Introduction: The following history of the Congregational Church in Vermilion, Ohio was written by Vermilion historian Betty Trinter on the 175th Anniversary of the church (1993). Although it is presented here in its entirety readers will note that a few (but very few) annotations within the original text have been made. These footnote modest situational changes accomplished in the years following the original publication of the text. Aside from these notes new graphics have been inserted throughout the document, and additional historic information pertaining to this history as well as some historic updates (i.e. events that have occurred since 1993) have also been added. Other than those very minor changes Mrs. Trinter's History of Vermilion's Congregational Church appears as it was writ.
Curator - Vermilion History Museum
May, 2006 - Rev. 12.07.2019
The state of Ohio was 15 years old and the Village of Vermilion still a dream when, on a cold February 20, 1818, six men and women gathered together to organize what would be known as the First Congregational Church of Vermilion. It was the beginning of organized worship in this area. Since that day over one hundred and seventy-five years ago, there has been no break in the society's continuing fellowship.
The meeting was held in the cabin of Major Eli Barnum on the ridge in Florence. (Florence was a part of Vermilion Township until 1817.) The determined new members consisted of Alfred and Sally Betts, Samuel and Esther Huested, Electa Pearse, and Abigail Harris. They had arrived on horseback and by foot, from neighboring cabins and from the lake shore. Two missionary pastors sent out by the Connecticut Missionary Society also were present, the Reverend Mr. Amassa Loomis and the Reverend Mr. Alvin Coe who became pastor for that first year.
As most Congregational and Presbyterian congregations worshipped together in the early years of the Western Reserve, the new congregation agreed to the regulations of the Grand River Presbytery and received communion from the missionary pastors. Within the next few weeks, twelve new members were added by letter and three children baptized. All church records, including those entered in a small leather-bound record book at that first meeting, have been preserved in the church archives.
That same spring of 1818, the Vermilion Township government was formed, giving Vermilion a double birthday to celebrate.
In 1809 and 1810, Vermilion's first pioneer families (the Austins, Perrys, Sherods, Smiths, Parsons, Cuddebacks, Sturgeses, Beardsleys, and Brooks) had reached the Firelands after a six-week struggle through a vast wilderness and settled along the shore near the mouth of the Vermilion River. The "Firelands" is a section of the Western Reserve awarded to those Connecticut citizens whose property had been burned by the British in the Revolutionary War.' Most Vermilion families, how- ever, were not "fire sufferers." They had bought out the claims of others and ventured West in search of a new life in the heralded Ohio Country. Families arrived by foot, wagon, horseback, or schooner and located their claim by the mark of the surveyor. Vermilion had first been surveyed in 1807 by Almon Ruggles, distinguished pioneer and early church member. By 1820, the township population numbered 550.
The little congregation met at first in private homes, and after the Vermilion-Savannah Road (Rt. 60) was laid out in 1818, services were held in Joel Crane's new barn. By 1828, church membership reached 42, and a decision was made to erect a house of worship. After carefully considering the location for a building site, a spot was chosen about two and one-half miles from the lake, a few rods east of Risden Road. (This road was originally called Cuddeback Road.) It was the center of the township and the expected center of population.
The building of squared logs measured 35 feet by 30 feet and was erected by the members them-selves with timbers taken from the surrounding woods. It was completed in the spring of 1828, making it the first meeting house in the township. On May 22, a new pastor, the Reverend Mr. Harvey Lyon, was ordained; the new building was dedicated to the worship of God; and the visiting minister, W. Lathrop, gave the first sermon: "Fear not little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom." Families struggled in from all over the countryside for the event, and the hand-hewn benches were filled. Mrs. Lucy Swift Griggs recalled the log church days in a letter written for the 100th anniversary of the church:
"I attended this church built right in the forest.
My mother took us on horseback, a baby in her arms
while two rode behind her. I was the one between
and so hot. I never forgot the wagons and horses
fastened to trees. Other members on horseback came
along with their children. My father, Joseph Swift,
In 1840, Joseph Swift, school and church trustee, built a stately Greek Revival home in the river valley and named it Rosedale. The home, which burned in 1923, has been written up in several architectural journals.
"Rosedale" in Swift's Hollow c.1840
Records of the June meeting in 1829 "duly called and opened with prayer" note that this church be called "The Church of Christ of Vermilion." The name is found nowhere else in the church records. Besides the memories of church members, references to the early church can be found in two other sources: the 1818-1819 journals of the Reverends Coe and Loomis tell of their arduous journeys by horseback visiting struggling new congregations in an area stretching from Warren to Upper Sandusky; and Two Years in the New Settlement of Ohio by Daniel Griffiths (Vermilion pastor, 1833-1834) published in England circa 1835. These two sources, recently obtained, are in the church archives.
With a centrally located meeting house, the church became the hub of community life. In 1831, a new trail was blazed "from the Ruggles Mill to the Meeting House." It was not permanent and was given no name, but it was a great convenience, and township record books lauded it as a "very important road."
