Category Archives: Churches

Happy Sesquicentennial, Methodist Church!

Methodist Church

First United Methodist Church, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

I had occasion to visit Wellington’s Methodist Church today. It is a beautiful, elegant structure with spectacularly lovely stained glass windows. The sanctuary was looking especially festive, festooned with flowers, Advent candles, wreaths and a Christmas tree. The holidays are a very busy time of year for many of us, but I could not let pass the opportunity to note that the church celebrates its one hundred and fiftieth birthday this very month.

On December 19, 1866 the Lorain County News included a piece called “Our Churches” in its Wellington column. Among other notices, this appeared: “The Methodists are making an effort to build a new church edifice next season. They have already raised the larger portion of the estimated fifteen thousand dollars. The need of a new house is apparent” (pg. 3).

Six months later, an update was published in the same column. “Church Building. The foundation for the Methodist Church is growing rapidly under the hammer of Mr. Bevins. Large quantities of stone from the Berea quarries are daily being delivered on the ground and the brick work will soon be commenced” (6/12/1867, pg. 3).

The work was completed by year’s end. The December 25th edition of the Lorain County News announced: “Wellington. Festival. The Methodist congregation are to hold a dedicatory or Christmas Festival in the basement of their new Church, on the 25th and 26th instant. Some of their most prominent ministers are expected to be present, and a good time is anticipated. We hope they may not be disappointed, as they have labored hard during the past summer, in erecting their new edifice, which is an ornament to the town and a just cause of pride for so successful a termination of their arduous labors.” The editor might have ended on that positive note, but felt the need to add, “A more extended notice of their gathering would have been given, had we been furnished the necessary information” (pg. 3).

Happy birthday, First United Methodist Church. May your congregation continue its good works in the community, and may your beauty continue to grace the downtown, for many decades to come.


Mystery Solved

1937 depot st fire.jpg

Photograph of the August 16, 1937 fire that destroyed the H.C. Otterbacher farm implement warehouse on Depot Street, which had formerly served as the so-called Old Free Church. Image courtesy of Mr. Alan L. Leiby.

Just weeks ago I posed the question, whatever happened to the Old Free Church? In that March post, I laid out the history of the structure, built on South Main Street to house an anti-slavery congregation during an 1850s schism in Wellington’s Congregational church. I traced the life of the building from its construction in 1852, up to the final record of it that I could locate, namely a 1933 Sanborn fire map. By that point in its existence, the little wooden building had been relocated to what is now Depot Street and was being used to store farm implements.

At the conclusion of the post, I asked if any readers remembered the building or knew its fate. Mr. Alan Leiby, creator and moderator of the Memory Lane Wellington Facebook page, quickly located two late-nineteenth-/early-twentieth-century images that featured small portions of the building. I appended both of those pictures to the original post. But recently Mr. Leiby located a third image (shown above). It depicts the same wood-frame structure in the process of burning down. No additional information was attached, though vehicles in the background of the shot suggest a date during or after the 1920s.

I located the Depot Street lot on an 1896 map of the village and determined that it was block 1, lot 74. Given that the building appeared to be intact as late as 1933 (though it was certainly possible that the original structure could have burned and been rebuilt on the same footprint), I picked the arbitrary date of 1930 and began to comb through village tax duplicates. Taxes are organized alphabetically by the last name of the land owner–which I did not know–so I had to scan through approximately seventy pages of returns looking for the correct block and lot numbers. And I found what I was looking for: Harry C. Otterbacher owned the lot in 1930, and all the subsequent years up to (and beyond) 1937, when I discovered the following:

1937 Wellington Village Tax Duplicates

1937 Wellington tax records for Harry C. Otterbacher. Note that the $1,000 valuation of a building on block 1, lot 74 has been manually crossed out and annotated “Bldg Burned.”

Knowing that a building fire occurred sometime in 1937, I began to search through the microfilmed issues of The Wellington Enterprise for that year. Fires and automobile accidents were almost always front-page news at that time, which made the search somewhat easier. And sure enough, on the Friday, August 20, 1937 issue, the headline announced, “FIREMEN BATTLE $20,000 BLAZE.” Proclaimed “the most spectacular fire” in the village in nearly a decade, the conflagration consumed the small farm implement warehouse and partially destroyed the adjoining two-story brick building. The newspaper noted that had the alarm sounded just moments later, the consequences for the “entire southwest business section” would have been catastrophic, as Wellington’s fire department would have been en route to Ashland, in response to a call for aid from that city in battling a blaze of its own.

