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Early Churches of Abingdon

"The Fairfield Ledger"
February 4, 1869
Page 3

[Note: This item is part of a larger story regarding a correspondent's trip through the county.]

.... The Missionary Baptists at Abingdon are doing a good work. They are making preparations to erect a house of worship at an estimated cost of $3,000, provided it was all built by contract. At the time we were there from 15 to 25 men, with four or five teams, had been at work in the woods cutting down timber and hauling it to the mill and on the ground where the church is to be erected.-- The foundation is to be 30x45 feet. It will be two stories high. The upper story will be used for a Masonic Hall, the Masons, -- who number 45 members, -- giving $570.-- They will finish the Hall, at an entire cost to them of about $800. Capt. M. W. FORREST is the leader of the force which is cutting and hauling timber. We cannot give tthe (sic) names of the business men of Abingdon, but we know that T. W. & J. M. GOBBLE and J. L. LOEHR are doing a good merchandizing business. ...


"The Fairfield Ledger"
October 25, 1899
Page 3, Column 1


Prosperity Among the Churches.

... The Christian congregation at Abingdon will dedicate a new church Sabbath next which has cost them about $2,000. ...


"The Fairfield Ledger"
June 27, 1906
Page 7, Columns 3 & 4

The Churches of Abingdon.
A. W. JAQUES in Jefferson County Historical Association.

The Christian church was the first church erected in Abingdon. I am indebted to Archibald T. DOWNEY, a member of the church since its organization, for valuable information as to the history of the first church organization in Polk Township. Mr. DOWNEY came with his father, John DOWNEY, to Iowa in 1845 and lived for several years about two and one-half miles southwest of Abingdon, on a farm his father entered from the government. He is a man of more than ordinary ability and of excellent education in his day, and taught twelve terms of school in his neighborhood. He taught the first school at Hickory Ridge, beginning his term November 27th, 1848, and teaching his last term in 1866. He was a very successful teacher and prided himself on being a good speller. He is seventy-nine years of age, in excellent health, and has a remarkable memory of the early events in the history of Jefferson county.

He informed me that the first Christian dhurch organization, what became later on the Christian church of Abingdon, was formed in 1844, three miles northwest of Abingdon, on Little Competine creek, in the Robert DAVIS neighborhood. The first preacher was Robert LONG, and for several years they had preaching at his house and at the house of Skilman DOTY in the year 1849 or 1850. The first Christian church built in Abingdon was a small frame building, all of native timber, including the seats, which were of white oak, and was a very cozy, comfortable little church for its day. It was on the ground where the Baptist church now stands. The early members of the Christian church were as follows, including their families: Skillman DOTY, Dr. Henry REAM, who sometimes preached, John WEBB, David CALDWELL, jr., who was a local preacher and frequently filled the pulpit. While not an eloquent preacher, he was a conscientious, christian man and lived his christianity every day in the week. He was a cabinet maker in the early days. He made almost all the coffins used in that neighborhood out of walnut and cherry wood. Other members were: Hanley HENDRICKS, John DOWNEY, Uriah LONG, Daniel TROXELL, Strander TROXELL, John DAVIS, Robert DAVIS, A. T. DOWNEY, E. H. DOWNEY, Isaac PETERS, John PETERS, David PETERS, William SPURLOCK, Daniel MORRIS, Shelton MORRIS, James LEISURE, Zebedee DAVIS and his brother, Dr. Noah DAVIS. There may have been others, but these are all that Mr. DOWNEY could remember at this time. Of all this host of early Christian pioneers, A.T. DOWNEY and his sister, Sallie CLINE, Miss Susan DOTY and Nathan SMITH are all who are living. The remainder have passed over the river. There was no better class of citizens and neighbors than these. They lived their faith and christian life as they saw it and have left their influence behind them, which was a great moral help to the community. The second Christian church of Abingdon was of brick, erected about 1866, and was a very creditable church building. Mr. DOWNEY informed me that the high water mark in church membership was at that time, something over 250. At this time James B. MITCHELL of Illinois and Mr. KEMPTON, of Des Moines county held a very sucessful revival. Since that there has been a falling off of the membership and today they do not claim over eighty members. The present Christian church, erected in 1896, is a very nice, modern building.