During these early years, the pastor, Stephen Bradstreet, along with several other area pastors, began a joint church effort called Four-Day Meetings. Families from as far away as Milan and Elyria were at last able to get acquainted at these popular services of scripture study, songs and lectures.
Sunday worship was an all-day affair with a morning and an afternoon sermon and fellowship over a basket lunch at noon. In some instances, meals were taken at neighboring homes. During the cold winter months, small foot stoves were brought in to offer a degree of comfort to the children and the elderly. Early sketches of the log church do show a chimney, so apparently there was a fireplace of sorts. Heating stoves were still nonexistent in the area.
Roads were muddy trails and streams still needed fording, but families arrived for the Lord's Day services donned in whatever bit of finery they had brought from the East - fancy frockcoats, lace shawls, bonnets, and gloves.
In 1968, the land where the little church once stood was given to the church by Dr. Gladys Risden. Since then, the area has been kept cleared by the Boy Scouts and church members, making visible several stones from the old foundation. [ed.note: This land was sold to an adjoining property owner during the early 1990's and is, unfortunately, no longer owned by the church.]
Foundation Stone from the old log church
The story of one particular pair of gloves caused reverberations throughout the church community. In 1823, a lady member was accused of "purloining sundry articles of omamental apparel late the property of our deceased sister." The articles in question were a silk veil and a pair of white kid gloves.
The accused came to trial and pleaded not guilty. After questioning several witnesses and friends of the deceased, the church was satisfied that the defendant was guilty, and she was promptly excommunicated. However, two days later the chagrined and chastened woman" confessed her grievous sins and falsehoods, begged forgiveness, and was reinstated."
The church had a standing committee "whose duty it shall be to take cognizance of the disorderly conduct of members." Through the years, the committee heard many and varied complaints ranging from "improper language while driving a cow ... profane language at the fishing grounds ... tippling .. desecrating the Sabbath ... taking property without leave and lying about the same ... falsehoods against a neighbor, and absconding with a span of horses." In 1830, the church was instrumental in sponsoring a Temperance Society.
But "deep feelings appeared in the church that the offender might have time to reflect on his or her situation, and if possible, be brought to repentance for his sin" Often, weeks or months went by before the accused was excommunicated, and at times, charges were dropped for lack of proof. One can imagine the reaction as news of these startling matters swept from cabin to cabin.
The 1830s were filled with changes. On March 14, 1830, members voted to continue to recognize both the Presbyterian and the Congregational orders and discipline, but to maintain the Congregational system. The Ohio House of Representatives granted the church Articles of Incorporation in 1835, to be known as the First Congregational Church of Vermilion, Huron County, Ohio. (Erie County was formed in 1818.)
The establishment of a furnace works near Darrow and Vermilion-Savannah Roads brought a shift in township population. After some" sharp controversy," in 1835 the church fathers decided to "remove the place of worship to a schoolhouse near the furnace for a term of one year." The following year, the meeting house was "removed to a height of ground a little south of the furnace." But the little building that had been rebuilt, log by log, was not much in use. Records tell of services and meetings being held at various country schools and the school at" the mouth of the river,�1⁄2 thus hoping to satisfy both the ridge and the lake shore families. By 1837, the trustees were authorized to dispose of the meeting house at the furnace. It was about this time that several families were granted letters of dismission, some to the Congregational Church of Birmingham and some to the Berlin Heights and Florence churches.
The aches and pains of growth continued, and feelings finally became so intense over another church site that the issue was submitted to an impartial committee. In January 1937, the land at the mouth of the river had been incorporated as Vermilion Village; in April the decision was made to locate the church there. Part of the letter of recommendation received from the committee reads:
To establish separate places of worship will not unite
the people or build up the society, nor further the cause
of religion ... There is no place in the township where so
many can be accommodated and prospect of building a
society so fair, as the mouth of the river ... and from a full
view of the case, we are of the opinion that welfare of
your society and advancement of religion require that
you should unite your efforts there.
(Congregational Record Book, 1818-1870, p. 85)
The Brownhelm Church was divided on the same question when the matter of a new meeting house arose in 1831. A "disinterested committee," which included Deacon Clarke of the Vermilion church, was finally called in to settle the issue.
It was at this time that Deacon Clarke remarked that he "would rather live in a hut in the mud than in a place where they had no church."
The Cuddeback Cemetery (sometimes referred to as the Orchard Beach Cemetery) on the comer of Lake and Risden Roads, is one of the oldest in the area and the resting place of most of the earliest settlers. The stone of our first deacon, Joseph Clarke, still stands, although most of the others have either been broken or stolen and put to cruel and ghoulish use as stepping stones or coffee tables.
The grave of Firelands surveyor Almon Ruggles can be found in the Cranberry Creek Cemetery just a little west of Ruggles Beach.
In 1838, church trustees chose Lot 130 on the public square in the new village as the site of the new church. The site is just north of the present Town Hall. The building to be erected would be brick with a white steeple and trim, 60 feet in length by 45 feet in width and 27 feet in height..." not to exceed $2,000 upon completion. .. brick walls to be at least 16 inches thick. .. with stone window caps and sills ... all in a good and workmanlike manner."