Multi-page coverage of the fire included a (sadly murky) photograph of “dense clouds of smoke” pouring from the structure, as a consequence of 1,500 gallons of oil stored there. Otterbacher employees attempted to remove tractors and other equipment from the building as it burned, but the thick smoke quickly made recovery efforts impossible. It took nearly five hours to extinguish the fire that Monday afternoon. The heat was intense enough to ignite a telephone pole located more than twenty feet away from the building. Two gas stations across the street “were closed and gasoline was drained from the pumps because of the danger of explosion” (pg. 2).

The Enterprise published a three-column article in the same issue, detailing the history of the destroyed building. “Considerable speculation” had arisen as to its origins, the paper reported. No, it had not come from Huntington as some residents were suggesting. It was built on South Main Street as a church, later used as a “town hall and public meeting place,” then served as a carriage shop before ending its existence on Depot Street as a farm implement warehouse and sales room (pg. 4).

How I wish every mystery I have run across while writing this blog had concluded as neatly as this one!

Easter Sunday

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English Easter card, printed ca. 1890.

Happy Easter to all who celebrate! In nearly four years of writing this blog, I have somehow never done an Easter post. So I searched through The Wellington Enterprise and include a few brief notices for your holiday reading pleasure.

“Easter Sunday is coming more and more to be observed in the Protestant Churches, and few let it pass without special services. At the Methodist Episcopal Church Sunday, the Scripture texts and floral decorations were numerous and elaborate and all the services of both Sunday School and Church were prepared with reference to the day. The Sunday School numbered 401 and birds as well as flowers and music assisted to make it delightful to the children. The Congregational Church had also profuse floral decorations” (3-28-1883, pg. 3).

“Very impressive Easter services were held in the churches Sunday. The choirs had made special selections for the occasion and sang them with spirit. The divines had evidently devoted a number of days to preparation of their subjects and the time arrived for closing before they were half through telling of the events of the anniversary of the occasion. The day was a beautiful one and inspiration was within the reach of every one who were in condition to receive it” (4-28-1889, pg. 5).

“The services in the Congregational church were of unusual interest. Elaborate floral decorations appropriate for the occasion had been arranged on a temporary platform built several feet in front of the pulpit. Large palms flanked the platform, and all between them was a mass of green foliage with white blossoms. A rich vase of Easter lilies graced the desk. On the front of the pulpit was a large star covered with white flowers from the Dark Continent; above was the text ‘He is Risen’ wrought in purple Immortelles on a background of white…” (4-1-1891, pg. 5).

And a late-century report from nearby Rochester:

“In spite of the muddy roads there was a good attendance at the Easter concert at the Baptist church Sunday evening. The church was prettily decorated with potted plants, and Easter flowers, with their fragrance, added their beauty to the church. The center attraction was the beautiful cross with the motto, ‘Christ Has Risen.’ The little children with their smiling faces, presented a picture of perfect happiness when the beautiful Easter eggs of various colors were presented them. Rev. Lash made some very interesting remarks appropriate for the occasion” (4-5-1899, pg. 8).

Happy Easter, readers!

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Illustration from “The Wellington Enterprise,” 3-29-1899, pg. 3.


What Ever Happened to the Old Free Church?

Old Free Church 8-28-1901 p. 2

“The Old Free Church, Built in 1852.” Engraving featured in “The Wellington Enterprise,” 8-28-1901, pg. 2.

If you have followed this blog since the beginning, you are probably aware of my ongoing battle to untangle the histories of both Wellington’s Town Halls and its Congregational Churches. Numerous buildings have served as each–and a few have served as both. As evidence has surfaced over the years, I have gone back and amended earlier writings to clarify the timelines. Every time I think I have it all sorted out, some new document comes along and remuddies the waters.