One of the most unique characters in the early history of the Christian church was Uriah LONG. He came there as an evangelist and held some very successful revivals. He was a man without education, could neither read nor write, but had a wonderfully retentive memory. He knew the New Testament almost by heart and frequently repeated his text from memory. If not, he would call upon some brother to read his text, and if not read right he would correct him in a moment. He had a good command of language and preached a surprising sermon for a man without an education. He was very fanatical on the doctrines of his church, especially on baptism. Upon this matter he was remarkably well posted and was ready at all times to enter into controversy upon that question. He was very exclusive in his fellowship with other churches, in fact, that was characteristic of the church in an early day, much different from what it is now. The spirit of unity is now finding place in the hearts of all men who are looking for the uplifting of mankind. Bickering and strife retard progress and it is a waste of valuable energy. When all men working for the common good are brought into harmony of action and unity of purpose, then will be brought about the complete realization of the prayer of the Savior that they be "one as we are one." He was a poor man and got little pay for his services with the church, and sometimes traded horses as a means of living, and had the name of being a very sharp and shrewd horse trader. He removed to Competine, and died there the latter part of the 70's.


"The Fairfield Ledger"
July 4, 1906
Page 7, Columns 2 & 3


I am indebted to T.W. GOBBLE for the early history of the Methodist Episcopal church of Abingdon. Mr. GOBBLE will soon be eighty-eight years of age. He came to Iowa in 1844 and entered the land upon which he lives. He is a man of remarkable memory of the early history of this county. With the exception of being somewhat crippled, he is in excellent health for a man of his age. I have known Mr. GOBBLE all my life and no better citizen ever lived in the community. He informed me that what was the Abingdon M. E. church was organized about 1844, at the home of John SPERRY, south of Brookville. Preaching was held at the homes of John SPERRY and Col. FLEENOR, and the first ministers were Rev. RUCKOR and Rev. REED, and a first class leader was Mr. McVEY. In 1846 there was a very successful revival at Brookville. Several joined the church, including the LINDER and CASSELL families. About 1850 John SPERRY moved to Abingdon. He was a blacksmith and made the first breaking plow with a mold board that would scour, and the SPERRY plow was in great demand. Prior to that time the wooden mold board had been in use.

The M. E. church was organized in Abingdon about 1850, and the Rev. JOHNSON was the first minister. Strange BROOKS was minister there in 1852, and then the Rev. Thomas KIRKPATRICK and the Rev. O. C. SHELTON in 1854. He lived at Libertyville. William PILE was minister at the time of the erection of the M.E. Church, in 1855, which was of brick and a very commodious church building for that time. My father, William JAQUES, did the brick work. The woodwork, including the seats, was of white oak. William PILE was a very large man, at least six feet in height, and a most eloquent preacher. He went into the Union army in 1862, and became a general. Michael SEE was next after PILE. He was a large, heavy-set man and a typical pioneer preacher. James THOMPSON and Rev. DARRAH were ministers located there at one time, but I have been unable to get the years. The Rev. BOYD, I think, came next after Michael SEE. He was a very esthetic man and must have come directly to that work from some eastern college. He always spread his handkerchief on the floor of the pulpit before kneeling to pray, and on account of his fastidious ways was not very popular with the early pioneers of his church. He at one time tried to cross Competine when the creek was very high, on a horse. He came near losing his horse and drowning himself. Sometime in the early '50's there was a very large camp meeting held just west of Cross Lanes on Cedar. Henry Clay DEAN preached there some of the most powerful sermons ever heard in that country. Rev. John HAYDEN, father of J. W. HAYDEN, had charge of the Abingdon work in 1861 and 1862. He lived at Brookville and preached there and at Abingdon. John ORR came just after the Rev. John HAYDEN. He was an energetic and hardworking man and during the week he would chop timber and do other outdoor work. The following were pioneer members, including their families: Benjamin ROBINSON, who was a class leader and a local preacher; Job and George, his two sons, became ministers in that church; John SPERRY, Joseph SPERRY, Jacob NACE, Henry RAMEY, Swain HAND, Mrs. Jacob GARVER, Albert YAGER, T.W. GOBBLE, Mrs. Thomas McCULLOUGH, Evan FLEENOR, who was a class leader; James COWGER, who was most eloquent in prayer, and his wife, Susan, was not far behind him; William JAQUES, who was a class leader for several years; Conrad NUSSUM (NEWSOME?), David McCREERY, Isaac WILSON, who was a class leader in an early day; James WILSON, P.A. McREYNOLDS, John D. FLINT, father of Mrs. L. T. GOBBLE -- his wife could make the most beautiful prayer I ever heard. It came from the heart of a most earnest woman, who lived her christian life every day in her work in the church and with her neighbors, whom she was always ready to help in case of sickness and need. This was characteristic of the early church pioneers. They believed that the great and true God is infinitely and exquisitely good and gracious; that the one thing that they could neither fully receive nor declare is the boundless love of God; that all the noblest exhibitions of human love are but bright and beautiful sparks from that intense and divine flame -- the love that through ages and generations has been leading men by the fullest wisdom and most tender providence to the heights of knowledge, love, and boundless hope that far transcend all human thought. They lifted up this overwhelming divine love before their fellow men, believing that this alone would draw all men unto Him. The service in the early M.E. church was far different than that of the present day. When the minister prayed or spoke words that appealed to their hearts you heard a hearty "Amen" from many, a custom almost obsolete in the church today. It would be difficult to find lives more self-sacrificing than those of the ministers today, preaching Sunday after Sunday and receiving no applause or seldom cheering words. They work hard on their sermons and are left in doubt whether or not they are acceptable. This is not as it should be. If it could be possible to have the congregation of the pioneer M. E. church of Abingdon attend a Methodist church of today, its members would not feel fully at home, unless it was in the little church around the corner, the F. M. church. Mr. GOBBLE informed me that the high water mark in membership of the church was reached about 1860, when it was 300. Now he is the sole surviving member of that host of early pioneer christians. He stands as the sturdy oak of the forest that has passed through winters of storms and sunshine, as a living monument of the dim past. A few years ago the old brick church was sold for $100, although Mr. GOBBLE offered more for it, as he loved the old church and wanted it to stand as long as he lived. It was taken down, and the few remaining members, except Mr. GOBBLE and family, united with the Packwood church.

