Pennsylvania USGenWeb Archives


Centennial History

of Methodism

in Clearfield, PA


1810 - 1910

George W. Rheem


Chapter 2


transcribed for the Clearfield County PA USGenWeb by

Ellis Michaels



This page was last updated on 23 Apr 2011

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Second Street Methodist Episcopal Church, 1868






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  In the formation of the Methodist Church in America in 1773, the first Conference was held in Philadelphia, in June. The membership of the Church was 1,160, with ten preachers.

  Clearfield was, of course, in the Conference territory, but was perhaps entirely unknown, and indeed until the beginning of the nineteenth century was not known as a county. But the Methodist preachers were sent forth by their Conferences, and the nearest appointment to Clearfield mentioned in the Minutes was Huntingdon, in the year 1788, with Samuel Breeze and Daniel Combs as the preachers. None of them found their way over the Allegheny Mountains until the year 1810, when Daniel Stansberry is mentioned as sent to "Mishannon," Centre county, on Moshannon Creek.

  This territory was in the bounds of the Baltimore Conference and in Carlisle Presiding Elder District.

  This Mishannon appointment was put in connection with Huntingdon in 1814 and James Reiley, the great-grandfather of J. McKendree Reiley, and Samuel Davis were named as the preachers. The diary of Jas. Reiley, as furnished by J. McKendree Reiley, contains the following extract, which shows the extent of the circuit over which they traveled:

  "The Huntingdon Circuit embraces a large extent of mountainous country extending from Huntingdon through Williamsburg up the Juniata River to a little village





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named Frankstown, thence through the Sinking Valley, thence across the mountain to Philipsburg, thence above Clearfield on the opposide side of the river several miles (Centre) and thence through the mountains by a powder mill to Warriors Mark, thence to Half Moon to D. P. Gray's, and thence to Benton's, east of Pennsylvania Furnace, thence down Spruce Creek, taking in a number of appointments; thence over to Kishocoquillas Valley, thence across to Stone Valley of five appointments, thence back to Huntingdon, in all twenty-eight or thirty appointments over an extent of country but little short of 300 miles."

  And the following comment:

  "I found Huntingdon in many of the large classes more cut up in contention and party groups than any circuit I ever traveled, and I perhaps never left a circuit with a fairer prospect for a powerful and extensive revival than I left Huntingdon, which was fully realized the two succeeding years."

  The appointment to Mishannon in connection with Huntingdon was discontinued after 1816 by the Conference.

  A letter from Daniel Ayres, a local preacher of Philipsburg, to Rev. Jas. Curns, says that preaching was continued by supplies probably sent by the Presiding Elder, but no regular appointments until 1825, when the Baltimore Conference, of which we were still a part, sent John Bowen to Clearfield, and this is the beginning of the work of which we have now a continuous record of all the proceedings of the Quarterly Conferences up until this writing, and a continuous list of all preachers who were appointed to the Clearfield Circuit and the various circuits and stations that have been subsequently made.





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The first quarterly meeting conference of the year 1825 of Clearfield Circuit was held in _Philipsburg, May 28th, 1825, and we herewith give the names of the officers present composing this first conference:
Presiding Elder—Marmaduke Pearce, father of John J. Pearce.
Circuit Preacher—John Bowen.
Local Preacher—John B. Meek.
Exhorter—James Kinnear.
Class Leaders—John Gearhart.
William Ayres.
William Wright.
Moses Norris.
John C. Ayres.
Stewards—William Kinnear.
John Musson.
Moses Boggs.

The financial report shows the entire amount collected for the year was $113.84, of which the classes of Clearfield are credited with having paid $8.94. The disbursements were to—
John Bowen, circuit preacher,.......... $84.80
John Bowen, traveling expenses,.......    8.00
Marmaduke Pearce, Presiding Elder,.... 15.00
Expenses,..................................  2.00
Conference collection,....................  4.04

This statement is made to show what economy was necessary on the part of both preachers and people to have Methodism get a foothold in this county at that time.