One of the unresolved mysteries is the fate of the building known as the Old Free Church. This wooden structure was erected on South Main Street, approximately where today’s Congregational Church stands, in 1852. I have pieced together an outline of what happened to it over the decades that followed, though its ultimate fate is still unclear. I am hoping that perhaps someone reading this might be able to shed some light on the answer. Here is what I know:

1852-Built on South Main Street.
“[T]he Free Church received two hundred dollars’ assistance in building its house” (Barton, History of the First Congregational Church of Wellington, Ohio, pg. 20).
“[1852] Steps were taken to secure a pastor, and a committee was appointed to secure a site for a building” (Ibid, pg. 22).

1857-Archibald Willard painted Village of Wellington and depicted the Free Church.

Detail of old free church

Detail of the Free Church in “Village of Wellington” (1857) by Archibald Willard. Original painting owned by Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

1860-The two split factions of Wellington’s Congregational Church reunited (Ibid, pg. 24).

1863-Free Church became the Town Hall.
“An exchange has been effected by the Board of Education, so that the building known as the ‘Free Church’ has now become the Town Hall…” (Lorain County News, 9-9-1863, pg. 3).

1874-Building was recorded on map of the village as “Town Hall.”

1874 Town Hall

Detail of Wellington Village map showing a structure labelled “Town Hall” on the west side of South Main Street. From “Atlas of Lorain County, Ohio. 1874.” Pg. 61. Photo by author.

1879-Conjectural date at which Free Church stopped serving as Town Hall; at some point it was sold and relocated to make way for a brick church on the same South Main Street site–which burned to the ground in 1895.

1892-Free Church was in use as a wagon shop.
“The Free Church built the large structure which is now used by Christie & Bennett as a wagon shop” (Barton, pg. 25).

WE 2-19-1890, pg. 1

Advertisement for Christie & Bennett. “The Wellington Enterprise,” 2-19-1890, pg. 1.

1894-Christie & Bennett dissolved their partnership; Bennett continued the business alone (The Wellington Enterprise, 8-22-1894, pg. 8).

1901-Image of the Free Church used in Homecoming Week special publication (above) noted “now used as a wagon shop.” (Ibid, 8-28-1901, pg. 2).

1902-“The Old Congregational Church Now a Wagon Shop.”
“The old wagon shop that fronts the railroad track south of West Main street and now occupied by Mr. Harry Bennett, was once the Congregational church of this place…The old belfry has been removed but the wide panel corner boards and cornice are still in evidence and the building bears the appearance of better days” (Ibid, 8-16-1902, pg. 1).

And that is where the mystery stood until very recently. I began to dig into Harry Bennett’s taxes, bearing in mind the clue from the above story that the wagon shop “fronts the railroad track south of West Main street,” i.e. today’s West Herrick Avenue. Bennett did indeed own two lots of land on the diagonally-oriented Rail Road Street, though an 1896 map indicates no buildings on either of his holdings. I then took a look at Sanborn fire maps for the period, and found that a structure labelled “Wagon Shop” did stand on that corner of Rail Road and West Main (also called Liberty Street) on maps for 1889, 1899, and 1904.

Sanborn June 1904

Sanborn Fire Insurance map for Wellington, Ohio dated July, 1904 showing the intersection of Rail Road Street and West Main (or Liberty) Streets. Wagon shop is circled. OhioLINK Digital Resource Commons. Accessed 3-22-2017.

The same structure remained on block 1, lot 73 for at least three more decades. It appeared on Sanborn maps in 1911, 1922, and 1933; each time it was labelled “Agricultural Implements” or “Farm Implements.”

Harry Bennett did not own the lot nor the building on it. In the 1902 Enterprise story cited above, he was said to occupy the wagon shop but was not named its owner. The two lots that Bennett did own were the empty space just southwest of the wagon shop on the Sanborn map above. Perhaps he rented the building for his business, then bought nearby land as a place to park the carriages, wagons and sleighs his shop serviced.

In a rather remarkable coincidence, just yesterday Mr. Alan Leiby, the creator and moderator of the Memory Lane Wellington Facebook page, sent me two historic photographs of West Herrick Avenue, for a completely unrelated topic I was researching. When I looked at the Sanborn maps and realized the area of town in which the Free Church might have been relocated, I quickly reexamined those images.

west liberty st post-1904

Post-1904 image of West Main or Liberty Street, at its intersection with Rail Road Street. Is the wood-frame building at the far right the Old Free Church? Photo courtesy of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, “The Spirit of ’76” Museum.