Within a few months, the foundation was laid and fund-raising efforts began. Pews were" sold" for this purpose at prices ranging from $10 to $86, with the more affluent families buying several. The pew plan of the little church, with seat owners and prices paid, is still intact The memoirs of Mrs. Elizabeth Sherod relate that "people donated timber, and the shake shingles were made by hand. The bricks were molded and fired at the Faber Brick Yard." But problems arose (apparently financial) that caused a delay in church construction. In 1840, this appears in the church records:
It was voted that the trustees be hereby
authorized to make proposals to the directors
of the First School District (village school) in
said township for joining said district in erecting
a house in the town of Vermilion for school
and religious purposes ... the brick and other
materials belonging to the church to be used
for that purpose ... "
Although there is no further mention of this proposal, the village trustees did offer the temporary use of their schoolhouse (District No.1), a brick school on the present Town Hall site, while the church was under construction. It is remembered that for a brief period the congregation also met in the Wells' residence and in "Mrs. Harris' new barn."
In the meantime, Dr. Alfred Betts, the church's first clerk and moderator, was called to hold Sabbath afternoon services at the school "at the mouth of the river" and sometimes "in the school on the ridge." It is interesting to note that Dr. Betts was ordained as a minister of the gospel in 1820 and in 1821 was installed as the first pastor of the Brownhelm church while he continued his medical practice.
The lovely New England-style building was completed and dedicated on December 20, 1843-the first church in Vermilion Village. The township at that time had a population of 1,400. The dedication sermon, based on unity and peace, was given by the Reverend Mr. J. W. Goodell. A capacity congregation, which is said to have filled the main floor, balcony, and stoop outside, listened attentively through the lengthy sermon. Mr. Goodell had been invited to "labor with this church" in 1840. He replied with a letter of stipulations that read in part:
Whether (they) will exercise a fatherly care in the matter,
looking after the minister and his family as their family,
making his wants their wants, his comfort their comfort,
his usefulness, their usefulness ... and the more a church
receives a minister into their own bosom, the greater will
be the blessings, and that when a minister is held off at
arm's length, and his support is looked upon as a mere
commercial transaction involving nothing but dollars and
cents, his usefulness cannot be very great and the ties
that bind him to his people not very strong ... I expect the
pulpit to be my pulpit and to be answerable for whatever
may be disseminated therefrom ...
"The proposals were duly investigated and accepted by the church." His salary, to be pledged annually, was $300 with the use of a parsonage.
In the spring of 1843, members voted to make an offering to Home and Foreign Missions.
The Reverend Jotham Weeks Goodell and his wife Anna
In 1853, the Goodell family, along with several other Vermilion families, traveled to Washington State by wagon train to claim land offered by the federal government Phoebe Goodell Judson, daughter of the Reverend, tells of her experience in her book, A Pioneer's Search for an Ideal Home. Homesick, she recalls her days in Vermilion:
"I remember the snowballs and lilacs in mother's yard -
how lovely they looked. The ringing of the church bell greeted me
(in reverie), and I joined the throng that
winded its way to church, ascending the stairs that led to
the gallery. I mingled my voice as of yore in singing "Old
One Hundred," "Baglston," "Coronation," and other old
tunes. At the singing of each song, the whole
congregation rose to its feet, turned in their pews to face
the choir, and listened attentively to the music. When
again seated, the minister, my father, with a dignified air
and solemn countenance, arose in the pulpit and
announced the text, "Known unto God are all His works
from the beginning of the world."
The Reverend Mr. Goodell, was elected to the Washington State Legislature in 1858 and in 1860 organized the first Presbytery of Puget Sound.
Our church grew and prospered, and a financial committee was appointed in 1853 to aid the trustees. The names were F.W. Morgan, C. S. Burton, and Alva Bradley. (From the day in 1848 when F. W. Morgan was elected clerk, the Morgan family served the congregation as officers, organists, teachers, and historian for 120 continuous years.)
Annual meetings were still held in the country schoolhouses. The 1860 meeting was held at the "red schoolhouse" (Dist 2) near Cuddeback's on April 28th. The following officers were elected:
Chairman: Allen Pelton; Officers: Ira Parsons, Allen Pelton, David Sherarts, Jonathan Brooks, F. W. Morgan; Treasurer: Allen Pelton; Oerk: F. W. Morgan; Financial Committee: Ira Parsons, Allen Pelton, Leonard Loomis.
For the first ten years, the belfry of the brick church remained empty. Then in 1854, what was probably the first women's group, The Bell Society, was organized. Enough money was earned through church suppers and sunbonnet and shirt sales to enable the Society to purchase the bell from the First Presbyterian Church on Oeveland's Public Square. There is no record of price paid, but it is said that the 3,000-pound bell was carted to Vermilion by two yokes of oxen.
