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JIM: The United Brethren on Jamestown Hill

Jim brings back to life a scarcely remembered chapter in the roots of today's United Methodist Church, a denomination which most recently grew with a merger with the Evangelical United Brethren, bringing into the UMC fold two great congregations of today, Trinity in Columbia, and Barnett's Creek in Pellyton. An earlier chapter was the attempt to establish a United Brethren Church on Jamestown Hill. The long effort failed, and the church was sold, but there was only a brief hiatus a few decades, before one of sons of a leader of the Jamestown Hill Church would return to lead the Barnett's Creek Evangelical United Brethren Church. -CM


This recent CM photograph of the Jamestown Hill area brought to mind another church house that once stood not far removed from the Praise Assembly of God building.

On a hill overlooking the city: the little church that tried

By the late summer of 1905, Jamestown Hill buzzed with humanity. Messrs. John D. Lowe and J.O. Russell, among many others, had recently completed residences; several other homes were under construction; the Dr. S.P. Miller family had purchased the Capt. O.B. & Mollie Patteson property and planned to move there shortly; and Prof. and Mrs. A.H. Ballard (Mrs. Ballard being a sister of Dr. Miller) had announced immediate plans to remove to the hill as well.

As remarked the News in late August, "The sale of real estate in Columbia and vicinity still continues with a steady advance in price, which shows that the people from other sections, as well as our own, are realizing the real worth of a location in a progressive town."

In October of that year, the Columbia Conference of the United Brethren in Christ met in Columbia, and following the meeting, the News announced that "Bishop Carter will return to this place in the month of January at which time he will take steps to put up a church building."

However, almost exactly a year passed before the proposed structure again drew mention in the newspaper. The October 10, 1906 edition reported that

Sunday afternoon [October 7th] after an able discourse at the Court-house, Bishop T.C. Carter, of Chattanooga, Tenn., announced that his church had purchased a lot on Jamestown Street in the Montgomery addition for $150 and would erect a modern structure at an early date. He asked that the citizens of Columbia donate $100 toward payment for the lot and in a few minutes the entire cost price of [the] lot was subscribed and $120 with which to start the building.

The location for the new church is a splendid one, situated on the hill overlooking the city and on the only street where there is no building of this kind.

In late December, Presiding Elder A.W. Whitten apologized for being "a little slow to commence" work but in early January, 1907, came the announcement that the lot had been graded and that work on the foundation would begin as soon as the weather permitted.

A few days past the advent of spring, the construction was far enough along for the cornerstone to be laid, a ceremony duly reported in the April 3, 1907 News:

At 2 o'clock p.m., April 1st, the corner stone of the United Brethren church to be erected in this city, was laid with appropriate ceremonies by Bishop T.C. Carter, of Chattanooga, Tenn. The Bishop was assisted by Rev. J.F. Claycomb, of the Presbyterian church, who read the scripture, and Eld. Z.T. Williams, of the Christian church, led in prayer. There were also present and assisting Revs. C.R. Dean, J.M. Turner, and Rev. Marion Antle.

The Bishop held up a neat tin box in which were deposited a New Testament, a United Brethren Discipline, The Religious Telescope, the Adair County News and the Columbia Spectator. These were placed in a square excavation in the stone, and sealed, and the cap stone placed upon it...

And no more news of the church-house-to-be graced the pages of the paper for sixteen months until August, 1908, when Bishop T.C. Carter announced while in Columbia that the building was a certainty, that the holdup "has been caused on account of the stringency in the money markets, but as soon as business opens up, the church will be built."

(The "stringency in the money markets," better known as the financial panic of 1907, actually started, if ever so quietly, not long after the lot was purchased in 1905 and the effects lingered well past 1907.)

Bishop Carter also stated that come October, he and Secretary of the Church Extension Board of the United Brethren would return "for the purpose of perfecting plans for the erection of a church building in this town."

When October rolled around, however, no mention was made of Bishop Carter -- or anyone else from the U.B. Church -- coming to Columbia. Rather, the News ran short article stating that at the just-completed Annual Conference held in Casey County,

Dr. A.C. Blake was appointed to the pastorate of the Columbia station. He will locate in this place and be here in a few days. He is a strong man and a very successful revivalist. Upon his arrival here he will at once take steps to push the building of a church house, the lot having already been secured.