Is the wood-frame structure that appears in this photograph the wagon shop that was once the Old Free Church? It seems to be the correct dimensions and bears a strong resemblance to the engraving at the top of the post. “The wide panel corner boards and cornice” noted in the 1902 Enterprise article are found in the image, as well.

So, dear readers, I am putting the question to all of you. This building was still standing in Wellington as late as 1933, perhaps far longer. Does anyone remember this structure? Was it demolished or relocated yet again? How marvelous if we could locate it during the Bicentennial commemorations, perhaps hiding in plain sight and serving as someone’s home. Please comment if you can shed any more light on the mystery.

UPDATE: Mr. Leiby comes through again! After reading my post on the Old Free Church, he located another image–spectacular all by itself–that shows a bit more of the building. My guess is that this photograph is earlier than the post-1904 image above, though it is difficult to date the clothing styles as most of the subjects are in costume. The building clearly said “CARRIAGES” at some point, and the window appears to read in part, “CARRIAGES, BUGGIES AND WAGONS.”

Old Free Church as Wagon Shop

Undated image of the buildings situated at the junction of Liberty Street (now West Herrick Avenue) and Rail Road Street (now Depot Street). Photograph courtesy of Mr. Alan L. Leiby.

UPDATE: Mystery solved!

The Importance of Being Patient

Detail of Wellington 1857

Detail of “Village of Wellington” (1857) by Archibald Willard. Original painting owned by Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

The massively popular website GeneaBloggers has been running a program this year that it calls the “2016 Genealogy Do Over.” The basic premise of the program is to give oneself permission to set aside all previous assumptions made during years–if not decades–of genealogical research and start fresh. Reexamine your primary source material with clear eyes and see what new information presents itself.

I have often wondered what I would learn if I had the time to go back and reread all the materials I have gathered since 2005, in the larger context of what I (think I) know now. Through pure happenstance, in recent weeks I had two instances in which this very scenario occurred. I was looking at materials I had gathered for research on other topics, and found unrelated answers for which I had been searching.

The image above is a detail of Archibald Willard’s study, “Village of Wellington.” For ages I have been attempting to use documentary evidence to determine precisely what each of the depicted buildings was used for when the painting was made in 1857. Then, while gathering information for my recent post on Wellington’s Seminary, it suddenly struck me: the massive “Map of Lorain Co. Ohio From Actual Surveys by John F. Geil” was also created in 1857. And there, printed right on the map, is a clear set of labels indicating the purpose of every structure in the painting. The Wellington House hotel-later called the American House-sat on the intersection, with a book store and post office directly adjacent. Next came a store, followed by the Presbyterian Church, then the (second) town hall and finally the (first) Methodist Church.

Detail 1857 County Map

Detail of “Map of Lorain Co. Ohio From Actual Surveys by John F. Geil. 1857” showing the east side of South Main Street, Wellington, Ohio.

The second mystery I recently solved was perhaps of less general interest than the one described above, but was immensely satisfying for me. Early readers of the blog will recall that I began this research when my family bought an 1876 Italianate house on North Main Street in 2004, a house built by businessman Noah Huckins. Over the years I have learned an enormous amount about Huckins’ life story. I know that he was born in Canada; that he attended college at Baldwin University (now Baldwin Wallace University) in Berea, Ohio; that he enlisted in a Civil War regiment from Oberlin but only served three months; that he was a successful entrepreneur in both Wellington and Oberlin, where he died.

What I was never able to discover was what brought Huckins to Wellington after his military service. Then, again while reviewing materials for my recent post on the Wellington Seminary, I found a Lorain County News item on the state of Wellington schools during the war. Buried in seven paragraphs, I discovered eight words that answered my question. “Our schools for the past term, though taught in three different houses, have been managed on the plan of the ‘Union Schools,’ with a corps of four teachers, under the superintendence of N. Huckins of Berea, and it has proved a success beyond that of any former period in the history of Wellington schools” (emphasis added, 12-30-1863, pg. 3). So Huckins came to Wellington to serve as superintendent of the village’s educational system, and ended up staying for two decades. I had the answer in my grasp for who knows how long, but somehow missed it.