A Revere Bell like
the one purchased in 1854
by "The Bell Society"
Back in 1818, a member of the new church, Miss Abigail Harris, who had already opened a subscription school, began teaching Sunday School in a log cabin school near the lake shore. Sabbath School was virtually unheard of and certainly frowned upon in the early days. But Addie, as she was called, accompanied by Dr. Alfred Betts, rode horseback through the forest from the ridge to the lake, gaining consent of the parents along the way. Before long, 24 children and youths were enrolled in Sunday classes. This was the first Sunday School in what would be Erie County.
By 1825, Vermilion had five log schools scattered throughout the township, and the practice of holding Sunday School classes and evening services in the country schools continued for over one hundred years.
Miss Harris later married the Reverend Mr. John Montieth, and together they were called "to take charge of the new Elyria High School."
The following notice ran in the Sandusky Clarion in June, 1884:
Sabbath Schools from Erie and Lorain Counties will
hold a July Fourth celebration in Vermilion.
Superintendents. and children will meet at 10 a.m. in the
commons across from the Congregational Church.
There will be a procession "and exercises in the grove
and a reading of the Declaration of Independence. Each
Sunday School shall bring its own banner and a
proportion of refreshments.
Music in the log church had been purely vocal, with a simple tuning fork used to set the key. By the 184Os, according to the memoirs of Mrs. Henry Black, Deacon Jacob Sherod played the bass viol, William Martin played a violin, and George Sherod played the clarinet. In 1845, the Morgan family arrived with their lap organ Lucy Morgan recalled her parents' melodeon in her One Hundred Years of Church History. "It was held upon the lap; one keeping the bellow filled and playing the bass; the other playing soprano, holding the hymn book and the baby.
(On display at the church - 2006)
Pastor D. C. White of Elyria brought in another small melodeon in 1858; that same year, the church graduated to a full choir and brand new pipe organ. The organ was pumped by hand-a procedure that continued until the advent of electricity. The duty of pumping was one that no boy escaped.
A pall of depression and unrest hung over the village during the war years of the 186Os. The Western Reserve was the center of the abolitionist movement, with its Congregational churches denouncing slavery as "an act against God." Five slave routes ended in Oberlin where black families were smuggled to the lake shore and shipped off to Canada in the hands of a friendly skipper.
Mr. W. H. Siebert, in his Mysteries a/Ohio's Underground Railroads, tells of" this clandestine work" occupying a "considerable part of the time of some of the abolitionists of Vermilion, who number eleven by 1840." Cooperating with them were probably Samuel Walker and T. S. Tillinghast of Berlin Township and agents at Florence in receiving underground traffic from anti-slavery Congregational Oberlin, from which Vermilion was only 13 miles distant. The name of Eldad Barber appears in the appendix as an operator of an underground railway from Erie County. It is very possible that he was Vermilion's own Reverend Mr. E. Barber.
With all the community strength going to the "cause," the little church was sometimes left with no pastor. During the years 1862-1863, the pulpit was empty except for a visiting preacher or layman.
In 1868, the congregation voted to change from the Presbytery to the Fellowship of the North Central Association of Congregational Churches. In 1870, a new and bright decade began.
When the log church land was sold in 1835, it was voted to "lay out the avails of it fn the purchase of the house and land where the Reverend Barber now lives." The Reverend Mr. Barber, a Yale graduate, was pastor in the log church from 1835 to 1837 and a superintendent of the Huron Institute of Milan in 1836. This may be the land that Elizabeth Sherod recalled in her memoirs: It was "across the road from David Washburn's and (they) built a log house on it for a parsonage. Zenopahn Betts, who preached at the log church (1840-1843), lived in that log parsonage on the State Road." But the parsonage was seldom used because "we do not find it expedient at this time to call a minister to settle permanently with us."
In 1850, the Congregational Church purchased the entire village Block 12 from James Ford. The first village parsonage, on the comer of Columbus and Perry Streets, is mentioned sometime later. Block 12 is bounded on the north by Columbus Street (present Conrail tracks), on the east by Washington Street, on the south by Ohio Street, and on the west by Perry Street. The block included 17 lots, and the first record of taxes show a yearly tax of $3.47 for the year 1853.
In 1870, church records tell that:
We must take into consideration the present and future
of our church as far as the parsonage property is concerned.
The present house is old and in need of
repairs and withal not located in as desirable a situation
as may be had on the premises. We agree to sell about
three quarters of the property for the express purpose
of building a new house ... for the better convenience of
the minister and his family. In order to carry out the
design of this meeting, so earnestly asked for by the
community at large, we would respectfully ask the court
to reserve one-half of the present order on the
southeast part to the southwest so that 31/210ts, or 1/4
of the block on theSE part is retained by the church for
After duly considering the sale of the property, Lewis Wells was made agent; O. A. Gaylord, Philander Crosier, Lewis Wells, and the Reverend Mr. Bryant, building committee. In 1871, the trustees agreed to accept the draft of the parsonage house presented by the pastor; by the end of the year, a large new parsonage stood on the NW comer of Ohio and Washington Streets.
The old Parsonage
still stands on the corner
of Ohio and Washington Streets
in Vermilion - 2006
The house had been completed for some time when it was noted that "an outstanding debt was held against the church for finishing the parsonage. Much time was consumed at this meeting in reading item after item of common building materialslamps, oil, chimneys, etc. A friendly acception of view followed." A subscription paper was drawn up and circulated; within a few months, the debts were paid in full.
