By Mrs. Kate Morrison, from Church Records
history of Methodism in Olney is co-existent with the history of Richland
County. This county was formed in 1841, of parts of Lawrence and Clay counties,
and the county seat was located at Olney. At that time there were only three
families living within the bounds of the little village. These were the families
of Hiram Barney, William Elliott and Thomas Lilly. Mr. Barney's family were
members of the Methodist Church, and occasionally an itinerant Methodist
preacher would, while passing through the place, hold religious services at
their home, a small log cabin which stood where the Commercial Hotel, now the
The New Olney, is located. .Not many months after the location of the county
seat, another Methodist family moved into the village, and in the fall of 1841,
these Methodists organized a class at the home of Mr. Barney. There was at that
time no building for either church or school purposes in the limits of the
This place was included in what was then known as Vandalia district, Maysville Circuit. Rev. Jacob E. Reed was preacher in charge, and Rev. Barton Randal, presiding elder. Regular services were held every four weeks at the cabin home of Father West, near what is now the village of Claremont, also at Maysville, just south of Clay City. Occasionally the circuit preacher would call a meeting and hold services at the home of Richard Phillips, at what is now known as McsBurg.
There was glorious out-pouring of God's spirit at those meetings. But few, if any, of those old soldiers of the Cross are now living. At one time a two days' meeting was being held at Brother Phillips' home, when deep interest was manifested and many were converted. The meeting was prolonged for several days. One afternoon a number of young people assembled in the woods nearby to hold a prayer meeting. They sang and prayed and shouted "The Holy Spirit came down their souls to greet, and glory crowned the Mercy seat." The woods rang with shouts of praise to God, and the people all .came running to join in the chorus. The result was the conversion of many souls, among whom were William McWilliams and Thomas Phillips and others who are still in the full enjoyment of the peace they then received.
The first Methodist Society organized in Olney was composed of William H. Reed and wife, Scott Thrapp and wife, Nelson D. Jay and wife, Jonas Notestine and wife, Morris B. Snyder and wife, and one probationer, George I. Butler. William Reed was a carpenter and cabinet maker, a very devoted Methodist, being the son of a Methodist preacher. Scott Thrapp was the owner of a saw-mill on Fox River, a local preacher of some ability, a very eccentric genius, peculiar in many ways, but a very solid Methodist. Nelson D. Jay was a tailor, a man of considerable talent and quite active in church work, who was afterwards made a local preacher. Jonas Notestine was a tanner and lived in the country at that time, but later moved to Olney, where he and his brother, Levi Notestine, also a Methodist, bought what w T as known as Stout's tannery. He was known from that time as the "wheel horse" of Methodism in Olney. Morris B. Snyder was for many years clerk of the Court and a local preacher, being a very devoted Christian. George Butler was a blacksmith, a man of much intelligence and considerable education. His eldest son became a Methodist preacher and was for a time a member of the Southern Illinois Conference.
In 1842 Richland Circuit was formed and attached to Mt. Carmel district. Rev. John Fox was appointed preacher in charge; Rev. Barton Randal, presiding elder. Regular services were held at Olney, McsBurg, Fairview and occasionally at other points within the circuit. The only meeting place in Olney was the home of Hiram Barney. In the fall of that year the county commissioners made a proposition to the Methodist Brethren that if they would put up a building suitable for church and school purposes, and permit the county to use it for a courthouse, until such time as a courthouse could be built, and permit the use of the house for school purposes until the public could build a school house, the county would give the Church the ground in fee simple. The proposition was accepted and in a few days labor, nails, glass and timber were subscribed to build the house. No money was asked for, or needed. In a short time the building, a log house, 20 x 20 feet, was completed and ready for occupancy. It was considered an excellent improvement. The County only occupied it for one term of court, but it was used for church and school purposes for many years. Morris B. Snyder was commissioned by the County to make the deed for the land, and it being necessary to have trustees, James Urie, Jonas Nolestine, W illiam H. Reed, Nelson D. Jay and Rev. William Rogers were elected and constituted the first Board of Trustees of the new church. On the 21st of January, 1843, the deed was made and delivered. In 1843 the annual conference appointed Rev. William Royal, pastor of Richland Circuit, and Rev. Barton Randal, presiding elder. The church continued to prosper as other Methodist families moved to Olney, and a few joined on probation. In 1844, McKendree Thrapp was appointed preacher in charge of the circuit, and Rev. John VanCleve, presiding elder.