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  The preacher's salary was not a fixed one, but depended on the size of his family. The preacher was allowed one hundred dollars and his wife one hundred dollars, and each child over seven years sixteen dollars a year. At the first Quarterly Conference a committee was appointed to estimate the table expenses and horse feed for the year, and the sum usually fixed was from $100 to $130, and this was not always paid in full, making a salary about $350.

  At the first Quarterly Conference, May 13th, 1826, held at Chest Creek, it was determined to hold a camp meeting on the grounds of Jacob Gearhart, probably near Philipsburg, to commence September 1st.

And as an item of interest to persons of the present day, the description of the preparation of a camp ground and the manner of conducting such a meeting will not be out of place.

  A committee was always appointed to make selection of a suitable ground, having in view all the conveniences necessary for the comfort of families tenting on the ground as well as for persons desirous of attending the meetings. A few weeks before the meeting public notice would be given by the committee that on a certain day all persons thinking of tenting or attending the meetings were requested to repair to the grounds with teams and proper tools to put them in readiness for the meeting. To this call a ready response was usually given, and the first thing to be done was to determine the size of the ground necessary for the erection of tents and seats for the congregations. This being fixed, all the underbrush and laurel thickets and all fallen trees were at once removed from what was known as the ground in the circle of tents and then trees were cut down out in the woods and laid





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along the ground in such position as to be used for supports for the planks that would be placed for seatings for the congregation. Then the location being determined on for the preaching stand and at the same place sleeping quarters for the preachers. An altar rail was erected on poles driven into the ground about four feet high, and this enclosure being about twenty by forty feet with an entrance at each corner, was called the altar, inside of which were held the usual revival and other services incident to and always expected during the camp. Then the fire stands were erected at each corner inside the tent circle, posts being driven into the ground and logs or slabs placed on them and sufficient earth on them to put the fires of pitch pine which, when burning, furnished sufficient light for the ground at night. Then those persons present intending to tent on the ground would make their selection of places on which to locate their tents, and other days would have to be spent in getting boards on the grounds using about 1,000 feet for each tent. Some of the tents would be made of muslin. Planks about two inches thick would be placed on the logs already stretched out for seating the congregation. These planks could generally be borrowed from some nearby saw mill and returned at the close of the camp. Next thing would be making preparation at the homes of the tenters for moving onto the grounds, and these preparations would be somewhat elaborate, because the tenters would not only provide for their own families, but they expected to provide dinners for strangers on the grounds, especially on the Sunday of the camp. The meetings usually commenced on Friday evening and continued until the following Thursday night or rather Friday morning, as the last meeting was generally an all night





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West Clearfield Methodist Episcopal Church, 1872






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meeting, and closed up with a march around the grounds at sunrise with a parting handshake amidst the songs and tears of all taking part. These old time camp meetings were of great benefit to the Church and heartily enjoyed by all who would take an active part in them. The preachers were always entertained by the tentholders.

  The first move toward building a Church on the circuit was made at a Quarterly Conference held at Abram Keagy's in the southern end of the county, June 9th and 10th, 1827, when Moses Boggs, from the river (Centre) appointment stated that it was their determination to erect a meeting house on land donated by Philip Antes, Sr., and to accomplish their purpose, a committee, consisting of Moses Boggs, Isaiah Goodfellow, Alexander Caldwell, Elisha Schofield, Samuel Hoover and William Welch, was appointed, and no further records are made of this until September 20th, 1834, when the committee reported the Church completed and a balance of indebtedness of $69.96, and the pastor, Rev. John McEnally, was authorized to solicit subscriptions to liquidate the debt. This site is used at this time.

  The third Quarterly Conference for the year 1827 was held in the Court House, in Clearfield, on the 24th of November.

  At the second Quarterly Conference, held on the camp ground, the place not mentioned, the following resolution was passed:

  Resolved, "that we think it improper as members of the Church of Christ, to indulge in the pernicious habit of dram drinking, unless as a medical prescription. Therefore, we will beat it down so far as precept and example has any influence."