By the time the debts were cleared, a new barn was ready for use in the back of the property - the labor and materials "paid in full." Much of the hardware for the new barn was purchased from Body Hardware. "Two pairs of strap hinges, 40 cents; three gate hooks, 15 cents; one pump box, $2. Lumber came from the Gilchrist Lumber Company, "merchants of lumber and shipping" -800 feet of flooring, $14; 300 feet of batten, $2.10.
A weekly newspaper, The Vermilion Bugle, came to town in the 1870s. It was housed in a print shop directly across from what is now the Ritter Public library on liberty Street. The Bugle ran international, national, and local news, with much space devoted to nautical items and a full coverage of the events transpiring at all six Vermilion churches (Congregational, German Reformed, St. Mary's, German Methodist, Methodist Episcopal, and The German Church.)
A January column of 1877 carried this news about various church activities:
The Congregational Fellowship had a
layman's discussion night. The church has been
renovated with the pulpit moved and a platform
erected in its place, upon which the pipe organ
has been placed (formerly in the gallery), now in full
view of the congregation, as it is in the First Church,
Captain Stone lost his pocketbook containing $125 at
the Congregational Church this week. There were only
three with him at the time. Who has it?
Next week, the Reverend Mr. F. X. Newman of the
Catholic Church will give a lecture at the
A dark-skinned gentleman from Asia recently lectured to
a full house.
German immigration was at its height in the ' 40s and '50s, and in 1877, Vermilion Village had three German-speaking churches. Services were conducted in German at the E. and R. Church until 1917. Another German church stood in the country in what was known as the Dutch Settlement, a mile or so west of town.
In 1876, the envelope system was adopted for the weekly payment of subscriptions. In 1879, records tell of the election of the first female officer-Mrs. Benjamin Wells, treasurer. Trustees were Joseph Gilchrist, Lewis Wells, Allen Pelton, William McGraw, and F. W. Morgan. And at this time, the organ, which was now in "full view of the congregation," had a curtain placed beside it"in such a manner as to shield the organ pumper from view."
Although the church had always maintained a Sunday School, there were no records kept until the 1860s. From that time on, Sunday School rosters, notices, and educational programs have been preserved.
By the year 1880, Sunday School had reached a peak of attendance, with 200 scholars during the winter months. It was perhaps due to the Chautauqua Assemblies and the Lakeside Institute that northern Ohio felt such a surge of Sunday School growth. Sunday School unions were formed in the various counties through the joint efforts of pastors, teachers, and parents. In 1874, 10,000 children from surrounding churches marched down the streets of Cleveland, each group with its own police escort, band, and banner reading "Sabbath School is the Hope of the World."
Church activities were many and varied-work groups, Men's Fellowship, Cottage Prayer Groups (prayer meetings in country homes), and Christian Endeavor (one of the first in the state of Ohio), that church trustees "consider it very important that a strict account be kept by the secretary and treasurer of the various societies connected with the church, and their outlay and income, so that the sum total be ready known and presented to the church at the annual April meeting." (1882)
An elaborate Township Town Hall was completed in 1883 on the corner lot just south of the little brick church. The new building with its opera house, council chambers, jail and community room was the pride of the village and a boon to the ladies of the churches. Within a week of its opening, stoves and cooking equipment were hauled in and a successful church supper was put on by the Congregational Church.
In 1884, a special meeting of the Church Trustees was held to "confer with the Township Trustees relative to the extension of their horse sheds." Church Trustees agreed to lease 20 feet of the sheds for 25 years, with a prior right for use of sheds especially on the Sabbath. The sheds ran along the rear of the Town Hall from Ohio Street north to a point beyond the church and remained there until the advent of the automobile.
In 1885, a committee was appointed to solicit funds. for a new and larger church building. The little church was an old church now, its bricks crumbling and in a "generally dangerous condition."
The following year, the walls were pulled down at a cost of $50 and the bricks cleaned and readied for use in the new foundation. The required new bricks came to $13.50 for 2,250 bricks. The bell had been removed and polished for re-use in the new steeple. Although there had been some discussion of a brick building, because of the initial cost, the new church would be clapboard.
April, 1886: "The Agreement conveying the lot upon which the present house of worship now stands specifies that the lot shall be used for no other purpose than the location of a meeting house. Therefore, we deem it best to locate our (new) house of worship on the same site."
In August, the foundation stone was laid with due ceremony. The congregation then adjourned to the E. and R. Church where they continued to meet during the first year of the two-year building program.
