Henry County Churches

by Melvin Gingerich



This is a series of articles written by Melvin Gingerich, a well know Mennonite minister, and, I believe Bishop. The series was published on a weekly basis in The Wayland News until its conclusion. -- Ann Miller White.


1/9/1931 – Wayland News

 Coming of Amish Mennonites to this Community
Practically All the Mennonites of the Wayland Community are of Swiss Blood  

Practically all of the Mennonites of the Wayland community are of Swiss blood although their ancestors may not have come directly from Switzerland . Fierce persecution of Mennoniteism from 1526 until nearly 1800 by Swiss Government officials drove thousands of that faith into South Germany . Alsace and France . Many of the descendants of these refugees came to America after the year 1700 but the group with which this paper is concerned came between 1820 and 1860 scattering all the way from the Appalachians to Iowa and beyond. The reasons for the migrations of this period may be classed under the European economic conditions and military system. These immigrants from Europe did not come directly to the American frontier but usually stopped in one of the eastern Amish Mennonite settlements until they had earned enough money to begin farming in the newer regions. Then they went westward hand in hand with those whose ancestors had been in America for many years.  By 1831 this wave of westward migration had reached Illinois and 8 or 9 years later it had come to Lee County Iowa.  

In 1839, Joseph Roth of Wayne County, Ohio, came to Jefferson County and bought land. He settled upon his Iowa farm in 1843. In 1842 or 1843, John Graber bought 800 acres in Jefferson County and moved upon it. John Hochstettler moved into the same locality in 1848. Jacob Egly from France coming by way of Canada , located in the same county in 1853. Sometime during these years, the Peter Klopfenstein family took up there residence in Jefferson County . Exactly when the first Amish Mennonites came to Henry County is not certain but it is thought that John Roth a brother of Joseph Roth, came to Trenton Township in 1849. An examination of the Henry County tax lists reveal the fact that these men were first listed as tax payers in the year following their names:  

Daniel Conrad, Martin Conrad, 1850
C. C. Conrad,  Abraham Hochstettler, Daniel Eicher, Christian Baughman 1854
Christian Belcher 1855
Joseph Goldschmidt 1856
Christian Roth, Joseph Rich, John Rich, Michael Klopfenstein, Peter Roth; 1857
Christian Klopfenstein, Joseph Kauffman, Henry Roup, Peter Christner, Peter Christner, Jr., Jacob Christner, John V, Gunden, Benjamin Goldsmith, Michael Roth 1858:
Peter Gerig, Joseph Rop, John Rop, Christan Widmer, and John Christner 1859
Christian Goldsmith, J. G. Hersherberger, John Wenger, Joseph Zehr 1860  

According to the Washington County tax lists, the following paid taxes in that county for the first time in the year mentioned after their names:  

Daniel Conrad, Martin Eicher, Christian Eicher, Jacob Leichty; 1852
Daniel Eicher, Christian Wenger 1853
Christian Conrad, Martin Conrad, Benjamin Eicher, Joseph Sommers, John Wenger 1854
Daniel Conrad Jr., John Eicher, Joseph Roth, Nick\holas Roth, Joseph Schlatter, 1855
Abraham Schrock, Jon Conrad, Christian Graber, C. Brennemann, 1856
Marian Hage, Christian Tschantz, 1857
Peter Guengerich, Samuel Hage 1858
The lists for 1859 are not available
Peter Goldsmith, Ben Goldsmith, Joseph Wittrig, 1860  

The writer would be pleased to be notified which of the above do not represent heads of families or which represent young men who had reached the age of 21. Any corrections to the material presented will be welcome.  



It Was a Simple One Room Structure Built of Logs with no Anterooms  

The first “Eicher” church was built in 1868 on the lot on which the present church stands but about 30-40 feet east of the present building. It was a simple one-room structure, built of logs with no ante-rooms. The entrance was from the south and the pulpit was also at the south end. This church was used until the summer of 1895 when the building was removed and a new church built. The second church was replaced by the present structure in 1911. Little is known about the deliberations that led to the building of the first church or about the work of the building committee, nor is it known during what time of the year the building was erected. Any information on these points would be welcomed by the writer. The following statement occurs in a Washington County history “in 56, the sect called Mennonites began to appear and in 68 worshipped in a $600 church near Noble but in 1895, it was replaced by the present church”. Whether the author of this statement really knew the cost of the church or whether he was guessing has not been learned. It is interesting to note in passing that the people of this congregation worshipped in private homes for over 12 years before the first church was built. One of the places of worship was Joseph Sommer’s barn, now owned by John R. Wenger. After the Eicher church was built, there was agitation for another building near Trenton but when members of that congregation began to settle farther north near the present town of Wayland, it was decided to erect the first church in that vicinity. In 1871, the church was built about 1 ½ miles southeast of Marshall , near Sugar Creek, from which it received its name. The church lot was purchased from Tom Walker and the building was erected by Peter Leichty. The second Sugar Creek Church was built during the summer of 1891 and dedicated on 10/25 of that year. While the church was under construction, regular meetings were held in the “center chapel”. The present church was built in 1908.  