  The first Missionary Society for the circuit was formed





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and a constitution adopted, February 6, 1830, and the following year the reports of collections made showed that $3.87½ had been contributed.

November 16th, 1833, a constitution for a Church Temperance Society was presented to the Quarterly Conference and adopted.

September 20th, 1834, three Sabbath Schools were reported in the bounds of the circuit, one at Centre, one at Bradford, and one at Chest Creek.

At a Quarterly Conference, held in Clearfield, December 3rd, 1836, a long preamble was presented by a committee denouncing the attendance of members of the Church at menageries, circuses or theatrical amusements, and the following resolutions were adopted:

"1st. Resolved, that in the opinion of this Conference, it is inconsistent with the dignity of a minister of Christ, and unbecoming the followers of the blessed Saviour, to attend or otherwise countenance shows, the menagerie, circuses, or theatrical amusements.

2nd. That a copy of the above be entered by the Recording Steward in the journal of this circuit and a copy also be furnished for publication in the Pioneer and Banner."

This year, 1836, the circuit was changed from the Northumberland district to the Chambersburg district and continued there until 1838, when it was put back to the Northumberland district.

At the fourth Quarterly Conference, January, 1836, it was thought advisable to build a church in Clearfield, and a committee, consisting of Isaiah Goodfellow, John Moore and Isaac Southard, was appointed to have an estimate made of the probable cost of a suitable building. This committee probably reported to the Quarterly





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Conference, although no record is made of such report. At the third Quarterly Conference, held in Curwensville, October 14th, 1837, a building committee was appointed to erect a "Meeting House," in Clearfield town and the persons named on that committee were: Isaiah Goodfellow, Isaac Southard, John Moore, Henry B. Beisel, and William Antes. They reported progress to the Quarterly Conference, January 13th, 1838, and went on with the building which was erected on lot No. 96, in the plan of Clearfield borough, on the corner of an alley on the south side of Cherry street, purchased from Robert Wallace, by article of agreement and deed for same made by said Wallace, February, 1847. The building is still standing and occupied as a double dwelling house. No special record is made of the dedication services except the following transcript from the third Quarterly Conference records, October 5th, 1839, held in Clearfield.

  "Moved and seconded that a collection and subscription be taken to-morrow for to defray the expense of building, &c., this Meeting house carried." At this Quarterly Conference the Presiding Elder was John Miller, and the circuit preachers Jos. S. Lee, the father of A. W. Lee, and Jos. A. Ross, were present and of the building committee, Isaiah Goodfellow was the only one present at the Quarterly Conference. John Moore, marked distant, Wm. Antes, absent, Isaac Southard and Henry B. Beisel, probably not members of the Quarterly Conference, but altogether -likely present at the dedication. This, then, was the beginning of a permanent home for Methodism in Clearfield town. Up until this time one preacher did all the work on the circuit, the extent of which was from Philipsburg, on the east, to Luthersburg, on the west, and a few appointments in the southern





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Circuit Rider

Drawn by Rev. A. M. Barnitz






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borders of Elk county, on the north, to the southern end of our county, New Washington, making a circuit of about 70 miles from north to south and about 36 miles from east to west, to be the tramping ground of one preacher, who, for want of any conveniences for transportation to all points of his work, was compelled to go everywhere on horseback, not even having a chance for using horse and carriage. It was no strange sight in those days to see the circuit rider on horseback, with his saddle bags strapped behind his saddle, filled to the full with his meagre wardrobe, and books of a religious type-for sale to any persons who desired them. And as he-thus journeyed from one appointment to another, his mind would be on the subjects for his sermons, or reading a book as his horse would carefully carry him along the unbroken roads and he could sing:

    "No foot of land do I possess,
      No cottage in this wilderness."

  And he was expected regularly at each appointment every four weeks. His home was anywhere that night overtook him and he was always courteously received and kindly entertained, and always seemed happy in the rounds of his arduous work.

