Monday, September 14, 2015

Ebenezer Evangelical Church, Zion Evangelical Church & United Brethren Church

Ebenezer Evangelical Church, Zion Evangelical Church
& United Brethren Church

Today serving as the United Methodist Church

The Evangelical Association was introduced into Blue Springs in 1870 by early missionaries who preached in schoolhouses, the old stone church and in homes in the area. 

Interior of the Ebenezer Evangelical Church - 1877

In 1877 the original section of today's church was built. It was a rectangular structure 32' by 50' with a pulpit and altar in the north end and a door in the south end where the double window is now.  In 1888 the door was closed and the entry and belfry was constructed at the southeast side of the building. 

In 1926-27 the building was raised and the basement added (it is interesting to think the structure was 50 years old when it was lifted off the ground). 

In 1903, three double memorial windows were added and at least one of the double hung windows.  The Victorian era made stained glass all the rage and by the late 1800s mass production had made them very affordable.  I sent a photo of one of the double windows to OakBrook Esser Studios in Milwaukee.  Because of the year of the window and without a manufacturer’s signature, they said it would be very hard to determine where they were made, though most surely they were made in the United States.  By the late 1890s catalogs made it easy to pick from various shapes and glass compositions to build your own window.  These windows include opalescent, painted and stained glass pieces, as well as large jewels. Esser suggested these windows probably were midrange products costing about $3-5 a square foot; in comparison today prices run between $300 and $500 a square foot.  A newspaper article about a memorial window installed in the Auburn Methodist Church in 1904 stated its cost as $150.  A catalog is listed on ebay for $750, it is an 1899 Muscatine Sash & Door Co in Muscatine Iowa featuring leaded colored art glass for private homes as well as for church windows.

Perhaps just as interesting as the stained glass, are the people and organizations that donated the money for these eight beautiful Memorial Windows. 

Rev. William Wonder was pastor of the Evangelical Church in 1877-78.  He passed away in 1894 and his wife Margaret dedicated this memorial window in memory of their marriage before her death in 1913.

Mrs. S.M. Hazen was the wife of Solon Hazen.  He was born in New York in 1829 and came to the Blue Springs area in April 1857.  As newly elected Surveyor of Gage County, he surveyed and platted the town of Blue Springs in 1861 and went on to serve in the Nebraska Legislature in 1884.

William Tyler was a retired soldier who settled in BS in 1859. Affectingly known as "Pap" Tyler, he was one of the first postmasters of Blue Springs and kept his papers in a cigar box. His second wife, Rebecca Woodward, was “Miss Kitty” of Blue Springs and the wealthiest person in Gage County for several years. Several of the first instruments recorded in our county represent business transactions in her name. Together they bought the land that is now Riverside Farm and built the lofted center section of the existing house close to the River, it was later moved to its present location.  Rebecca died in 1870 and William married Sarah a few years later. She donated the money for this memorial window 14 years after Pap’s death in 1889.

Mrs. Susan Moody Shenberger was the wife of Rev. A W Shenberger who served as pastor in 1882. In the spring of 1887 he was elected presiding elder of the Blue Springs District of the Platte River Conference, serving in this capacity four years; in the spring of 1892 he was elected conference evangelist and re-elected in the spring of 1899.  He dedicated this memorial window to Susan, who was notable in her own right as organizer and first president of the Platte River Branch of the Woman’s Home and Foreign Missionary society in about 1885.

Solomon and Daniel Harpster were brothers. They were born in Pennsylvania and living in Ohio when the Civil War broke out. They served together as Union soldiers in the Ohio Infantry.  When the war was over, they joined thousands of pioneers traveling west on promise of free land.  They filled out Homestead applications in Brownsville in 1867, choosing 2 160-acre plots side by side, 1 mile west and 2 miles north of Blue Springs. 

All of these people are buried in the Blue Springs Cemetery.

The double windows in the Zion Room were dedicated by the Keystone League of Christian Endeavor (a church youth group) and by students in Sunday School at the time of the dedication.

The Zion Room was dedicated in 1954 in memoriam to the Zion Evangelical Church, which was located one mile west of the Union Center School on the B-Line east of town. 