In the winter of 18445 a wonderful revival occurred which seemed to premeate every part of the community. The house was crowded to overflowing from day to day and the meeting continued for over two months, resulting in about one hundred conversions. Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Ratcliff united with the church at this time. In 1845 our people thought they had grown strong enough to stand alone, and were struck off by the Conference and made a Mission, with $75.00 per year allowance from the Home Missionary Society. Rev. Ephraim Joy was appointed to the Mission, Rev. John Van Cleve, presiding elder. In 1846 Rev. Austin Rogers was pastor; Rev. John Van Cleve, presiding elder. The society had a steady and healthy growth, but no special revivals. In 1847 Rev. R. J. Nail was preacher in charge, Rev. W. H. Taylor, presiding elder. 1848 Rev. John Gillham, preacher in charge; W. H. Taylor, presiding elder. A parsonage was built in that year. 1849 John Adams, preacher in charge; C. Lambert, assistant. 1850 A. Campbell, pastor; Norman Allen, presiding elder. 1851 Moses Sheperd, pastor; Norman Allen, presiding elder. The Southern Illinois Conference was organized that year. 1852 John Sheperd, pastor; Norman Allen, presiding elder; local preachers, Scott Thrapp and Nelson D. Jay.
The log church had
become so dilapidated by this time as to be untenable, therefore meetings were
held for a time in an old two story building on the corner of Main and Mulberry
Streets, and later the use of the courthouse was obtained for church and Sunday
school purposes. The Society decided to make an effort to build a new church,
and on the 17th day of May a meeting was called to elect a new board of trustees
according to the laws of the State. The pastor, Rev. John Sheperd, was chairman,
and Jacob Hoffman, secretary; and the meeting resulted in the election of Jonas
Nolestine, Levi Notestine, R. B. Marney, Hiram Barney, Michael Stauffer, G. W.
Carrothers, C. M. Hoover, Jacob Hoffman and John H. Gunn. The board organized by
electing John H. Gunn, chairman, and Jacob Hoffman, secretary. At this same
meeting steps were taken to secure a lot for the church and to procure
subscriptions, and then the question arose as to size and expenses of the
building. Some were in favor of forty by sixty feet; others thirty-five by fifty
feet, and in order to test the matter two subscription papers were circulated
among the people, one favoring each size. On the 13th of January, 1853, a
decision was reached to build the church, forty by sixty feet, to thirty feet
high, with basement rooms for school purposes. G. W. Carrothers, Jacob Hoffman
and John H. Gunn were appointed a committee on building. They were instructed to
visit Mt. Cannel to inspect the new church at that place, in order to aid them
in deciding on plans. Hon. Alfred Kitchell donated a lot sufficient for the
church and parsonage, and was very liberal in other donations. July 1, 1854, the
committee, assisted by George Lutz, presented their plans and specifications for
the building, which were accepted.
In 1855 Rev. J. T. Johnson was pastor and Rev. Norman Allen, presiding elder. This was a prosperous year. During the winter a protracted meeting was held in the courthouse by Rev. Johnson, assisted by Rev. John Seed, of Lawrenceville, which was prolonged for many days, and was far-reaching in its results. There were many conversions and additions of those who became life-long workers for the interests of the church, and many years afterwards "the revival at the courthouse" was spoken of by those who dated their experience of conversion and the beginning of a new life from that happy time.
In 1854 J. W. Miller was pastor and Rev. William Cliffe, presiding elder. The plans for the new church were well on the way, and were pushed with vigor. The next year both pastor and elder were returned, and it was chiefly by their efforts that the Olney Seminary was organized in connection with the church and started in the two story building on the corner of Main and Mulberry streets, and was afterwards transferred to the basement of the new church. Rev. Nelson Hawley took charge of the seminary the first year. In 1856 Rev. Nelson Hawley was appointed pastor, and Rev. William Cliffe, presiding elder. The church and Sunday school prospered, and one of the best revivals ever held in Olney was held in the new church basement.