  Now that a church home was completed in Clearfield, a description of its interior arrangements and form of worship will be in place. The entrances, as you see them now in the dwellings, were the same then. The entrance next the alley was for the men, and the other side for the women, as they always sat separately in all the services. The pews were plain, comfortable seats. No carpet on the floor. The light was good, three windows on either side, two in the rear, one on each side of the






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pulpit, and one in the middle at the front and transoms over the doors.

  A plain pulpit at the rear, an altar of plain wood in front of the pulpit, with short returning ends on either side, usually called the mourner's bench. In the middle block of seats, two old fashioned ten plate wood stoves furnished the heat in winter. The lighting of the church for night service was made by eighteen tallow candles, two of which were on the pulpit, the others in sections of four each, swung from candelabra, made by the tinner of the town, and hung on ropes, two on each rope, and when one was pulled down, to place the candles or to snuff them when dim, the other swung up toward the ceiling. There being no regular sexton, the cutting of the wood, sweeping of the Church and lighting and snuffing the candles was all voluntary work, but so many would forget it, that it was usually done by a few faithful ones.

  The preaching services were always well attended and there being but few hymn books, the preacher would read the hymn through, and then line it out two lines at a time, and any one in the congregation, of musical ability, would start the tune and all the congregation would join in the singing, and the last two lines of the hymn were always repeated. Then everybody knelt in prayer, thinking nothing about soiling their clothes on the plain wood floor.

  At the Quarterly Meetings, held at the different appointments, the official members from all the charges were always expected to be in attendance and the love feast was held on Sunday morning. The doors were opened at 9 o'clock and after the first prayer they were promptly closed and locked and there were but few





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persons ever late. The old rule was that tickets were given by the class leaders to all the members of his class that had not missed class meeting for three consecutive times preceding the love feast day, and only those holding tickets were admitted. The habit of separate seating of men and women was kept up here until about 1858, when it was discontinued.

  Up until this time the circuit was called Philipsburg Circuit, but in 1837, it was changed to Clearfield Circuit. Two preachers were sent and this gave preaching every two weeks, and the work was so arranged that one Sunday would be a morning service and in the next two weeks an evening service, and as will be noticed later on, as changes were made, the plans would change.
We may note here that the Rev. Jas. Reiley, great-grandfather of Rev. J. McKendree Reiley, the second early pioneer in this wilderness country in 1814, died September 28, 1841, in St. Mary's county, Md., at the age of 57 years.

  At a Quarterly Conference held in Clearfield, October 5th, 1839, Adam C. Shaw was recommended for license to preach and among the usual questions asked was: "Are you an Abolitionist?" his answer was: "I am," and he was granted a license.

  December 12th, 1840, the Quarterly Conference, held at Clearfield, appointed the following persons as a committee to fix on a suitable lot and estimate the probable cost necessary to build a church in Curwensville: Elisha Schofield, Isaiah Fullerton, Isaac Southard, Charles Matlack and Alex Caldwell, to report to next Quarterly Conference.

  Rev. Joseph S. Lee, who had been the preacher in charge of the circuit in 1839, was remembered very kindly





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by some of the ladies of Curwensville, and on the 27th of January, 1846, they presented him with a quilt, of their own handiwork, of twenty four blocks, all worked on same design called a laurel leaf pattern and on each block is written in indelible ink the name of the worker and the following inscription is written in the centre:

To our beloved former pastor,
Rev. Joseph S. Lee,
This little token of our love,
By our mutual efforts wrought,
We here present to thee, our friend, To show thou art not forgot.
Sarah Bloom, Elizabeth S. Evans, Martha Dale, Mary Irwin, Mary Hoyt, Margaret Taylor, Mary Ann Kelley, Priscilla Evans, Elmira H. Galer, Eliza Irwin, Harriet Hoyt, Miss Mary E. Irwin, Mary Galer, Susanna Patton, Ann Cullinsworth, Anna Ross, Sarah Thompson, Eleanor McMullin, Caroline J. Bell, Sophie J. Evans, Mary E. Bell, Mrs. Jane Irwin, Miss Martha Irwin, Rachel Sterling,
Curwensville, Pa.

