride into the churchyard at 16021 Lima Road on horseback, attired in an old-fashioned circuit rider’s outfit, complete with white, tucked shirt and black, broad-brimmed hat, much the same as the old circuit riding ministers who used to travel between congregations in the early 1800’s.
“I’m not going to ride from very far away,” Buwalda laughed, because I need to be here on time, and I was afraid if I ride too far, I’ll be too early or too late.”
The Methodist Episcopal Church was the forerunner of Huntertown United Methodist, and was the first church organized in Perry Township, even before settlement became known as Huntertown, he explained. Six worshipers gathered in a private home and were led in the service by Rev. Stephen Ball, pastor of the Fort Wayne First Methodist Church in the 1830’s. Later services were conducted by other Fort Wayne ministers.
Membership flourished, and in 1846 the first permanent church building was constructed, a 30 by 40 foot frame structure, costing $1,500. It had two entrances, one for men and one for women. In 1866, a bell, tuned to the key of G, was erected on a wooden platform in front of the church. The same bell is still used today.
On May 19, 1899, an acre of ground was purchased across Lima Road from the small frame building. With stones from local farms, gravel from Willow and Cedar Creeks, and bricks hauled from Leo, the present building was constructed and on June 24, 1900, dedication services were held.
Extensive remodeling was done in 1938 and again in 1956, when new educational wing also was completed. Since then, major improvements to the sanctuary and additions to the educational annex have been realized.
With present membership of 560, Buwalda is optimistic about the future of Huntertown Church.
“Right now, it’s probably brighter than it’s ever been because the community’s growing so fast,” he said.
“I think the interest in the community is wonderful,” he added. “It gives us a lot of entrees into the community that we might not normally have…so that many organizations and things that meet here that kind of consider this the hub of their organizational life which makes us feel proud.”
For the past year, the church has been engaged in a deaf ministry with the second service at 10:45 a.m. being interpreted for deaf worshipers.
“The deaf community has been left out of religious training and opportunities for all these years, and there are so many deaf persons that have not had the opportunity for Christian instruction and worship because churches have not been able to see that it’s a viable ministry, I guess.
“I think we’re seeing this 150th celebration as a turning point in the life of the church,” said Buwalda. “The community is growing. The church is growing too, and it’s like a celebration of our foundation.”
News-Sentinel “Neighbors” addition Oct. 8, 1986