In 1857 both pastor and elder were returned. The basement rooms were fully finished and furnished and occupied by the Olney Seminary. Prof. D. Holmes, of New York, was appointed general superintendent. The church building was pushed as rapidly as possible, but collection on subscriptions was slow, and often the same people would subscribe again. It was necessary for the trustees to borrow money, and when the interest became due they were forced to pay it themselves. This became so burdensome that it was often difficult to secure a quorum at their meetings. The building was so far completed that meetings were held in the main audience room on social occasions during the winter. Bishop Simpson, passing from St. Louis to Cincinnati, stopped with us over night and preached for us.
1858 Rev. A. B. Nesbit, pastor; Rev. R. J. Nall, presiding elder. Local preachers were J. W. Phillips, George D. Morrison, A. W. Mace, Jas. W. Wharf, W. H. Cain, G. W. Thomas. In this year our church was dedicated, Rev. Battel, a presiding elder from Louisville, Ky., preaching the dedication sermon. About this time trouble arose about the singing, some of the members desiring to improve the singing by the introduction of notes, while others were strongly opposed to the change. The pastor appointed two brethren to lead the singing, which angered the opposition and the situation became extremely unpleasant. The church was divided into two factions. In 1859, Conference appointed H. Chapman, pastor; but in trying to please both sides he made the matters worse, and after a few months service, left the pulpit. Wm. H. Cain was appointed to fill the vacancy caused by his resignation, for the rest of the conference year, and was greatly assisted by Dr. J. W. Phillips.
In 1861 Norman Allen was pastor and A. B. Nesbit, presiding elder. Notwithstanding the trouble in regard to the music we had a glorious revival that winter; fiftyfive were taken in on probation and eight by letter. A choir was organized and much of the ill-feeling had been allayed, but it was not without considerable opposition that note books were introduced. In August of this year the church steeple was struck by lightning and badly damaged. 1861, conference appointed Rev. John Glaze, pastor; and returned Rev. A. B. Nesbit for presiding elder. The pastor being in poor health and the excitement of the Civil War causing great trouble among the people, work was interfered with and but little progress made. At the fourth quarterly conference this year Arthur Morrison, afterwards superintendent of Missions in New Mexico, was licensed to preach.
1862 Rev. Carlyle Babbitt was pastor and Rev. A. B. Nesbit, presiding elder. There was much trouble in our midst on account of the war, and the church suffered greatly. 1863 Rev. Joseph Hough, pastor and Rev. A. B. Nesbit, presiding elder. 1864 Rev. Hough was returned and Rev. Nelson Hawley was appointed presiding elder. 1865 our church subscribed and paid $200 for the support of the soldiers in our vicinity; a company of cavalry having been stationed here for the protection of the town. At this time the work of building a parsonage was commenced, and a committee was appointed for the purpose. Annual conference was held here this year, Bishop Scott presiding, Philip Phillips conducted the singing. Rev. T. F. Houts was appointed pastor, Rev. N. Hawley, presiding elder. During this year the pastor reported large congregations and much interest manifested. Near the close of the year a very interesting protracted meeting was held, with one hundred and twenty-three accessions on probation, and five by letter.
The parsonage was finished in 1866 and occupied by T. F. Houts and family, as he was returned to us as pastor. Rev. Nelson Hawley was appointed presiding elder, and Rolla Fahs was licensed to preach. In 1867 the pastor and presiding elder were returned. A revival was held in February of that year, resulting in thirty-three probationers and eight by letter. The pastor was in very poor health most of the time during the year, seldom able to preach, and his place was filled by Dr. J. W. Phillips. Brother John Reef was licensed to preach. This year the church was reported clear of debt. Brother William Whitaker received in full connection and licensed to preach.
In February, 1868, a glorious revival was held; thirty being received on probation. J. W. Palmeteer licensed to preach. The pastor, T. F. Houts, presented his formal resignation on account of ill health, but it was not accepted until some time afterwards, although he was relieved from work, and Dr. J. W. Phillips employed for the remainder of the year. In 1869 Rev. Joseph Earp was pastor and Rev. Ephraim Joy, presiding elder. This year the Lay representation to annual conference was decided upon. At the fourth quarterly conference G. D. Morrison was recommended for traveling connection in annual conference.