The beginning of Eicher and Sugar Creek Congregations


The first church service for the Henry-Washington County Amish Mennonites was conducted in the home of  Daniel Conrad by Elder Joseph Goldsmith of Lee County perhaps between 1849 and 1852. Goldsmith organized this church with about 20 members probably in the year 1852. After the date of organization, this church was visited frequently by Goldsmith. A few years later, he moved into the community and took complete charge of the congregation he had previously organized. Little is known about the early history of this congregation. It became customary to alternate services in the two  communities, one Sunday services being held in Trenton township and the next time in Marion township. This  arrangement made it possible for the preachers to be present at all services held. Goldsmith was assisted by Minister Christian Bechler and was ordained before 1860 and by Minister Joseph Wittrig who came from Canada in perhaps 1860. Sometime during this period, Peter Tschantz was ordained deacon and in 1860, John von Gunden was ordained minister. Sometime after 1860, agitation for two separate congregations was successful and the two churches were both placed under the supervision of Elder Goldsmith. At this time, ministers Bechler and Wittrig lived in the Washington County church district b ut as there was dissatisfaction in the church, a call of help was sent to a bishop from Illinois who came in the fall of 186??? And ordained Benjamin Eicher to the office of minister and Samuel Hage to the office of deacon. The two congregations worked together in apparent harmony for several years after that time. In 1866, Eicher served as one of the secretaries of the Amish Mennonite Conference which met in Illinois . At this conference, he was appointed to a committee to visit churches in Indiana for the purpose of settling church difficulties but the two congregations slowly drifted apart. By 1868 the rupture was wide enough to allow the Marion Township congregation to erect a church building which was an innovation among the Amish. But in 1868, Eicher was ordained to the office of Elder by Joseph Stuckey of Illinois who was an influential member of the Amish Mennonite Church . That a genuine break had not occurred before 1870 is proved by the fact that during that year Eicher contributed an article to the German Herald of Truth in which he stated that he had four letters pertaining to the Amish division in Switzerland and that he felt it would be well if every Amish Mennonite and Mennonite minister had copies of these so that future divisions could be avoided. The two congregations, however, were no longer working together and in 1874, the final break took place. In that year, the Amish Mennonite Conference was held in John Conrad’s barn and Eicher attended the meeting. During the session Eicher’s button clothing were mentioned and the discussion that followed p;roved that Eicher was not in sympathy with the strict clothing regulations of the Amish Mennonite Conference. From that time the Eicher Church no longer worked with the conference and therefore the year 1874 marks the time at which this congregation began its independent course which it followed until it was admitted into the Middle District Mennonite Conference in 1892.  

PS … the writer is grateful for the corrections of the first Eicher church. The “misinformation” printed was furnished by a member of that congregation and it was taken for granted that thorough check had been made. Fortunately none of these mistakes went on record in the thesis on the Amish Mennonites of Iowa and they will not appear in the forthcoming publication by the State Historical Society of Iowa on the same subject.  


Corrective Reactions from John A. Eicher  

Springdale Ark : 1/26/31: Editor Wayland News:

Dear Sir: It is not my purpose to start a newspaper argument but I cannot refrain from showing Brother Gingerich who contributed a bit of history of the building of the first Eicher church in which his information says it was “built of logs with no anti-rooms, entrance from the south, and pulpit also at the south end”. Somebody’s wires must have been struck by a terrible cyclone as they are so badly crossed that letting them go by and untanbled at this time would not be doing justice to present and past history.  The real facts are that the church was not built of logs, but it was a frame building equally as good in mechanism and general appearance as the schoolhouse east of it, two doors on the south end for entrance, three anti-roomns upon entering, one on each side and a private room for the mothers who had children to care for and there were many of them as in those days mothers and children stayed away from church services only in case of sickness. Also, the main room where services were held had the pulpit facing the south with two Amen corners on either side and all in all, as up to date as Center Chapel or any of the other country churches. It probably was put up for $600. As much work was no doubt donated towards the construction. Sam Furter and Louis Rittler your Doctor Rittler’s father, were the main carpenters, and, at that time, could not be excelled in their line. The timber for the framework, as I remember, was taken from Uncle Chris Eicher'’ timber and sawed into framing by the late Chris Schlatter who operated a sawmill for a number of years on the place just south of the schoolhouse and at that time, I thought he was the only many in the world who knew how to saw logs into building material and any other forms and shapes of building material, and even now, at this time, I still say, he was an expert and none better in his line. Well, to settle this argument, or rather, testimony, I will suggest that Danny Schantz who was a janitor of the church for a number of years and finally when it was decided a new church was needed, the Schantz boys Danny and Jake, and their father,k bought it and moved it to their farm one half mile north and the last I saw of it, it had been converted into a  barn. Anyway, I still contend it was not a church house built of logs, and hope Brother Gingerich will be able to get those tangled wires straightened out and continue to give us more interesting Mennonite news. Yours truly; John a Eicher  


Ministers travel from one county to the other  

Travels of Joseph Goldsmith and Benjamin Eicher cited as examples:  

When the sacrifices of the itinerant preacher of the American frontier are mentioned the Mennonite church need not feel ashamed of her record. This denomination too had many ministers who traveled about from one community to another preaching the gospel. In Iowa Mennonite History, the travels of the preachers Joseph Goldsmith and Benjamin Eicher can be cited as examples. Goldsmith, ordained minister in Canada in 1824, and Bishop in Ohio in 1838, moved to Lee County Iowa in 1846. There he took charge of the Amish Mennonite Church of the County but his labors were not confined to his own community. In 1849, he made a trip to Johnson County and held the first regular church services for the Amish Mennonites of that settlement. From that date he visited that community regularly and organized their church for them in 1851. On his trips to Johnson County , he would stop in the Henry and Washington County communities to hold services. He organized this church perhaps in 1852 and served as its bishop for a period of years. In 1856, or 1857, he moved to Henry County but he occasionally visited the remaining members of the church in Lee County . During the first years of the Davis County Amish Mennonite Community, he made a number of trips to that locality conducting church services and performing marriage ceremonies. The records state that he attended a church service in Davis County as late as 1865. At that time he was 69 years of age. In July of 1866, a preacher from Illinois called at the Goldsmith home only to find that he was then in Johnson County . Nor were his journeys confined to Iowa communities. In 1862 he attended the Amish Mennonite Conference held in  Wayne Co. Ohio. And in 1866 he was present at a similar conference at Danvers Illinois . By 1868 his health no longer permitted him to perform the work of a bishop and so Joseph Schlegel was ordained to that office. In passed away in April of 1876. No doubt Goldsmith made many trips of which there is no record. It is not contended that all of the trips made were primarily in the interests of church work, but most of them were. To make several trips a year from Lee to Johnson Counties when there were no travel conveniences and when much of the road consisted of mere trails through unsettled timber regions, required a genuine spirit of sacrifice and the church of the present day does well to honor the heritage handed down from the forefathers.  


Trips made by Benjamin Eicher in Lee County  

Mr. Eicher was ordained bishop by Joseph Stuckey of Illinois in the Herald of Truth from 1865, to 1873, and in other sources, are recorded a large number of trips made by Benjamin Eicher in the interests of church work. The first of these trips recorded is a journey to Lee County on 10/30/1865 and on to Davis County on 11/3. On the return trip to Washington county, an overnight stay was made at the home of Joseph Roth in Jefferson County . This was the “halfway house” between Washington and Davis counties. John Roth of Fairfield says he remembers well the visits made in his father’s home by these travelers going to Davis or Washington County . Often there were so many of these visitors he says, that beds had to be made up on the floor. In May of the next year, Eicher attended the Amish Mennonite Church Conference at Danvers Ill and was ap;pointmetn one of the secretaries of the meeting. At this conference, he was appointed a member of a committee to settle church difficulties in the LaGrange and Noble counties in Indiana . It was on 10/23/1866 (not 1868) that Eicher was ordained to the position of Bishop by Joseph Stuckey of Illinois . He and Stuckey were often together and when Stuckey visited the Iowa churches, Eicher usually accompanied him. Stuckey wrote that in June 1868 Eicher took him from Washington   County to Johnson County . There they stayed with Bollers overnight, spending the evening in edifying conversation. Several months before this time, he had spent a number of days in the Davis County Church conducting baptismal and communion services. On May 17, 1869, Eicher took Stuckey to Joseph Roth’s in Jefferson County and on the next day, they went to Davis County . They held meetings there on the 19th, 20th, and 21st, and then went to Lee County where they conducted several services on the 28th Eicher returned home. In Oct. 1870 he was present at the Mennonite conference held at West Point . He remarked that he was very much impressed by the unity, order, and love manifested and by the blessing of God upon the meeting. The next recorded trip is the one to Illinois in Sept. 1872  He was present at the dedication of Stuckey’s new church and held several meetings for this congregation. Again in August of 1873, he accompanied Stuckey to Davis and Lee Counties where church services were held. He was gone 7 days on this trip. Very likely, he made many trips of which there is no record but enough have been given to prove the point that he had the spirit of the pioneer evangelist who sacrificed much to spread the gospel, that this spirit motivated his actions is clearly shown by the articles he wrote during those years. The one in which he strongly encouraged increased activity in the Amish Mennonite church in spreading the gospel can be cited as an example.  