The Blue Springs churches county cousin; the Evangelical Union Hall congregation was organized in 1890 and built this church in 1899 on the crown of a hill one mile west of the Union Hall on land deeded to the church by Fannie Hardy.  Rev. Dillow was the pastor and the brethren Bangham, Darner and Harris, along with their wives were charter members. When Bishop Stanton visited the church for the dedication, the location inspired him to think of Mount Zion and the church and the hill were both named Zion. The Zion Evangelical church shared a pastor with the BS church until 1903 when Rev. Tool was assigned to Zion as full time pastor.  In 1907 a parsonage was built beside the church, sixty trees were set out and a fence built around the premises. 

By 1916, Zion had a membership of 108. A new furnace and gas light generation was installed that year, greatly improving the church. 

This photograph was taken during a Christmas Eve service welcoming new members of the Church in 1916.  William and Tena Morris, my grandparents and two uncles, Arthur and Wilferd, were received into Church membership that evening and this photograph was a treasured part of my Dad’s collection. He and my aunt, Edith, are also in the photograph, however they were too young for membership that year.  My uncle, Arthur, was baptized in the Blue River near Blue Springs in the summer of 1917. My Dad was received into membership and baptized September 14, 1924 just shy of his 16th birthday.

During the winter of 1918-19, the work of the church was difficult because of extremely bad roads and a severe flu epidemic.  In the early years of the 1920s, the community flourished.

Faced with the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, by 1934 the Zion congregation was once again made part of the BS church and shared a pastor.  Tent revival meetings were held throughout the decade lead by traveling Evangelists. When the rains came in 1936, spirits were lifted and new song books purchased. In 1937 membership was 53.  In 1939 the youth staged a “chicken hunt” which brought in $68.06 towards paint and repairs for the church, and then went on to help with the painting. That year a decision was made to remove the steeple as it had become dangerous and it was replaced with a lower structure. My Dad’s signature appears along with other signatures making the recommendation.

With the dawn of a new decade and depression behind them, the people of Union Center had hopes for a brighter future, repairs were made to the church and preparations were made for the churches 50th Anniversary in November of 1941.  The morning service had an attendance of 100 people who traveled over rain soaked graveled roads to the church.

In 1945 the vacant parsonage was furnished by the Ladies Aid for their monthly meetings.  An acre of crops known as “Gods Acre” culminated in an annual Harvest Home Celebration each fall in the late 1940s.  In 1949-50, the church was wired for electricity for the first time. During the summer of 1952, the church was painted and the young people raised money for it by placing banks in the congregation’s homes and collecting the money every month or so.  Lightning struck the church during the morning service that year and the insurance company replaced the chimney and electrical wiring. 

In 1953 the parsonage was sold for $1100 and moved 1 mile east and a mile south. The house still stands now vacant for several years.  When the school closed in 1952, the church struggled through the year; even so, a revival meeting in September was well attending thanks to support from the congregation of the Blue Springs church.  In 1954 the church was closed and the congregation moved to BS.  The church was later sold for materials and torn down.

My Dad, Robert Morris, appears on the board of trustees in the last years of Zion’s service to the community.  When it closed he joined the members of the Blue Springs church and his membership spanned 80 years.

The United Brethern Church was located NE of the tennis court
 in the Blue Springs Park

The United Brethren in Christ was established in Nebraska in the 1870s.  In March of 1880 the Blue Springs Mission was designated as the west ½ of the Otoe Reservation, the name was later changed to the Otoe Reserve Mission.  The Zion United Brethren Church six miles south of Wymore was dedicated in January 1893.  This building was built in 1882 at a cost of $1500.  The church work was discontinued in 1942 and the properties were later sold. The Church of the United Brethren in Christ and the Evangelical Church merged in November of 1946 to become the Evangelical United Brethren Church.

The church records (births, marriages, baptisms and minutes) for both the Ebenezer Evangelical Church and Zion Evangelical Church are available to view at the Wymore Public Library in the Heritage Room (by request).  The EUB Blue Springs book dates only through the 1930s but the Zion book dates from 1900 until it closed in 1954.

In April of 1968, the Ebenezer Evangelical Church consolidated with the Methodist Church to form the United Methodist Church and its congregation honors the building’s historic past and continues its tireless work in our community.