Adams County History & Genealogy

Adams County, Ohio Articles

History of Local Baptist Church

Congregation Organized 100 Years Ago Under Adverse Circumstances

The West Union Baptist Church was organized 100 years go. More than a century ago. In 1833, the church was organized by a group of 20, who composed the first membership. This group was mostly Baptist, most of them belonging to other churches of the county, and the organization grew out of their desire for a church of their own denomination in West Union.

As the tide of migration swept from the original colonies to the great northwest, churches were established in the wilderness shortly after homes were built. As soon as a frontier settlement was well established, a committee was chosen to build a church, select a preacher, and manage the affairs of the enterprise. These churches naturally took the form of the church back home, as each denomination group felt their need of a church of its respective denomination.

Besides the pastors of the established congregations, there were devoted missionaries of every sect who endured many hardships that they might establish churches in frontier villages. Into the most remote spots they penetrated, laying out regular circuits from community to community, so that the seed once planted could be carefully cultivated. Such missionaries were Elders J. Layman, H. Johnson, D. Spohn, H. Burnett and M. Elrod, through whose earnest labors the Baptist church of West Union was established.

Organized at Mahaffey Home

The church was organized at the home of William Mahaffey, four and one-half miles from West Union. The old Mahaffey homestead has been unoccupied for years and has fallen to decay, but it can still be pointed out from the Winchester-West Union Road. The farm is now owned by Dr. H.M. Robuck, Gomer, OH, a great-grandson of William Mahaffey.

During the winter of 1839, a meeting of days was held at William Mahaffey's. A meeting was also held at West Union during the same winter and some eight or ten persons were received for baptism.

April 21, 1840, an ecclesiastical council met in West Union for purposes of organizing the church. Elder H. Burnett was moderator and J.K. Brownson, clerk. Thirty-seven members, principally from the churches of Soldier's Run, Winchester, and Dick Ford, presented their letters and were constituted and recognized as regular Baptist Church.

Ellison Mahaffey was chosen clerk. At the following meeting of the Strait Creek Association, held at the church at Winchester, the West Union church united with that body, reporting 39 members.

The first deacons were Richard Edgington and William Mahaffey, appointed April 1842. The first trustees were Adam McCormick, Amos Duncan and William Mahaffey. William Mahaffey was the first regularly appointed treasurer of the church.

The First Pastor

In November, the church called elder Lyman Whitney in the pastorate, who remained with them until April 1843.

Since the newly organized church did not yet have a house of worship, the Presbyterian Church graciously offered their church and many of the first meetings of the Baptist Church were held in the church of that denomination. The old Presbyterian church still standing and used by the Presbyterians as their house of worship was built in 1810. Some of the early meetings of the Baptists were held in the old stone Courthouse and at other times they met in the old brick schoolhouse, since changed into a residence and now occupied by Miss Barbara Matthews.

In May 1845, the church appointed a building committee to superintend the building of their first church. This building was located at the head of Main Street, where the present building now stands. It was dedicated by Elder William Algood, the second pastor of the church, in November 1846.

In May 1863, this church building was torn down completely by a disastrous tornado which spread desolation all over the country. In a sketch of his life, Clarence H. Smith, Columbus, mentions this storm as one of the outstanding events of his childhood. In his description of the storm, he says, "The Baptist Church at the head of Main Street was left in ruins. Most of it had been blown down, but the belfry still stood and the mechanics performed the feat of propping it up and building a new edifice beneath it. There was considerable destruction in West Union. This was the most severe storm that has ever visited Adams County, and is always spoken of as "The Great Storm".

Dark Hours for a Church

This was indeed a dark hour to the church. Their country was in the midst of a civil war, and many of their members had left to engage in it. With little money, without a pastor, and their house destroyed, the outlook was truly discouraging. But with an unwavering faith in God, they resolved to rebuild and in January 1864, the church entered the second new place of worship. This building, a neat frame structure, was used until it was replaced by the present brick building.

For 35 years, the church had the same clerk, Daniel Biely, who served from 1866 until near the time of his death.

In 1848, the Adams Baptist association held its 37th annual session. Under the pastorate of Rev. L.H. Denman, one of the outstanding pastors who served the church, the Sunday School was organized May 13, 1877.

During the pastorate of Rev. A.K. Murphy, who served the church for a number of years, the present church building was erected and dedicated in 1911. Rev. Murphy is now living in California.

Rev. Clarence M. Naylor, a member of the church, was ordained as a Baptist Minister here, and served his home church for a few years.

During the present time this church has stood, it has had 27 pastors. The present pastor of the Church is Rev. W.H. Thompson.

-- 27 Apr 1933

[NB: This may have been first published in the Peoples Defender.]