Second Sugar Creek church built in 1891  

Members contributed liberally toward the building fund.


The Sugar Creek church build in 1871 was used for 20 years and then replaced by the 2nd building. The following excerpts from the Herald of Truth tell part of the story concerning the change. Jan 15 1891 “in our last business meeting it was resolved that our meeting house should be enlarged. This was necessary as it was frequently quite a task for women with children to find seats and earnest scholars could frequently not be admitted into the Sunday School classes for want of room. This is unpleasant for the superintendent and the SS workers in general”.  

June 1: 1891: “ In the second number, 1/15 of the Herald, I stated that we wished to build an addition to our meeting house. We have since concluded to build a new church which is to give better satisfaction. The work is to begin after harvest”.

9/1/1891: “ An editorial comment:: The brethren and sisters of the Sugar Creek church in Henry County Iowa certainly show a zeal that is commendable and that might easily cause older and wealthier congregations to reflect notwithstanding the fact that they are about to build a new meeting house which itself will entail a financial burden upon  them they have not forgotten the evangelizing work but have contributed liberally toward the fund"”  

11/14/1891: “ Sunday the 25th of Oct. regular services were held for the first time in our new meeting house on which occasion Preacher Christian Werey of Johnson County and Pre. Jacob Swartzendruber of Iowa County IA were with us and delivered appropriate sermons to a large assembly of people” We were also delighted in fact partially surprised by the appearance of our beloved Bishop Brother S. Gerig who had sometime ago been injured in an accident so that he was unable for a while to attend public worship. His appearance in our midst brought tears of joy and gratitude to many eyes that our dear heavenly father had still spared him to us.”  


Reminisces of Noah Troyer Trance Preacher
Speaks for three hours while in trance at Joseph Mast home in 1879.


Perhaps a few readers of ther news remember when Noah Troyer preached at the home of Joseph Mast on 11/9/’1879. A large crowd gathered to hear him because his fame as an unusual preacher had spread far and wide. His procedure in the services of that evening were very much like it had been previously. He lay down on a  lounge and after some time apparently passed into a trance. After a period of time his friends helped him to his feet He then prayed a powerful prayer in the English language and another in the German tongue. Then his friends again helped him to his feet and he began his discourse. During the first part of his sermon, he spoke in English but at last he changed to German and continued his exhortations in that language for some time. Finally he fell upon his knees and offered a closing prayer. When he had finished they placed him on the lounge and the people left. In the middle of his sermon, he mentioned the fact that he had spoken for an hour and a half but that he had hardly made a beginning of what he had to tell yet that evening and therefore he would speak again as long never before did he feel such power for speaking. His discourse lasted three hours that night During this entire time, he was apparently sleeping or unconscious. Troyer, from childhood, was troubled with severe attacks of headaches and cramps … often suffering so much that he would become unconscious. In March of 1876, after being ill for several days, he began talking while asleep. After several weeks his attacks left him but in about a year they returned and became more severe continually until in April of 1873 he had them  almost every night. During the year he became sick at an Amish meeting and talked at some length. After that it became generally known that he talked at length in his sleep and hundreds of people came from a distance to hear him. He continued his preaching until some time in 1881 when he was relieved of his physical affliction. In March 1882 his attacks returned and he again delivered sermon in an unconscious condition. Sometimes after this, at his home in Johnson County , Iowa , he lost his life in an accident. On another occasion, Troyer delivered a sermon at the Eicher church. He was not awakened after the sermon b ut slept in the church all night. Benjamin Eicher and Sebastian Gerig spent the night with him.


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