1900 Aerial View from Courthouse

Greenville Presbyterian Church History 200 Years, 1821 to 2021

The First Presbyterian Church is celebrating its 200th year anniversary in Greenville, with the dedication of a new granite plaque unveiled in the Narthex, September 11, 2022.

The first recorded visit of Presbyterians to the New World were the French Reformed Presbyterians in 1562 when French Huguenots came to Florida and South Carolina.

In 1643, an Assembly was convened “to consult and advise” concerning matters of religion. They drew up a “Directory of Worship”, “The Large and Shorter Catechisms”, and “The Confession of Faith”. For over 300 years, these, as revised and amended from time to time, have formed the basis of our Presbyterian faith. In the early 1800s, Ohio was an almost unbroken wilderness. The state’s landscape was nearly all forests with a few sparsely settled communities. The town of Greenville was laid out in 1808 and 1809. A few log huts were located about what is now the public square or today’s traffic circle. The lines of stockades and blockhouses that had formed the fort outline were still standing. Indians were in the majority. Darke County was organized in 1817. People living outside the little settlement of Greenville had to protect themselves from the Indians and wild animals. About 1818, Greenville and vicinity became a missionary field for the Presbyterian Church. Nicholas Pittenger and John Ross are credited with holding meetings here at this period. In that year, Rev. Shannon, who had served as chaplain in one of General William Henry Harrison’s Kentucky regiments, preached at the residence of William Martin.

On February 14, 1821, 33 early pioneer men signed a petition that “a Presbyterian congregation of Christians be organized in the town of Greenville”, and pledged their support to such an enterprise. This meeting was at the home of Linus Bascom on March 10, 1821, and, after a vote, they placed the organization on record as the “Greenville Presbyterian Society”. The congregation called it “The Presbyterian Church of Greenville.”. One of the 33 founders was Azor Scribner, who had a trading post outside the fort, and was credited with being the founder of the Town of Greenville in 1808. Bascom’s house was a log cabin located where the old Fire Department stood at the northeast corner of the Public Square and Broadway (now Ted Finnarn’s law office parking lot).

On March 10, 1821, this Society elected Linus Bascom, Benjamin Murphy, and William Martin as trustees and Eastin Morris as clerk. There were no women on the list of those forming the Society, showing that women’s participation in public affairs did not happen at that time. There is a note in the old church records that the first pastor of the loosely formed society was Rev. Scott in the 1822-1825 time period. On September 9, 1825, a congregation gathered at the house of Benjamin Murphy for the purpose of being organized into a church. The Rev. John Ross officiated this service, and at its conclusion, he named Benjamin Murphy, Robert Robinson, and Linus Bascom as elders. Tradition has it that furs of wild animals figured largely in the pastor’s salary than money. Rev. Ross remained with this congregation until 1831.

In 1833, the society started a new Mount Pleasant Church in Gettysburg since a number of the Greenville congregation lived in Adams Township, which was east of Greenville and near Gettysburg, and its first pastor was Rev. Isaac Ogden.

Meetings were held in the Darke County Court House, which was a log cabin on the corner of the Public Square. This log cabin later became the home of a noted Greenville citizen, John Riley Knox, who was known for founding one of the premier fraternities in the country, Beta Theta Pi. Services from 1831 to 1841 were sporadic and were only held when a minister was available. Some meetings were held in other members homes and even the City Hall. The society in Greenville did not have a regular preacher for some time until October, 1841, when Alexander Gulick was installed pastor for both congregations (Greenville and Gettysburg).

After two years, on November 31, 1844, Rev. Badeau came and served for four years at the First Church. On May 12, 1849, Rev. John Weeks commenced preaching, until 1853, and was succeeded by R.M. McCullough. In 1857, Rev. Orlando Clark became pastor for one year. His replacement came two years later with a six-month commitment by Rev. D.B. Wycoff, who left for India to become a missionary. In June, 1860, Rev. C.B.H. Martin served one year acceptably.
Next came Rev. John Drake from 1862 to 1864. There was an unfortunate division in the main Presbyterian church body in 1837. There was friction in the congregation due to the fast growing and lively church. This dissention prevailed for many years and resulted in the establishment of competing churches in different locations.

On June 21, 1843, the Second Presbyterian Church or “New School” was formed and erected a frame building where the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in the first block of East Fourth Street, across the street from our building now. This was made possible by prominent citizen Hiram Bell and the second church was built for $300. The early pastors of this New Church were Rev. Franklin Putnam, Rev. J.P. Kumler, Rev. Jamison, Rev. Lyman, and Rev. L.E. Jones until 1865. Rev. Kumler’s congregation increased at a fast enough pace to allow a substantial brick building to be built on the northeast corner of Broadway and Fourth. This location was where the Park National Bank is now and this was a most valuable lot downtown and was needed for commercial use. The New School Church was then moved to the corner of Martin and Broadway.