Speaking of the virtues of patience, I must beg the pardon of regular readers. I have been posting less frequently of late, but I hope for good reason. I have a few blog-related projects in the works at present, including two print publications and a possible exhibition. Most exciting, perhaps, is that my assistance has been requested on an upcoming conservation project involving three newly discovered panels painted by Archibald Willard. Local folks may have seen recent press coverage. All of that “tangential” research is taking a fair amount of time. But if the nineteenth-century history of Wellington is a topic that interests you, I trust your patience will ultimately be rewarded.

Willard panels

Candid snapshot of three oversized panels painted by Archibald Willard, on public display at Wellington’s Masonic Hall, May 22, 2016. Photo by author.

The Day Long Anticipated


January 30, 1893 portrait of the choir of Wellington's First Methodist Church. Photo 970567 of "Wellington Family Album" Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

January 30, 1893 portrait of the choir* of Wellington’s First Methodist Church. Photo 970567 of “Wellington Family Album” Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

CHRISTMAS. Making that Sacred Day One of Giving for Everyone. The day long anticipated came tardily enough to little children waiting for luminous Christmas trees or stockings to be filled mysteriously at chimney corners. To those whose heads must plan and hands must execute the day approached with hurrying haste. And it now is all over; processions of children filing into decorated Sunday-school rooms, chanting of hymns in illuminated churches, with the joyous peal and clang calling from belfry and tower; voluntaries sweet, solemn and grand; the gladness of its giving and the happiness of its receiving, all commemorating anew the birth of the child at Bethlehem. Echoing through the centuries, rings the chorus of the angelic hosts, and believers in all nations have caught the glad refrain: ‘Glory to God in the highest! peace on earth, good will toward men.’ God grant that the fresh impulse of love and good will, inspired by the event of Christmas, may not fade and wither, like the holly and evergreen around the pulpit and altar…”

So wrote Mary Hayes Houghton, former co-editor of The Wellington Enterprise, on Christmas Day, 1895. Mrs. Houghton was a noted journalist in her own right, a woman of deep religious faith, and a beautifully accomplished and moving writer. I could find no better words to wish you all a joyous holiday season.

Mary Hayes Houghton (1837-1921). Co-editor of "The Wellington Enterprise" for nine years, though even her husband acknowledged, "She contributed the larger share of copy."

Mary Hayes Houghton (1837-1921). Co-editor of “The Wellington Enterprise” for nine years, though even her husband acknowledged, “She contributed the larger share of copy.”

*Two copies of this image are included in the Herrick Memorial Library’s “Wellington Family Album,” with differing sets of identifying information. I offer each below in its entirety, in case one of these individuals is a member of your family.

(970567) “On the left in the photo foreground is M. W. Franks, choir director and on the right is Rev. E. Hagerman, pastor from 1892-1896. The men are seated on either side of the church pulpit. The choir is identified as: Front row: Grace Roedel, Edith Wickenden, Ann Lessott, Angie Metzger, Miriam Dirlam, Mary Nichols, Emma Lessott, Minnie Cleghorn, sopranos; May Blackburn, Millie Lessot, Bertha Cushion, Hattie West, Eda Zempher, May Pierce. Second row men: Bass: Arthur French, Hugh Allyn, Albert Peirce, Everett Barrick, Father Lissot, Gene McEntere, Peter Eidt, Mr. Cook, Herbert Durand, Will Zempher, Don Stroup, Walter Cole, Don Cushion. Orchestra: Chas. Furz, bass cornet, Gene Cushion, Carl Metzger, Clare Harvey, Win Franks, leader.”

(970470) “Seated in front, William Franks, choir director and Reverend Haggerman, minister. First row; Grace Roedel, Edith Pierce, Ann Tissot, Angie Metzger, Mayme Franks, Millie Tissot, Bea Howk Cushing, Hattie West, Eva Zimpher, Unknowns, May Pierce. Second row; Unknown, Hugh Allen, Albert Pierce, Lyman Barrick, Mr. Tissott, Mr. McIntyre, Pete Eidt, Mr. Cook, Herb Durand, Unknown, Unknown, Don Cushion, George Howk. Third row, orchestra; Charley Furze, Charlie Linder, Eugene Cushing, Claire Metzger, Unknown, Unknown, Unknown. Organist, Louella Hopkins.”