In 1870 Pastor C. J. Houts and Presiding Elder Rev.
Ephraim Joy were appointed. Again falling behind in finances the deficiency was
found to be about $600. Brother Edmund Root was recommended for Deacon's orders;
George D. Morrison for elder's orders, J. H. Gunn elected to electoral
conference at Centralia. In 1871 John Van Cleve was pastor and Ephraim Joy
presiding elder. The first quarterly conference adopted the envelope system for
pastor's salary and contingent fund. Harry Stauffer was appointed secretary and
treasurer. The presiding elder's claim to be raised in congregation independent
of envelopes, but at third quarterly conference it was decided to include the
presiding elder's claim in the envelop system.
In 1872 Dr. John Van Cleve was pastor and J, A. Robinson, presiding elder. Motion carried to recommend organization of District Conference. Motion made and carried to read in quarterly love feast the names of persons paying nothing for the support of the church, but this motion was afterwards rescinded. In 1873 J. N. Phillips was pastor and J. A. Robinson, presiding elder. Brothers G. A. Seed and Gotleib Eggler licensed to exhort. A committee was authorized to contract for improvements on the church by building a front with vestibule and stairway, and such other repairs as might be needed. At fourth quarterly conference the pastor reported a prosperous year. The improvements were completed with an indebtedness of $1500. Quarterly conference by unanimous vote requested the return of Brother Phillips. In 1874 same pastor and presiding elder. The first quarterly conference committee appointed to borrow $1500, securing the same by mortgage on parsonage. The fourth quarterly conference reports total membership as being four hundred and twenty-eight. J. H. Gunn was elected as a delegate to annual conference and also to general conference.
In 1875 J. W. Lane was pastor and J. A. Robinson, presiding elder. Fourth quarterly conference 1876; resolution of faithful work by presiding elder, J. A. Robinson. Requested the return of J. W. Lane. 1878, pulpit filled by Dr. Locke, of Lebanon. Miss Mary Phillips and C. H. Sherburn licensed to preach. In 1879 T. F. Houts was pastor and J. Leeper, presiding elder. A. W. Mace and Mrs. Mary Longwood licensed to preach. 1880, conference requested to return to us T. F. Houts, which was not granted. Appointed Rev. William Wallace as pastor, and O. H. Clark as presiding elder. For 1881 Rev. J. Wm. Van Cleve as pastor and O. H. Clark as presiding elder. Second quarterly conference reported quarterly meeting just closed, resulting in one hundred and nineteen on probation and twenty by letter. 1883, J. William Van Cleve as pastor and O. H. Clark as presiding elder. J. H. Gunn confirmed as Sunday school superintendent. 1884-1885, N. B. Cooksey, pastor; Milo Powers, presiding elder. 1886-1887-1888-1889, B. F. Pierce, pastor; Rev. Milo Powers, presiding elder. The pastor reports, "Sunday school doing well; teachers' meetings, prayer and class meetings are well attended; the congregation large and devotional. There have been some marked conversions, thirty have united with the church during the quarter. The Pastor and Ladies' Aid Society have rendered very efficient help in the pastoral work."
In 1890 Joseph W. Van Cleve was pastor and M. N. Powers, presiding elder. That winter many young people were converted. 1891-1892, Joseph W. Van Cleve, pastor; Rev. Wm. Van Cleve, presiding elder. The pastor was authorized to raise $600 to re-roof the church and pay off indebtedness. During the fourth quarter of 1891 services were held in the Congregational Church while our Church was being repaired. In 1892 special revival services were held by S. A. Keen, resulting in great spiritual good and corresponding profit to the church. 1893, C. Nash, pastor; Wm. Van Cleve, presiding elder. 1894-1985, C. Nash, pastor; Wm. Wallis, presiding elder. W. N. Gray was elected representative class leader to district conference. 1896, C. Nash, pastor; Wm. Wallis, presiding elder. Approved as Sunday school superintendent, N. L. Crout. 1897, 1898, 1899, J. G. Harmon, pastor; Wm. Wallis, presiding elder. Committee appointed to draft resolutions commending the faithful work of the pastor and presiding elder.
