HISTORY OF PLEASANT LAWN COMMUNITY
THE WESLEY-EBENEZER NEIGHBORHOOD
[SURNAMES: BABB, WILLITS, MOORE, LINCH, PALM, VERNON, ELLIOTT, DEAN, KIMBALL, MCFARLAND, STAFFORD, HOLLAND, CHENOWETH, WEST, KAUFFMAN, CORKHILL, HILL, MURPHY, HARLAN]
History of the Pleasant Lawn Community
The Wesley-Ebenezer Neighborhood
We have before us a most interesting letter from Dr. John Willits, pastor of the First Methodist church of Holland, Mich., and brother of Mr. E. T. Willits of Marion township, and who was born and reared in the famous Wesley-Ebenezer community, better known today as “Pleasant Lawn.” Like the old Pleasant Hill neighborhood, the Pleasant Lawn community bulked large in the affairs of the county and produced men and women, who have literally swayed the country. As we look back across the years which separate us from those days, we wonder how a small community such as the Ebenezer-Wesley neighborhood could have given to the world, especially to education and religion, such men and women as are enumerated in the letter from Dr. Willits.
To make the picture clearer to the younger generation, which should be interested in Dr. Willits’ letter, it may be said that the old Ebenezer-Wesley neighborhood was composed of a remarkable group of rural families in Marion, Canaan and Center townships. In the early days the people of that community desired better church facilities and it was agreed to erect, what in those days was a fine edifice. The site selected was about half way between the present residence of John D. Moore and of Joe Linch. Trouble developed, however, and the community was hopelessly divided. The result was that one faction built a church where the present Wesley church stands, adjacent to the Pleasant Lawn school, and the other faction built a church just south of the residence of John Moore, and directly across the highway to the east from the abandoned brick school house. In spite of the unfortunate division the two communities flourished, but of Ebenezer little remains but a memory. The old Ebenezer school building is now owned by Mr. Moore, who has preserved it and uses it as a sheep barn. In its days it housed men and women whose names are known the world over. The church finally went the way of many rural churches and finally united with its rival, Wesley.
Over in a little grove behind the residence of Mr. Angus Moore and south of where the old church stood, is the old Ebenezer cemetery, and on the tottering and moldering tombstones are carved the names of many of the families mentioned in Mr. Willits’ letter. Old Ebenezer church was finally abandoned and torn down for the material in it. With these explanatory notes we permit the letter of Dr. Willits to follow:
Dec. 13, 1929.
In the current issue of the Free Press I note the passing of Mrs. Mary Palm Vernon, and am constrained to send this note. In the days of my childhood the Palms and Vernons were most familiar people. Wonderful families. Mrs. Vernon, Mary Palm, was a most fascinating young woman and during her college days a real leader at I. W. U., as we old folks must still think of it. [The I. W. C. is an innovation hard to get used to.]
Of course John W. Palm is known to very many of your readers, but not so with the Vernon family. Three members of the Vernon family are widely known: Le Roy Vernon, son-in-law of the former president of Iowa Wesleyan and also the brilliant editor of the Central Christian Advocate. Rev. Charles Elliott, D. D., a royal son of Erin, was a very great student. During his college days he worked at odd times for my father. Often have I heard father tell of Le Roy studying Greek while working in the field. Whenever his horse needed a rest, or for some reason he stopped, for even a few moments, he would draw his Greek text from his pocket and study Greek. Later, as you know, he was sent by our church to open the Mission in Rome and was the first Protestant to preach in Rome and there established our great school and church. One of his daughters married and still resides in Rome. His brother, Samuel Vernon, became one of the most brilliant pulpiteers of Methodism and spent many years in the east, filling many of the great pulpits of Methodism. Both have passed beyond and so far as I know Judge Vernon and his brother, Will, alone remain of that distinguished family. Their parents were most substantial people and were often in our home, even after they had left the Ebenezer neighborhood and taken up life in Mt. Pleasant.
And by the way has your attention ever been called to the men and women of prominence that came out of the Ebenezer-Wesley neighborhood? It was a shame that the community was ever divided, but that was back in 1857 when a church was to have been built half way between the present Wesley and the old Ebenezer. Some difficulty arose as to the architectural design so it was compromised by dividing the material, already mostly on the ground, and each moved, Wesley one half mile north and Ebenezer one half mile south, and there they stood, contending churches for a generation. But in spite of this, out of those two communities came some most worthy men and women. To mention some is enough.
The Vernons have already been mentioned. Then there was John W. Palm, the McFarland’s, Thomas, president of Iowa Wesleyan and high in church circles, and his brother, William, at one time Secretary of State; the Staffords, Chas. L., and his brother Dr. [an M. D.] of Illinois; Clifford Holland, for years a jurist of Nebraska, I believe on the Supreme bench; the Chenoweths and one of them became a State Legislator in Kansas, as well as my own brother, Ledru; Senator John A. West of Iowa; the Kauffman’s, Ed, at one time professor in Iowa Wesleyan, and for many years a leading attorney of southeastern Nebraska; Park W. Kauffman for many years a teacher of note; Frank Kauffman of St. Louis, great wheat kings of a generation or two ago. Everybody knows the Babbs, W. I. and his wonderful sister, Belle Babb-Mansfield. Then your old classmate, Wilmot Willits, a most successful physician in Kansas City. There are doubtless others, whom I fail at this hurried writing to recall. Indeed I know that there are. Oh, yes, there was the Hon. Chas. B. Corkhill, U. S. Asst. Attorney General, who prosecuted the slayer of President Garfield. He belonged to that community.
Now why all of these men and women out of a single community? Because the people who settled there were men and women of large vision and who laid a foundation upon which to build the church and the school. My father was one of three directors for a period of perhaps eighteen consecutive years, who went down into their “jeans” and paid monthly to the support of a teacher whom they brought from the east, because the district allowance was insufficient to retain her, Miss Mattie Kimball. As I recall, she was kept in that one school for quite 15 years or more and has left behind a wonderful memory to a few of us who are left. But it was the school and the church combined, that made possible such men.
And the pulpit was ably filled, too, in those days. The Hon. James Harlan was at one time the preacher there. Also Dr. Elliott and the Rev. Henry Clay Dean, of whom there were none more eloquent. He was at one time Chaplain of the U. S. Senate, when a chaplaincy meant a man of big brain and big sermons and large eloquence. But poor Dean fell by the way, and when I was a pastor at Ft. Madison died, somewhere in Missouri. I understood of the delerium tremens. His son, or daughter, was a member of my church there. The last time I ever heard Dean was at Commencement at I. W. C. in 1882, deliver the class day address, I believe. When he got into town the boys had to take him in hand and sober him up and then he delivered a lecture occupying perhaps ninety minutes, and after it was over told my father that he changed his theme after he went upon the platform. I do not know what he intended to speak on, but he did deliver one upon “The Course of Human History.” It was fit to accompany Wells history of mankind. But we had other men of note in the pulpit in those days such as J. B. Hill, the homeliest of men, but a man of marked holiness of character. Rev. S. S. Murphy, D. D., who later became a leader in our church in Kansas, and others who might be mentioned.
Now pardon me for writing thus long, and possibly uninterestingly. But memory is at work today. And right here I want to say how much I have appreciated your “Bystanders Column” during the years. I have often intended to write and tell you so, but didn’t. Now you have it ere you pass on to the happy clime for newspaper men.
With the compliments of the season, I am,
John C. Willits.
“The Bystander’s Notes”, by Charles S. Rogers, Publisher
Mt. Pleasant Daily News, December 14, 1929
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