This first denomination worshipped in the Court House until 1850, when Linus Bascom, on Apr. 3, 1851, donated 54 feet of the frontage of Lot 10 to the First Presbyterian Church for $1 to further the interest and welfare of the Presbyterian Church. At that time the land was valued at $41, and that is what Bascom paid for it. This is the lot where our church is currently located. A substantial brick structure with four immense pillars on its front façade, was completed about 1852, for the sum of $1,900. The congregation wanted to wait until they could build a worthy structure on this site and this 1850 to 52 structure was that building. Many churches of this style were found throughout Massachusetts and other historic towns of New England. The parsonage was next door to the church on the east.

In 1857 the New School condemned slavery. Its southern members withdrew and formed the United Synod of the Presbyterian Church. In 1861 part of the Old School became the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America rather than support the government’s policy on slavery. At the end of 1861, there were four separate branches of the Presbyterian Church in America: New School in the North, Old School in the North, New School in the South and Old School in the South. After the Civil War, the northern branches merged into the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, and the southern branches merged into the Presbyterian Church in the United States.

In the spring of 1865, the bodies of the old church and new church agreed to unite into one organization, again. Dr. Thomas of the First Church, Dayton, represented the Old School and Rev. L.E. Jones represented the New School and Jones was moderator of the unification meeting. They were authorized by their respective Presbyteries to form a union of the two bodies in Greenville. This joint meeting occurred on May, 1, 1865, and was unanimously supported by a vote of both congregations. The next Sunday, May 8, 1865, a new board of trustees was presented to the members. The church was part of the United Presbyterian Church of North America. The Rev. H.A. Newell, a man with an attractive personality and a fine speaker, became the first pastor, and whose ministry revived the church and made great progress on increasing membership. The congregation used the new, large building to hold services. The second church building was used as a place of worship for a few months after the union. This building was sold before the heirs of the donor of the building might demand the property to go back to them. The Rev. Newell served until 1869 and was succeeded by Rev. John S. Gourlay, who left in 1872. A supply minister J.C. Eastman came in the spring of 1872 and remained in that position until 1880. Rev. J.M. Crawford was the preacher from 1880 to 1887. During 1888 and 1889, the pastor was Rev. J.P. Hutchinson and the present church building was built where the old one was. Z. Benfeldt of Richmond, Indiana, was given the contract to built the new facility for $14,989, plus additional necessities of furniture, furnace and glass that would raise the total cost to between $17,000 and $18,000. The building committee was Henry St. Clair (Greenville’s wholesale grocery supplier and philanthropist), Alex Kerr, and Rev. J.P. Hutchinson. This original structure was 84 feet deep, with a vestibule under the central tower, opening into a reception room, the primary class room, the main Sunday School room, and the auditorium. The Sabbath school rooms occupy the eastern part of the building, and consist of a lecture or assembly room 28’x 32’, and six class rooms. The auditorium is on the west side and has a seating capacity of 450, with a gallery overhead, seating about 125. The pulpit is in the northwest corner with a large pipe organ immediately behind. The pastor’s study adjoins the pulpit in the rear. The auditorium was nicely furnished with body brussels carpet, adjustable seats, stained glass windows, and a modern heat and ventilation plant. When this building was completed, it was the most pretentious church in the city with its beautiful architectural lines, and was intended to impress the citizens of Greenville.

The church was dedicated June 1, 1890, after the cornerstone was placed Aug. 3, 1889. (Aug. 3 rd was the 94 th anniversary of the signing of the original 1795 Treaty of Greene Ville). Contents of the cornerstone: a small Bible, a History of the First Presbyterian Church, a list of contributors to the fund for the new building, a roll containing all the names of known members of the Church and Sabbath School, the International Lesson Leaves, a copy of the Sabbath School records, a History of Darke County published in 1878, the Confession of Faith, a Directory of Darke County, a colored map of Greenville, one copy each of the five newspapers published in Greenville then, a program of laying this cornerstone, a letter from Rev. J.M. Crawford to Henry St. Clair containing a prayer for the prosperity and peace of the church, an envelope containing small coins from that time, a letter from J.H. Martin, and a photograph of the old church building.

In the Fall of 1890, the Presbyterian Church had a historical social as a means of making money for the church, Just before the jingle of dollars in the kettle, Judge Anderson gave some readings from “David Copperfield”. Then the people came forward and told how they earned the dollars as they dropped them into the kettle. Children earned them by doing errands, selling popcorn and candy. Mrs. Kerr raised corn, made hominy and sold it. Mrs. Anderson cleaned out the gutter. Mrs. Bolles went seven miles into the country for “something” to be put into soap. Then a splendid lunch was provided.