In 1900 J. W. Cummins was pastor and F. W. Loy, presiding elder! For the first time in many years all claims were paid, and a balance left in the treasury at first quarterly conference. Fourth quarterly conference the pastor reported seventy-three admitted to membership during the year. 1901, J. W. Cummins, pastor; F. W. Loy, presiding elder. The church suffered a great loss this year in the death of Brother Edward Shaw, who had for many years been a most efficient leader of the choir, and was beloved by everyone for his excellent character and deportment as a business man and a Christian.
1902-1903-1904-1905, pastor, J. W. Cummins; presiding elder, F. W. Loy. During the year 1903 the erection of a two story frame parsonage costing, when completed, about $3,000.00, was commenced under the direction of a building committee composed of O. M. Conklin, N. L. Crout, Mrs. A. L. Redman, Mrs. J. F. Jolly and H. B. Alley. It was erected on a lot on Fair street, purchased and donated by "The Ladies' Guild." The old parsonage was sold for $800, which amount was used in the building of the new parsonage. The remainder of the money required was given by about one hundred persons, giving from fifty cents to fifty dollars each. The new parsonage, when completed, was occupied by J. W. Cummins and family. About this time The Guild purchased as a site for a church the corner of Fair and Elm streets, paying $1800 for the same.
After serving the church faithfully for six years, being the longest time our puplit was ever filled by one minister, Brother Cummins was appointed by conference to Mt. Carniel, whither he went followed by the love, prayers and blessings of the entire membership. During his pastorate the church experienced great prosperity both spiritually and financially.
1906-1907, pastor, T. E. Sisson; presiding elder, S. A. D. Rogers. On or about the 2nd day of March, 1907, it was decided to begin to build a new church, and the following committees were appointed: Building ~ G. D. Blanker, K. D. Horrall, E. C. Baughman, M. D. Foster, B. S. Murray. Advisory ~ Mrs. J. E. Phillips, Mrs. .A. L. Redman, Mrs. J. C. Page, Mrs. H. C. Falconer, and Mrs. O. M. Conklin. Ways and Means ~ N. L. Crout, J. S. Wright, A. Knoph, H. T. Dewhirst, C. N. Edmiston, Mrs. J. F. Jolly, Mrs. T. A. Fritchey, Mrs. D. P. Moore, Mrs. J. M. Winans and Miss Dora Ratclift'e.
1907-1908, pastor, Robert Morris; presiding elder, S. A. D. Rogers; Miss Etta Mae Powell, employed as deaconess. Second quarterly conference Bullard & Billiard, of Springfield, 111., were employed to prepare plans for the new church. N. L. Crout and A. T. Telford were added to the building committee. This quarter records the passing away of two prominent pioneer members, Brothers John H. Gunn and William N. Gray. They were intimately connected with the early church and had served their generation long and well. Brother Gray was a popular class leader and mast faithful worker, having filled many places of honor and trust in the church. Brother Gunn served the church in many official places, and was for a long term of years a most efficient superintendent of the Sunday school. He was appointed Historian of the Church, and it is to his manuscript that we are largely indebted for the facts of this little history. Much of it has been taken verbatim from his writing.
The old church was sold to Olney Lodge No. 926 B. P. O. E. for $1250, and on May 11th, the contract was let to F. L. Kraul to build a new church on the corner of Elm and Fair streets. The corner stone was laid by the Masonic Fraternity, Tuesday, July 28, 1908, Rev. Joseph Van Cleve, a former pastor, delivering the address. The church was complete and the dedication sermon preached on the 11th day of April, 1909, by Dr. T. C. Iliff, D. D. Our new church is a very substantial and beautiful structure, of which any organization might well be proud. As our well beloved and highly appreciated pastor, Brother Morris, has just been returned to us by the annual conference, we are looking forward to a pleasant and profitable year.
Extracted 21 Apr 2017 by Norma Hass from Historical Sketch of the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Olney, Illinois, 1841-1909.