Fund-raising projects were begun in the mean time. A subscription paper was circulated, and individual building fund pledges ranged from $2 to $990. The custom of weekly offerings was not yet strictly adhered to, and most obligations were paid by subscription. By September 1887, $3,928.16 had been contributed. The church ladies, who were now holding office on almost all committees, put on a series of church suppers, quilting parties, and plays; the men gave long hours of manual labor; Christian Endeavor held recitals; the country people not only contributed financially, but brought in food and grain; the Sunday School contributed, as did the fellowships and work' groups. But still all the bills could not be paid without a loan of $500 from the American Congregational Union of New York and the circulation of another subscription paper. The church at this time had 80 members. Still another subscription paper went out that year to help pay Reverend Mr. Streimer's salary. "We will all save and contribute weekly as the Lord prospers us." Each bill, stamped "paid," including $40 for pews purchased from the Euclid Avenue Congregational Church, was painstakingly filed away for posterity. By 1888, all debts were paid, with the exception of the loan. The $7,000 church building with parlor, dining room, kitchen, and lecture room was completed.
Dedication Sunday came on a cold January 15, 1888, when the old bell called a joyful congregation to worship in a new House of the Lord.
Many letters of praise, prayer, and congratulations arrived at the church office during the two years of building. Some contained donations, but one proved to be particularly interesting. It was addressed to the Church Treasurer and was from a Mr. F. E. Tracy of Mansfield. "When your beautiful little church is all paid for, I would like the pleasure of sending you a check for $50." In 1888, another letter arrived with the check from Mr. Tracy. "I congratulate you and the determination of your church not to worship in a house when its debts are not provided for. I am sure you will prosper spiritually and financially."
The First Congregational Church and Vermilion Township Hall
In 1890, in order to purchase some new carpeting and buy additional furnishing for the parlor, the ladies went to work again. A successful supper netted $75, and an autographed quilt, very popular at that time, was auctioned off for $25. In the spring, a "Dollar Social" was held and a poem was written for the occasion by the new minister and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. H. L. Hamlin.
On Children's Day 1896, Mr. J. C. Gilchrist arose from his pew to announce that he would like. to present a new organ in memory of his young daughter, Daisy. A surprised and appreciative congregation "sprang to its feet and sang with a will, "Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow." By December the new organ was installed at a cost of $1,250; in January, a recital was given by Professor Andrew of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.
In Memory of "Daisy"
The next few years brought many firsts. The Reverend Mr. Kaley (1895-1903) wrote what was apparently the first complete history of the church for the 80th anniversary program recalling how God's hand had led his people to the present time. The historical address was read at the morning service February 20, 1898. That evening, letters of congratulations were read from former pastors; and Mrs. Elizabeth Sherod, Mrs. Marie Goodell, and Mrs. Laura Harris presented their memoirs.
The church adopted the practice of using individual communion cups for the Lord's Supper in 1904. That spring a series of men's suppers was started. The church had the first paid janitor and organ pumpers by 1905. In 1912, the Reverend Mr. Williams organized Vermilion's first Boy Scout troop, Camp Fire Girls, and the church's first junior choir. The Ladies Missionary Society was begun the following year. And another �1⁄2first" no doubt occurred when, due to some complications in the heating system, services were held in the Opera House.
Vermilion's First Congregational Church
In 1918, the church had another anniversary to celebrate- the 100th-and Miss Lucy Morgan wrote a comprehensive history for the occasion. A few of the booklets, printed by The Vermilion News, are still in existence. (The church earned $31.85 through the sale of these historical books.) Mr. Kaley, a former pastor, was present for the celebration on February 20, 1918. That Sunday individual subscriptions amounted to $52.85 and plate offerings were $42.90. Expenses for the year were approximately $1,300.
The first of the old Sunday School classes (active until recently) was the Mary D. Childs class. Organized before the turn of the century, it was named for the church treasurer and teacher. The Kings Daughter class began in 1900 and the Help-Seekers in 1915.
In 1927, with the approval of state officials, the Vermilion Congregational and Methodist Churches voted to unite. The two churches joined under a Congregational policy. So 118 new members were added to the rolls, and with them came a new Sunday School class, The Modern Marthas.
The old Methodist-Episcopal Church building was then abandoned, with the exception of an occasional Boy Scout meeting or basketball practice. A few years later, the building on the comer of Grand Street and Liberty Avenue was destroyed by a spectacular nighttime fire.
The M&E Church on the corner
of Grand and Liberty
after the fire
With the merger of the two churches, it was agreed to choose a new Methodist pastor. He was the Reverend Mr. Earl T. English, a faculty member .of Heidelberg College. It was under Mr. English's guidance that a weekly school of religious instruction was set up in cooperation with the public school The classes continued for 30 years, with all churches involved, including St Mary's. During those years, the congregation grew from 200 to 8OO. Mr. English retired in 1955 and was honored with the title Pastor Emeritus.
The length of Mr. English's stay was 29 years and can be added to other church records; Jacob Sherod, 40 years as deacon; Fred Morgan, 60 years as church organist; Laura Harris, 80 years a church member. Presdee Morgan was a member for 76 years and Cortland Simon, 75 years.
An addition was built onto the back of the church in the 1950s, giving extra rooms for office, choir and classes, and for enlarging the kitchen. About that same time, a new Sunday School class was organized called the Young People's class, later named Marmaru. The teacher was Mrs. Earl English.