Odds and Ends

The Leviathan visits Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

The Leviathan visits Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

It has been a few weeks since my last post so I wanted to touch base with you, dear readers, to assure you that I have neither forgotten nor abandoned this blog. In fact, several rather exciting things have happened of late that directly pertain to my ongoing research project.

Firstly, this is the weekend that the Leviathan is visiting Wellington. You may recall that the Leviathan is a reproduction of the steam engine that pulled President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train across the nation–and right through Wellington–in 1865. My family rode the train yesterday and had a wonderful time. There are four trips scheduled for tomorrow (Easter Sunday) and a limited number of tickets are available for purchase trackside. If you are in the area, I highly recommend making time in your holiday schedule. All proceeds go toward the larger Lincoln Funeral Train replication and cross-country commemorative trip next year.

I have also been privileged recently to join the Wellington Genealogy Group. This is a dedicated, hard-working body of individuals who are committed to preserving the primary documents of Wellington’s past. The project we embarked on just this week is to digitize the Council Journals and Ordinance Records of the village dating back to 1855, the year of incorporation. The very first volume I picked up contained the records of council business in 1872, when the mayor of the town was one Noah Huckins. You can imagine how excited I am to read more.

Endpaper of Council Journal and Ordinance Records of the Incorporated Village of Wellington, No. 1 [1855-1869]. Photo by author.

Endpaper of Council Journal and Ordinance Records of the Incorporated Village of Wellington, No. 1 [1855-1869]. Photo by author.

At the same time, the genealogy group is preparing transcriptions of the records of Wellington’s Congregational Church for publication. (They have already issued a similar volume for First United Methodist Church records dating back to the 1850s.) The documentary history of the Congregational Church is particularly rich, beginning more than three decades before the village was incorporated, in 1824. It provides a unique window into the lives of some of Wellington’s earliest settlers.

The focus of my own research has been slowly shifting further back in time, and I’m currently investigating some families who lived in town as early as the 1820s. One of the people I am interested in is a man named John Reed, a merchant who was very active in the Congregational Church. Reed drowned in the Black River in 1855. While looking at his probate documents, I came across a twenty-page inventory of his belongings, most likely including the contents of his store. (His building stood at what is today the intersection of North Main Street and West Herrick Avenue, occupied since 1873 by Benedict’s Block–named, incidentally, for Ethel Benedict. He was John Reed’s brother-in-law, and took charge of his business affairs and real estate, after Reed’s tragic death.) The inventory has pages of personal and business accounts being settled with Reed’s estate, thousands of dollars in credit presumably extended for the purchase of goods. Teasing apart the networks of connectedness and examining the material culture contained within this single document could fill a doctoral dissertation.

At present, I am pursuing eight different topics that I hope will each result in a post. After that, who knows? I wrote back in October that I thought I was nearing the end of the line (Leviathan pun intended) and seven months later, I am still finding things to be curious about. I will say that now that spring is finally here, I will have less time for weekend library excursions, as grass must be mown and weeds pulled. I hope you all will be enjoying the warm weather so much you won’t even notice my absences. As always, I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions of topics.

The Congregational Church(es)

First Congregational Church, 140 South Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

First Congregational Church, 140 South Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

It is impossible to study the history of Wellington, Ohio without learning something about the history of the Congregational Church in this community. I am in no way qualified to speak to the complex theological and political issues that shaped the church’s evolution across the nineteenth century. Those interested in a detailed examination of antebellum Presbyterian and Congregational reform movements, for example, should review the work of my fellow blogger and Wellington historian, Joshua Fahler.

I am interested in architecture as material culture, however, and so I have been tracing the different church facilities erected in the village since its settlement in 1818. The Congregational churches are particularly interesting in the ways in which they interweave with the overall development of the town.

Secondary sources often identify the first place of worship of the ‘Church of Wellington’ at what is now the intersection of North Main Street and East Herrick Avenue. The History of Lorain County, Ohio (1879) recorded, “The first place of meeting was a log school house at the center, where the brick block on the corner now stands” (pg. 354). Rev. W. E. Barton’s A History of the First Congregational Church of Wellington, Ohio (1892) concurred: “The first meeting house was a log school-house standing on the corner where J. S. Mallory & Co’s store is now located” (pg. 24). Robert Walden wrote in the mid-twentieth century, “The first church at the center of Wellington was DeWolf’s Temperance. It was open for services April 20, 1824, in a log building at the corner of Public Square and North Main Street. The building was called DeWolf’s Temperance Tavern and was just what its name implied–a temperance lodging where no liquor was for sale” (Robert Walden Notebook, #A158).