  The quilt is in possession of Mr. A. W. Lee, of Clearfield, son of the Rev. Jos. S. Lee.

  In 1841, on account of the increase of the membership on the circuit, the necessity for new preaching places became apparent and committees were appointed to estimate the probable cost of churches in Bradford township and Grampian Hills. No records have been made of the time when they were built.

  Revivals of religion were held in every part of the circuit during the winter months in which the members of the Church were all expected to take an active part. Services were held every evening preceded by a short





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Eleventh Street Methodist Episcopal Church, 1902






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Lewis R. Carter, a very muscular man, and just as good as he was strong, and forcibly ejected and put off the grounds. The father was James Crossly, a blacksmith from Grampian Hills, who in a short time after was soundly converted and lived and died a splendid Christian man.

  The following story shows how Methodists in their anxiety to save and help men were imposed on by a villain:

  In the Presidential campaign of 1852 the Democratic party was holding a meeting in the court house and after the regular speakers had delivered themselves, repeated calls for "Ferguson" were made, and in response a tall, ungainly-looking fellow, with shaggy hair and dressed in red flannel shirt and black pants stuck in his boots, and a black slouch hat drawn down over his eyes, one of which was blind, presented himself and asked what was wanted of him, and "Speech! Speech!" was the answer to his question, and he took the stand in apparent embarrassment, but this was only momentary, for as he proceeded it was evident that he was superior to the other speakers, both in ideas and elocution, so much so that he simply captured the audience, with the result that the county committee quickly arranged with him to make a thorough canvass of the county, and he was in demand everywhere.

  The following summer he assumed infidel ideas and took pride in controversy of that kind. He went to a camp meeting near Woodland, held by the United Brethren. One member of this committee, Geo. W. Rheem, was present. There he met Rev. Cyrus Jeffries, as bright a man as himself, and these two crossed swords in controversy, inside the tent circle, about 9 o'clock in the morning, and continued until the horn blew





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for morning service at 10.30. After the services were over Ferguson was walking around the ground in the rear of the tents and found an old man named Crowell, who was enjoying himself praising God for His goodness, when he attempted to speak slightingly of the old gentleman's enjoyment, but when he was asked, "Do you enjoy religion ?" he promptly answered "No," and then the old man said, "Well, as you are so ignorant, you had better move on and leave me to my enjoyments."

  That night about 9 o'clock he, with some others, was standing at the head of the ground near a fire stand, when suddenly he fell to the ground and was picked up by those standing near, and feigning helplessness, he pretended to be unable to speak, and motioned to them to take him down to the altar, where he knelt as a penitent and went through all the forms of prayer and repentance, and as sudden as his fall and loss of speech had been, so were his expressions of praise for forgiveness of his sins. Those having heard his controversy in the morning, now witnessing his conversion, attributed it all to Jeffries' overwhelming argument, but Ferguson said, "No, the old man at noon did it, for he surely cut me to the heart." A few weeks later he attended our camp meeting held on the ground a little east of the new cemetery, and was royally entertained, and was taken especial care of by some young men who tented on the ground. He manifested wonderful interest for the success of the meeting, and his prayers and exhortations, accompanied with his tears, were beyond description, and with some persons, more thoughtful than others, they were almost too good to be real, and amongst those was our good old brother, Geo. Guyer, our pastor. In his quiet way he said he thought the man was no novice in religious matters, but had been there before, somewhere.





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He located in Clearfield and read law in Judge Barrett's office, and associated with us in our church worship regularly, but would not connect himself in membership. For nearly two years he lived a very correct life and made many friends, but in the fall of 1854 came his undoing and exposure.