By the 195Os, increasing membership indicated that a larger house of worship was needed. And as always in a Congregation system, there were cries of indignation in the choosing of the building site.
A committee was set up and a financial campaign began that culminated on Victory Sunday 1956 with a subscription of $164,000. The present four-acre site on State Street, the �1⁄2old Wilbur property," was purchased and construction began that same year.
The Reverend James Bidle was installed as pastor in 1956, serving first as Minister to Youth and bringing new vitality to the youth programs. He remained here until 1962. The Reverand Gordon Forbes was with the church from 1965 to 1967, serving as Assistant Minister.
The cornerstone of the new church was laid in May 1957, and the new, modem brick building was completed by the end of the year. Total cost was $206,473. The church at that time had 750 members.
When the move to the new church was made, the old Paul Revere bell was left in the steeple of the frame church, much to our later chagrin. There were many letters and calls made concerning this oversight, but to no avail. Sometime later, the new owners sold the building and shipped the bell to yet another owner in California. The bell, with the "Paul Revere" inscription, is one of 145 accounted for, with only 11 outside New England.
A new two-manual Schentz organ was installed at the dedication time, a gift of Mr. George Ritter, past member and the donor of Vermilion's Ritter Public Library. Gifts presented to the church throughout the years have been many and have come in varying forms. They have included bibles, paintings, crosses, mementos, a baptismal font, money, property, communion cup, words of encouragement, labor and prayers ... one as precious as the other.
The Reverend Mr. Louis Bertoni was installed as minister in 1960; under his leadership, the church began a new era of Christian community services and activities.
The 150th anniversary of the church was celebrated in 1968 with parades, an historical skit, receptions, displays, speakers and a bazaar. The motto was "Retrospect and Prospect." The guest book shows names of friends and members who came to offer congratulations at this celebration time and at other anniversaries as well. Scrap books and photo albums telling the story are filed in the church archives. (A memorial quilt hangs in the front entrance that was designed and made by the women of the church for the 175th anniversary and pictures our remarkable history from the log church days to the present time.)
Many long-standing programs were developed in the 1970s. Mobile Meals began with an average of eight subscribers. Volunteer drivers delivered hot, well-balanced meals to shut-ins both in the town and in the country. It was the first such service in the area. To date, it has served as many as 27 subscribers - five days a week in rain, sleet, or blizzard.
The SERRV Shop began with a card table set up with a sampling of handcrafted goods from missions around the world. The project gained in popularity and by the 1980s had acquired a shop of its own in Fellowship Hall. As this is a mission project, payment for merchandise is made to the artisans themselves and any losses are picked up by our mission committee.[ed. note: The SERRV shop in Fellowship Hall closed during the late 1990's. However; items from this mission are sold yearly when the church Mission Committee holds its annual "Soup N' SERRV" activity just prior to Christmas each year.]
Vermilion's great flood surged through town on July 4, 1969, ravishing homes, businesses and boats in all low-lying areas. Rushing water destroyed or damaged Lagoons homes, causing residents to be evacuated by helicopter. Spectators watched from the bridge as boats, trailers and household possessions washed down to the lake, ending up as a pile of rubble.
"The British are coming!" reported the church newsletter. And so arrived the Rev. and Mrs. Wally Wragg from London, England. Wally, who was to speak at this particular Sunday service, found pews occupied by tired or sleeping flood victims and Fellowship Hall converted into a soup kitchen. It was a never-to-be-forgotten weekend. The Wraggs remained steadfast friends and returned for many subsequent visits.
It was about this time that St. Stephen's mission church needed a new home as they had been meeting in homes or conference rooms. After much discussion between Mr. Bertoni and Captain Robert Andrews (later ordained as a minister) and a vote of the congregation, the Episcopal mission church was offered the use of our church. Services were separate, although Sunday School and social activities were often joint efforts. This arrangement continued comfortably for several years.
Back in 1872, church members took pride in the completion of the new parsonage on the comer of Ohio and Washington Streets. One hundred years later, church trustees deemed it best to offer the ministers a housing allowance and to sell the building that had not only been home to the minister and his family but also to Sunday School parties, weddings, missionary meetings and Christmas festivities.
And still more ventures materialized. Concern for the needs of local families prompted the opening of the Pantry in 1979. By 1990, close to 200 families were being helped by this community service. Once a month families arrive in Fellowship Hall to receive bags of groceries donated by County Cupboard, organizations, and individuals. Eligibility is determined through the Welfare and Health Department records. The Mini Bus (Vermilion Community Services), a benefit to those area residents needing transportation to doctors, shopping, and so forth, was also begun by our church.
With all these projects, it is remarkable that members had time to sing. But sing they did. And they learned new hymns, albeit reluctantly. Some of the new songs would later become the favorite old songs. The Bell Choir (Carillon Choir) was organized in 1970 with bells purchased from the Whitechapel Foundry in London, England. At present, there are 56 bells, all paid for by memorial gifts.