Neither Walden nor either of the other volumes offer any documentary evidence to support their assertions. The specific date that Walden cites–April 20, 1824–was the date on which a church body was officially constituted in the village. In the earliest days, services rotated among the private homes of members, including that of Amos Adams, as the unpublished manuscript records of the group show. They also met in the “Center School House at Wellington” on at least one occasion in November 1825. It was not until three years after constitution, in May 1827, that the congregants voted to receive “Mr. Matthew D. Wolf and his Wife Mary…from the Church of Otis” (Records of the First Congregational Church…, unpublished mss., pg. 11).

Mathew DeWolf’s obituary in The Lorain County News noted his forty-year membership in the church, but said nothing about him playing host to the congregation in his business establishment. (I examined his lovely psalter in a previous post.) Interestingly, the author of the obituary, J. B. Lang, knew first-hand that DeWolf had been a school teacher in the village, as Lang was one of his early pupils. Lang knew DeWolf emigrated to Wellington from Otis, Massachusetts “about the year 1827” (7-19-1865, pg. 3). Was there an early structure, belonging at some point to DeWolf, that served as a school, a public house, and a house of worship? I have no definitive proof but it seems plausible to me.

When Wellington’s first Town Hall was erected on Public Square in 1829, that building definitely served as both a civic arena and a religious facility. The Wellington Enterprise published a transcription of the 1829 “Subscription for Town House &C” which read in part, “We the undersigned agree to pay the sums annexed to our names, to be expended in erecting a brick building at the center of Wellington, in the lower story of which there is to be a school room for the use of the district…the remainder of the building to be at the disposal of the first congregational society in Wellington provided they shall lay a tile or brick floor to the upper story and that said story shall at all times be open for the transaction of town business and funerals…” (5-12-1886, pg. 3). The subscribed amount for the proposed hall was $119.50.

The Enterprise dated the dismantling of this first town hall to 1845, but that is not certain. History of the First Congregational Church recorded that (perhaps even before the hall was taken down) a frame structure was erected on the adjacent lot by the congregants in 1839, but it burned to the ground that winter (pg. 25). The same information is included in History of Lorain County, with a note that the loss on the fire was “about three thousand dollars” (pg. 355).

“The next season the church and society entered upon the work of rebuilding, and put up and finished a new one, upon the same site, and upon the same plan as that destroyed, at about the same cost,” it continues. This 1840 structure, which over time came to be referred to as the ‘Old White Church’ is the first Congregational house of worship of which I have located images. If the text in History of Lorain County is correct and the Old White Church was built “upon the same plan” as the 1839 church that burned, we can hypothesize that its facade was similar, if not identical.

"The Old White Church, Built in 1840." Engraving featured in "The Wellington Enterprise," 8-28-1901, pg. 2. Photo by author.

“The Old White Church, Built in 1840.” Engraving featured in “The Wellington Enterprise,” 8-28-1901, pg. 2. Photo by author.

Detail of the Old White Church in "Village of Wellington" (1857) by Archibald Willard. Original painting owned by Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

Detail of the Old White Church in “Village of Wellington” (1857) by Archibald Willard. Original painting owned by Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

In 1885, when plans were underway to construct the present Town Hall, the wooden structure being used as a town hall was sold at auction to W. R. Santley and Co. for $209 “that being the highest bid received” (Enterprise, 6-3-1885, pg. 5). In 1892, the same year Barton published, a fire broke out at Santley’s lumber company on the evening of August 3rd. The newspaper headline proclaimed, “The old Congregational Church and Town Hall Reduced to Ashes.” The article explained, “The company owned the building, which was once a Congregational church and then served as a town hall until 1885, when it was purchased by the lumber company and removed to the mill yard” on Magyar Street (8-10-1892, pg. 5). This was the Old White Church.