  Rev. John Wood, of the United Brethren Church in Bradford township, came into the harness shop of Geo. W. Rheem, Sr., located upstairs where Charles Irwin's store now stands, to have some repairing done to a riding bridle, and whilst waiting on his work asked Mr. Rheem whether he would object to him seeing Mr. Ferguson in his shop, for the purpose of exposing his past life, as he was a bad man and was no doubt planning for something bad in Clearfield. Mr. Rheem was astonished at such a statement, but gave his consent for an interview, and while Mr. Ferguson was being located, Mr. Wood said he was an impostor and was an expelled preacher from his Church, and that his real name was Albert Davis, and he would so greet him, and wanted his movements watched closely. In a short time Mr. Ferguson, having been notified that he was wanted, came upstairs leisurely and at the landing Mr. Wood met him and said, "How do you do, Albert?" Ferguson, without any apparent confusion, said, "That is not my name, sir. I guess you have gotten the wrong man."

  Mr. Wood said, "No, I am right," and asked him to take a seat, and then said, "Albert, how are your wife and children getting along?"

  "I have no family. I was never married."

  "Yes," said Mr. Wood ; "they are now in the poor house in Wheeling, Va."





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   "Albert, do you preach any now?" said Mr. Wood. "Why no, I never did preach."

  "You know who I am, Albert ?"

  "No, I never saw you before."

  "Yes, you know me. Albert, how did you lose that eye?"

  "I lost it in the Mexican War by the explosion of a shell in battle."

  "Albert, those were splendid revival meetings you and I held out in Greene county a few years ago. You remember them ?"

  "You are mistaken in me. I never took part in such meetings."

  "How long were you in Tennessee after being expelled from our Church?"

  "I never saw Tennessee."

  Then turning to Mr. Rheem, Mr. Wood said: "This man is not telling the truth. His real name is Albert Davis, not Jas. Ferguson. He was my assistant in Greene county, Pa., and was a splendid preacher. He knows me very well. He never saw Mexico; his little sister put out his eye with a table fork in a little quarrel. He was guilty of the grossest immorality, for which he was silenced as a preacher and was expelled from our Church. He went down to Tennessee and joined the Baptist Church, and for his immorality there was driven from among them; and he will do you some harm here if he has a chance."

  Ferguson said: "Now, Mr. Wood, you are doing me great injustice and are certainly mistaken in your man. And as it is now my dinner time, come and take dinner with me at the Mansion House." They went away together, but in a short time Mr. Wood returned and





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said: "Ferguson has confessed to me all I said was true, and made me every offer in his power if I would come and say I was mistaken. I am going to Curwensville, and he wants to ride up with me, but I will not ride with him, for I am afraid of my life. I am located in Bradford township and will be there for the balance of the Conference year, and you can call on me at any time for further information. I will not wait for dinner."

  Ferguson left town that afternoon and we heard from him shortly after from Ridgway, where he affiliated with the Catholic Church. One day he disappeared, and so did the silver service of the Church, and he has never been heard of since. For our encouraging him in his apparent religious life our Church was very severely criticised, but probably did us no real harm.

  The week night prayer meetings were for many years held at private houses on Thursday evening of each week, circulating among different families, and were well attended and always very spiritual meetings, the leaders changing each night.

  The condition of our town was not such as to induce persons to be found on the streets very much after dark. The pavements were generally made of two-inch planks laid lengthwise, and frequently the nails that held down the ends would rust off, and the ends of the planks would tilt up, making splendid places to catch the foot and a first class fall was generally the result. There were no lights of any kind on the streets, and the light from the tallow candles shining through the window's was of no avail, and there were no street crossings and consequently after every hard rain getting from one side of the street to the other was a problem each person had to solve for himself. The town council did put down stepping stones at the court





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Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church, 1904





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house corner, a foot apart, which were good for daylight, but the screams of the women when going over them at night indicated that they had just stepped between the stones, soiling dress and shoes to such an extent as to put them in a bad humor.

  And the reader of this will say, of course no person would go to church such nights as these. But they did, and it was a rare thing for the preacher not to have a full house and attentive hearers, and no obstacles were too great for an excuse to absent themselves from all services of the Church. All the services in the old Church on Cherry street were well attended, including the class meetings, which were held on Sunday afternoon. The morning class met at i i o'clock, alternating every other Sunday with the preaching service. These class meetings were sources of great help in the spiritual life of all who attended them. In the summer months the evening services of Sunday were held at 5 o'clock in the evening.




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