Rev. J.P. Hutchinson was preacher from 1887 to 1890, followed by Rev. C.E. Teaford, 1890-94; Rev. W.C. Helt, 1894-97; Rev. W.L. Swan, 1897-1903; Rev. J.R. Jones, 1903-08; and Rev. Charles Clark McKinney, 1908-1914. In 1914, the church had an enrollment of 385, with 240 in the Sunday School. The annual budget for all purposes was $4,000. In 1906, our church was part of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. In 1915, the Church recognized the 50- year milestone since the Old and New churches were reunited (1865). The church also celebrated its centennial at a service March 13, 1921, and four former ministers were present and gave addresses.

On Sept. 4, 1932, the church had been “done over”, having been re-decorated and re-furnished. Rev. Ralph Jennings was the pastor led the service which had much music. The Renovation Committee was recognized as well as companies “who gave the Bible measure”. Gifts for decorating the church were presented. The total budget for 1938 was $6,000. During the years 1941-1942, extensive remodeling was carried out in the rear annex, making it possible to have a large room for suppers and social events. The Parlor and Church School Assembly Room were refurbished. This service of dedication was held September 14, 1942. The Rev. John Harrington is credited with increasing membership by 55, during the 1939-1944 years, increasing membership to 425. A property east of the next-door manse was torn down in 1952 and the first Church parking lot was laid out. The old manse residence next door to the church to the east was torn down in 1957, after a new manse was purchased at 945 Washington Ave. The area to the east of the church has been used as a parking lot since 1957. In May, 1958, our church was part of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.

In 1964, a chapel was created in the old congregational room next to the sanctuary to the east. This area had been used as Sunday School class rooms prior to 1964. The fellowship hall was built in 1964. A new classroom was built above the chapel, new restrooms installed, and the balcony was remodeled. In 1965, the parlor at the east front was redecorated and refurbished, and the kitchen was equipped with new cabinets and flooring. In 1966, three new classrooms were built in the back in an area which was a small yard. The minister’s study was arranged as it is now, two restrooms were built, and the multi-purpose room was enlarged. The sanctuary was air conditioned in 1967 and the rear entrance was remodeled in 1967 and again in 1980. In 1983, our church was part of the Presbyterian Church, United States of America. The annual budget in 1970 was about $50,000.

Persistent roof problems and the receipt of the Ruth Williams estate in 1980 stimulated on how our building could be improved. A fund raising and extensive renovation campaign was undertaken in the mid-1980s. On Feb. 1, 1987, a special service was held to dedicate the new renovation. This amounted to about $750,000 spent to erect a new side entry following the architectural lines of the 1889 structure, increase the size of the narthex and hallways, opening up the entry to two stories, build four new restrooms, offices, and two new classrooms, and remodel the kitchen and choir room. The 1988 Women’s Association annual budget was $5,337.

The 1989 directory commemorated the 100th anniversary of the opening of the present building, and this year new pastor Dennis Clarke added 60 new members. The current building contains about 19,000 square feet of modern usable space.

First Building, 1852 to 1888
1907 postcard (below)
1889 building in 1909
Richard "Dick" Brown is a Contributor to Darke County Now

Dick Brown / Chairman

Dick has lived most of his life in Greenville, graduating from G.H.S. in 1964. He earned a S.S. in Applied Science from Miami University in 1968 and went to work for Pratt and Whitney Aircraft in Hartford, CT. After returning to Greenville, he taught one year at the G.J.H.S. before buying McVay's Sporting Goods. He closed McVay's to enter the profession of real estate appraising and did all the work for Greenville Federal Savings and Loan for more than a decade. For more than a decade, he has been President of the Greenville High School Alumni Association and is dedicated to preserving the school's history through research and photography. He passes out thousands of glossy 8" x 10" photos for students to keep as memories of the high school years, and has worked with the school's Yearbook since 2008. His database chronicles many aspects of the school's history and is available on the alumni website: www.greenvillealumni.org under More/G.H.S. History. Dick was Vice President of the Garst Museum for over 20 years and is now an Emeritus Board Member. His father Pete Brown was President of the Museum for 2S years and the family has made many contributions to the Darke County Historical Society. He has an extensive collection of old, area post cards and local history in general. He was voted as the Ohio local History Alliance Champion Award in 2019, receiving the award in Columbus for his extensive work in local history for Greenville and Darke County. His wife Dianne just passed away in 2021, and he has two children, Brandy Hill and husband Dr. Josh Hill of Columbus, and Betsy Reiber and husband Kraig Reiver of Centerville. Each family has two daughters, born since 2017. Dick firmly believes in the new technology that Darke County Now is bringing to Darke County local news scene. The great staff that is in place has gotten our new company off to a fantastic start and will change the landscape of disseminating local news for many years to come. He is proud to be a part of this important new news source.

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