Early Religion In Brownhelm Township Ohio
The early settlers were in earnest in religious matters, as well as in education. They were not all members of the church, but they had all been trained in New England habits, and prominent men like Alva Curtis and Colonel Brown, who did not at first have a standing in the church, still maintained family prayer and aided in the Sabbath services. A meeting was held at Judge Brown’s house by Deacon James the Sabbath before July 4, 1817. From that day on public worship has been held on the Sabbath, unless for a single day the violence of a storm may have prevented the gathering. The first meetings were held at Judge Brown’s, afterwards at Solomon Whittlesey’s, and then at Mr. Barnum’s, a little north of the stone quarry.
At this point the first meeting house was built in 1819, a neat and commodious structure for the new country, constructed of pealed logs, with a genuine shingle roof, and a stone chimney and fireplace. The infirmity of this part of the arrangement was that the mantle was of wood, which often took fire on a winter day, and one of the young men, Frederic Brown, or Chauncey Peck, or Rodney Andrews, was obliged to bring water or snow to extinguish it, while the rest of the congregation were occupied with the calculation how long it would be before the chimney would come down upon them. The seats were like those of the log school house, slabs on pins. The men were ranged on one side the house and the woman on the other, facing each other, with a broad aisle between, at one end of which stood the pulpit. As times improved and lumber became abundant, one man made a comfortable settee for his family; others followed his example, and in a few weeks the whole congregation were provided for.
A dedication of the house was by Deacon Beardsley, of Vermillion. Passing the building one day when it was nearly finished, he went in to see if the house would seem like the old log meeting house that he had known in Connecticut. The spirit of the Lord seemed to come upon him, and with a solemn prayer he consecrated the house, and received an assurance of great spiritual blessings to come soon upon the people. The promised blessing was not long delayed. In the great revival that followed, almost all the young people were gathered into the church.
The church was organized June 10, 1819, at the house of Solomon Whittlesey, and consisted of sixteen members, seven men and nine women, including Levi Shepard and Grandison Fairchild, Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Fairchild. The ministers that officiated in its organization were Messrs, Treat and Seward, missionaries of the Connecticut Missionary Society, and members of the Portage Presbytery. The church was congregational, under the care of Presbytery, after the “plan of union.” Stephen James was the first deacon, and afterward Levi Shepard was elected; Grandison Fairchild was clerk. Rev. A. H. Betts, known through the country as Dr. Betts from the fact that he had studied medicine, was the first minister. He began preaching to the church in the fall of 1820, and was ordained and installed April 5, 1821. He continued pastor until, at his own request, he was dismissed in 1833.
The practice of the congregation was to meet for service at half past ten Sabbath mornings, to take a recess of an hour for rest; and for lunch which they took with them to meeting, visiting the spring under the rocks for water; and returning for afternoon service. There were only two or three families that lived near enough to go home at noon. A sight of the old congregation would be refreshing today - the women in their Sunday’s best, the men in their shirt sleeves, the boys and girls with bare feet. Mr. Peek, at the head of the high seat with his pitch pipe, Judge Brown next, and Dr. Betts in the pulpit.
After the Sabbath school was introduced, this was held at noon. The first Sabbath school was opened June 1, 1828, Sabbath morning in the yellow school house with about a dozen children and two teachers - Grandison Fairchild and Pamelia Curtis. It was afterwards transferred to the meeting house and held at noon. The chief feature of the school at that day was the learning and reciting of scripture, each scholar having the privilege of selecting his own passages and learning as many as possible. A single scholar would sometimes repeat more than a hundred at a lesson. One such in a class would nearly consume the hour.
Before 1830, the Sabbath school was reorganized under the superintendence of Frederic Brown who had been living at the east and returned all alive with interest in the Sabbath school work. The plan of limited lessons was adopted, and the Sabbath school became a religious power in the community of great efficiency. It was the time of a great religious movement in the land, in connection with which protracted meetings were first extensively introduced, commonly known as “four days’ meetings.” These meetings gathered not merely the communities where they were held, but people from neighboring towns attended in large numbers. They were not like the protracted meetings of the present day, occupying the evening with a single preaching service, preceded by a prayer meeting, leaving the people free during a large part of the day for their usual avocations. At these four days’ meetings the people gathered in the morning, taking a luncheon for themselves and for visitors from abroad, and the entire day was devoted to preaching, prayer and inquiry meetings. Evening meetings followed in the different neighborhoods.