Over the course of the century, the Congregational Church in Wellington experienced at least two schisms, during which members withdrew from the main body and formed other churches. I would refer those interested in a  more comprehensive explanation to read the two published histories of the church and Mr. Fahler’s work. The first group, which called itself the Independent Church, organized in 1843 and eventually reunited with the main body in 1851. It “had no house of worship, but met in the town hall, which even before the division had often been used by the First Church for social meetings” (History of the First Congregational Church, pg. 25).

In 1852, a smaller group of dissenters again broke away from the First Church and called themselves the Free Church of Wellington. The Free Church apparently “received two hundred dollars’ assistance in building its house” (pg. 20) from the Home Missionary Society and put up a frame structure just north of the site of the present church, on the west side of South Main Street. The two factions reunited in 1861.

"The Old Free Church, Built in 1852." Engraving featured in "The Wellington Enterprise," 8-28-1901, pg. 2. Photo by author.

“The Old Free Church, Built in 1852.” Engraving featured in “The Wellington Enterprise,” 8-28-1901, pg. 2. Photo by author.

Detail of the Free Church in "Village of Wellington" (1857) by Archibald Willard. Original painting owned by Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

Detail of the Free Church in “Village of Wellington” (1857) by Archibald Willard. Original painting owned by Herrick Memorial Library. Permission
to display generously granted by the library.

The Lorain County News reported in early 1866 that “a movement is on foot to thoroughly repair the Congregational Church in this place, which has been long needed. The township trustees are repairing, fitting up and thoroughly painting the Town Hall, which will do away with the necessity of using the church for everything, as for some time past” (3-28-1866, pg. 3). By the end of the year, the church had “received a coat of paint on the outside, which adds greatly to its appearance. The thorough repairing lately given it makes it a very pleasant place of worship.” At the same time, “a fine stone walk, and…lamp post” were installed in front of the Town Hall (12-19-1866, pg. 3). It seems that in 1866, the term ‘Town Hall’ referred to the Old Free Church and the Congregational Church was then the Old White Church. In 1892, Barton wrote that the Free Church building “is now used by Christie & Bennett as a wagon shop” (pg. 25). Ten years later, the Enterprise reported that “the old wagon shop that fronts the railroad tracks south of West Main street and now occupied by Mr. Harry Bennett, was once the Congregational church of this place” (8-6-1902, pg. 1). Its ultimate fate is not known.

[UPDATE: For March 2017 speculation on the fate of the Old White Church, click here.]

When the theological and political rifts of the war years were healing, the next major difficulty faced by the congregation was overcrowding. The coming of the railroad and the Cheese Boom had increased both the population and the overall wealth of the community in the years since the construction of the two wood-framed sanctuaries. Many of the town’s most prominent businessmen were members of the Congregational faith. When a subscription was raised to erect a magnificent brick church on the corner of South Main and Magyar Streets in January 1878, contributors included Noah Huckins, John Wilbur, John Artz, Sidney Warner, Watson Wean, Timothy Doland, David Wadsworth, Sereno Bacon, Joseph Turley, Albert Couch, and many more. I have written before about Hiram Allyn receiving the construction contract for the project, which totaled some $25,000.

"First Brick Church--Built 1878-1879, Burned 1895." From "A History of First Congregational United Church of Christ of Wellington, Ohio, 1824-1974," by the Rev. Ronald Boldman.

“First Brick Church–Built 1878-1879, Burned 1895.” From “A History of First Congregational United Church of Christ of Wellington, Ohio, 1824-1974,” by the Rev. Ronald Boldman.

The 1879 building, which Barton called “the finest and best arranged church edifice in the county, and outside the large cities, one of the very best in the state” (pg. 25) does indeed sound impressive in the descriptions of the time. Its heating and lighting systems were the latest technologies, and its interior was sumptuous. Sadly, it caught fire and was totally destroyed in February 1895. It was less than two decades old.

Interior view of the 1879 brick Congregational Church, which burned in 1895. Photo 970465 of "Wellington Family Album" Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

Interior view of the 1879 brick Congregational Church, which burned in 1895. Photo 970465 of “Wellington Family Album” Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

The present brick church, shown at the top of the post, was constructed on the site of the burned church. G. Frederick Wright’s A Standard History of Lorain County was published in 1916, but he copied so much content directly from The History of Lorain County, Ohio (1879) that he did not even bother to note the destruction of the 1879 church and its later replacement, which occurred almost immediately. The present church was dedicated in September 1896.