In late November, 1908, in the last issue of the News before Thanksgiving, Rev. Blake placed this card in the paper:

I am thankful for a field of labor which meets my ambition; and I thank God that with it I am surrounded by a willing, co-operative people, who will cross the Rubicon of confronting difficulties, opposition, and defeat, and leave the enemy on the other side, and erect on the battlefield a monument to the Glory of God for victories won.

And on that note, the curtain of silence again fell, this time lasting for five long years. Finally, the week before Thanksgiving, 1913, came the announcement that the concrete wall for the basement would be completed that week and that lumber was being hauled to the site, and that "when all the material has been delivered the building will be rapidly pushed to completion. It is located on Jamestown Street, opposite the residence of Mr. J.O. Russell."

(It is possible the typesetter erred here; that the initials given should have been those of J.M. Russell instead of his brother J.O.?)

In another article, Rev. Whitten gave the particulars of the dimensions and the cost: "The building that is now in mind is a frame 31 x 42, with recess pulpit, 16 x 28 room on North side for Sunday School and also 30 x 42 basement. The cost will be about three thousand dollars."

Work was halted around mid-December with plans to resume in the spring. However, the next progress report didn't appear until November 1914, when the News informed readers, "The frame is up and the weatherboarding started." Just before Christmas came word that the building was to have a metal roof and metal ceiling, and that the workmen thought they could have the "very attractive edifice" far enough along for occupancy by the spring of 1915. This article also remarked of the building, "It is located on a commanding site, just above the residence of Mr. W.P. Summers."

Come spring, the structure was nearly enclosed, and the committee expressed hope of having it ready for dedication by the middle of June. Nothing more appeared until August, when the announcement came the dedication service would be held on Sunday, October 17th, 1915.

(The paper failed to report when the church house was first used, but Miss Pauline Kerr, of Norwich, Conn., described in the News as a Jewess who had converted to Christianity, held a series of meetings there beginning September 12, 1915.)

The October 20, 1915 edition duly reported that

on Sunday the church house, recently erected at this place, was dedicated in a logical discourse by Bishop Matthews...The local ministers will now endeavor to build a large membership, and in this undertaking they will have the approval of this entire community.

In a perfect world, the chronicle of the little church on the hill would end here, with the time-honored "And they all lived happily ever after."

But alas, no.

Over the next three years, there were reports of good attendance at any number of revival meetings held at the U.B. Church, but a series of ministers came, stayed a few months, and departed. In mid-June, 1918 came the announcement that "Bishop Matthews and Rev. Robert Earls will be here the 22nd and 23rd of this month and will preach at the U.B. Church Saturday night, Sunday forenoon and Sunday night."

On the heels of that came this advertisement a few days after the meetings:

For Sale: The Church House and lot in Columbia, of the United Brethren, one of the best lots on one of the best streets in Columbia. Church Brand New. Would cost to build $3,000. This property will be sold at a great Sacrifice. Just about the value of the lot. If bought Quickly. See Gus Jeffries.

The Brethren apparently continued to meet there for several months, however, as the March 12, 1919 edition stated that "Rev. W.H. Sink (Sinks) will preach at the U.B. Church Wednesday and Thursday nights of this week."

(Rev. Sink was a former missionary to China. A some years later, his son, Rev. Harry T. Sink, who was born in China, would serve as pastor at the Barnett's Creek U.B. Church.)

Almost immediately Rev. Sinks' appearance, Thomas G. Rasner became the owner. According to the News, "The Church was in debt to the extent of about $800, and Mr. Rasner assumed the indebtedness and was given a deed to the building. He is undecided as to the disposition he will make of it."

That was the last reference to the edifice as a church building, although in early 1920, a Mr. E.T. Kemper "leased the U. B. building on Bomar Heights,* for the purpose of having some Episcopal this edifice on the Fifth Sundays in each month..." Those plans, never came to fruition, however, as Mr. Rasner decided to convert the building to a dwelling house and removed there from Russell Heights the middle of April.

(* In the early years of the 20th century, the Jamestown Hill area was variously as Bomar, Bomer, Bowmer, and Boomer Heights.)

This story was posted on 2012-01-21 05:37:05
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