Such a meeting was held at Brownhelm in the summer of 1831 under a bower, in the forest, just north of the stone quarry. The old meeting house was not large enough. The weather was propitious, and the meeting was fruitful of results. The religious interest which had been accumulating for many months, in connection with the Sabbath school work, reached its culmination. Many were greatly quickened in their religious life, and many more were induced to enter upon such a life. It was a season to be remembered for a generation. Similar meetings were held at Elyria and at Vermillion earlier in the season, and the influence extended through the region. Mr. Shipherd, of Elyria, Mr. Bradstreet, of Vermillion, Mr. Judson, of Milan, and several others, were recognized as leaders in the work. Probably no other such general movement has been known in this territory of northern Ohio.
The old log meeting house, about this time, became uncomfortable for winters and inadequate for summers, and the people moved towards a better house. It was soon found difficult to bring the interests of the lake shore and the ridge to harmonize upon a location. An old Stockbridge difficulty between the Plain and the North settlement found an echo here in the woods, and, perhaps, predisposed to a reproduction of the quarrel. After sundry meetings and conferences, the question was referred to a committee of discreet men from abroad. whose decision was to be final. This committee consisted of Deacon Crocker, of Dover, Deacon Clark, of Vermillion, and Deacon Fuller, of Berlin. They drove the stake in Grandison Fairchild's peach orchard, and there the church was.
The first attempt at a building was essentially a failure. Mr. Culver was the architect, a man of mechanical genius, but deficient in practical judgment; and the building, having no cross beams to support the roof, and relying solely on braced and trussed plates, commenced life with a broken back. After an inglorious career, it gave place to the cheerful and graceful structure built by Alfred Betts.
A Methodist Episcopal class was formed in West Brownhelm in about the year 1841, called the Brown helm class. The records of the church have not been preserved, and we could obtain but little information concerning it. The erection of a church building was commenced not long after the organization of the class, but was not finished, for want of means, for several years after. It was dedicated by Elder Lyon, of Sandusky.
The Evangelical Association was organized by Rev. Lutz in the year 1847. The earlier meetings of the society were held in the school house in the southeast part of the town. A house of worship was erected on Middle Ridge in 1865, at a cost of one thousand two hundred dollars. A Sabbath school was organized subsequently.
The German Reformed Church was organized in 1848. Services were held at first in the school house in district number one, and, subsequently, after the division of the district, the society purchased the school house and occupied it as a house of Worship until 1870, when the building at the station was erected. The cost of this church was one thousand six hundred dollars. The first pastor was Rev. Meis.
The people of Brownhelm, in the early times, felt reasonable complacency in their social, literary and religious privileges, and in the good order and morality which distinguished the place. Crime was rare, and rowdyism almost unknown. If a boisterous company, now and then, passed along the streets, it was assumed that they were from Black River, a township which then embraced Amherst.
There was only one drunkard in town, even before the commencement of the temperance movement. But the temperance movement came none too soon. The habit of drinking at raisings and trainings, and of having liquors in the house for social occasions, and for private use, was universal; and the young were forming a taste for it. In 1827, some account reached Brownhelm of the growing interest at the east on the subject, and on Thanks giving day Dr. Betts preached on temperance. The same evening several boys from the neighborhood were spending the evening at Grandison Fairchild's, the older people having gathered at a neighbor’s house. The boys, after some conference on the subject, drew up a pledge, one or two of them having learned to write, and all signed it - a pledge to abstain from the use of all distilled spirits. This was the first temperance organization in the township, the first, in fact, in the county. This pledge was circulated, and led to the formation of a vigorous temperance society. From that time the use of spirits declined, until it was no longer furnished on public or social occasion, or kept for private use. Davis’ distillery went to ruin, and young men were saved who had been exposed to great danger.
Until about this time, a few Indians had lingered about the region, sometimes passing by in considerable parties from the neighborhood of Upper Sandusky. They were harmless after the war, and the only annoyance from them was their persistent begging for whiskey. They would stand an hour at the door, begging for “one little dram.” One day a party stopped at Grandison Fairchild's house and passed the bottle among themselves, the bottle being carried by a white man who belonged to the party. One young man, more gentle and amiable than the rest, said, when the bottle was offered to him, “No, whiskey wrestle we down once, never will again.”