The Baptist church was erected in 1868 or 1869, was built by James HARLAN and Henry LEISURE. It is one of the most striking features of the mingling of church and secret orders. Rev. R. M. TRACY was the minister in charge at this time when the church was erected. He was a most energetic christian man and by his influence churches were erected at Brookville, Competine and Abingdon. At this time the membership of the Baptist church was small and they were unable to erect a church alone. Capt. M. W. FORREST, one of their most influential members, was also a member of the Masonic Lodge, who desired to build a hall. He presented the matter to the lodge and church and it was agreed to build the two together. The church was to occupy the first floor and the lodge the second floor. The church was built two stories and was a credit to the town, and I have never seen nor heard of another church and secret order building like it. Rev. TRACY preached there several years and built up a church of 50 or more members, but in a few years the church was not successful, and now there are a very few members and no regular minister. The following persons and their families were members: Capt. M. W. FORREST, Peter BARTELS, Stephen MYERS, Jacob RAMEY, Ezra RAMEY, Erastus RAMEY, John ELLER, James LOEHR, Parkerson LONGERBONE and others. The Rev. TRACY had charge of the work in connection with his work at Competine. After he left Abingdon the church did not seem to prosper. Rev. TRACY was located at Competine for several years, and was, as I am informed, not supported by the church there and was compelled to leave the place on account of his decided stand for prohibition. He died a few years afterwards.

Grandmother LATHERS, mother of James LATHERS, was a member of the Baptist church, but seldom, if ever, attended on account of old age. Her husband, James LATHERS, having died in 1851, she made her home with her son, James, between Abingdon and Brookville. She was one of the most lovely christian women I ever knew. She lived in a little world of her own. To her the sun would rise in the morning just a little east of Brookville and set in the evening just a little west of Abingdon, and to do good to others was her mission in this world.

The loss of membership in the churches of Abingdon is remarkable -- the Methodist from 300 to one family, the Christian church from 250 to 80, and the Baptist church from 50 to no church organization. I asked T. W. GOBBLE and A. T. DOWNEY how they accounted for the loss of church membership, but they were unable to give me any satisfactory answer. I do not think the M. E. church would have survived as long as it did had it not been for the untiring efforts of John D. FLINT and his good wife. They were janitor, class leader, Sunday School superintendent, boarded all the ministers and furnished most of the coal during the winter for the church without one cent of pay, and the only reward they will get will be in the better world. I do not think the people of Abingdon lack interest in church work, but they do show a lack of keeping up the church organization, and from the good influence of the church in the past this should not be. There never has been a person sent to the penitentiary from Polk township, and very little crime of any kind has been committed there. There has been no saloon in Abingdon for thirty years, and very little litigation in the courts from that community, all of which I attribute largely to the early church influence in that community.

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