The Congregational Church has been known as a peacekeeping church and for some time has had a peace group, Try Peace. When the Great Peace March (for nuclear disarmament) came through town, the parking lot was a rainbow of brilliantly colored pup tents. Peace Sabbath Sunday came in 1982 with a workshop in the afternoon Speaker for the day was Dr. John Howard Hode, Professor of Theology at the Associated Mennonite Seminaries in Goshen, Indiana. Shortly afterward, a peace vigil was held in Victory Park with prayers, readings, and a release by the children of "balloons for peace." In 1987, a peace pole was erected near the front entrance of the church.
So the years rolled by with happy times, sad times, and unexpected times. Not too long ago, a surprised congregation sat in awe as wine was served at communion. Then came the Sunday when the communion bread was forgotten and sounds of frenzy could be heard coming from the kitchen. Next came the time when, during the crucial preparation of a meal, the electricity was turned off causing a two-hour unwanted sabbatical. Not to be forgotten was the Sunday when two neighborhood cats wandered in and strolled down the aisle toward the alter, nor of course, the day a wedding party was ushered in by bagpipers.
During the years, the church has acquired several properties. The Burrows house, adjoining the church to the north, was purchased in 1979 and has been used by the Youth Fellowship, visiting ministers, and as additional church offices. A Vermilion-on-the-Lake house was recently given as a trust by the Early family.
Laura Daub (Mrs. F. W.) left the church her lovely 2.14 acre tract of lakefront land on the corner of Lake and Risden Roads, including her home and cottage. During the summer season, Sunset Shores comes alive with summer camps, retreats for our church members and others, youth programs, and church services. It was in this area that some of the earliest settlers built their cabins and erected with great pride the log church on Risden Road. Somewhere between here and the village, our Miss Abigail Harris organized the first Sunday School, going by horseback from cabin to cabin. It's interesting to remember that our first deacon, Joseph Clarke, is buried in the small cemetary across the way.
Our Sunday School has continued to teach the word of God, in different ways for different generations, but with the same goal. Present classes range, from nursery through adult, using the United Church of Christ curriculum and coordinated by a Director of Christian Education. Having been taught the responsibility of caring for God's people, our youth have been involved with the Crop Walk, Hands Across America, environmental concerns and peace.
The old Sunday School classes of the past have faded away with only Marmaru still active. There is, at this writing, just one member left in the Helpseekers Oass. Circles were formed in the 1960s to enable church women to become better acquianted. The concept of Colonies appeared about the same time, grouped according to locations. The Colony idea gradually disappeared, but is presently being revived.
The Reverend Mr. Bertoni, by now just "Louie," was named Citizen of the Year in 1983 for his outstanding community work. Shortly after, our church was honored for its community involvement. As church history becomes more current, "they" and "theirs" subtly become "we" and" ours." So "we" listened and learned from Louie's sermons and as often as not discussed them over Monday morning coffee.
To name a complete list of our mission projects would be impossible because the list is endless. In one year alone, our mission committee was involved in and contributed to 28 programs ranging from Habitat for Humanity, to Koinonia, to OCWM, Ethopian Hunger Relief, digging a well in India, to buying Jeep tires for a medical missionary.
A community service called the Nursery School (now called the Developmental Nursery School) has flourished for 32 years. The center, which is open three half days a week with classes for pre-kindergarteners brings sounds of activity from the Sunday School rooms and from the" muscle room" in Fellowship Hall.
Sunrise Place, also begun by our church, is a nonprofit program that purchases and maintains properties for adults in need of assisted, but independent living. One of these homes is in Bluebird Beach, four are in Sandusky, and one more is planned for Vermilion. Incorporated in 1992, the organization includes both Erie and Lorain Counties.[ed. note: Sunrise Place, in cooperation with the Erie County Mental Retardation/Developmental Disabiities Board (MR/DD), turned all its properties over to the Erie County Association of Retarded Citizens (ARC) in 2005. The properties are still being used as the pilot project started by our church members intended.]
Along with all of the dedication to church and community, there is always time planned for the fun of steak fries at Sunset Shores, bazaars, musicals, fairs, summer days at Pilgrim Hills, and the always popular church suppers. In addition, the Concert Series presents Sunday afternoon musical programs by area artists several times each year.
Another generation will write a complete history of the present church, perhaps even calling it "the old church." But time will first have to weave through it all a thread of nostalgia.
The Congregational Church has always been an open, free chruch welcoming all believers. It has been called "the church with the vision of service." So perhaps the most fitting conclusion to this history are the words of Miss Lucy Morgan: " A goodly heritage has been left to our care."
MILESTONES IN THE LIFE OF THE CHURCH
First Sunday School 1813
Church organized Feb. 20, 1818
Log church constructed 1828
Church members vote to continue to recognize both the Presbyterian and Congregational orders and discipline, but to maintain Congregational system 1830
Church instrumental in organizing a Temperance Society 1830
The Ohio State House of Representatives grants the church Articles of Incorporation to be known as the Congregational Church of Vermilion 1835
Lot 130 on Public Square, Vermilion Village is purchased 1838
New brick church is dedicated 1843
The Reverend Mr. J. L. Goodell is installed 1843
The entire Block 12 (17 lots) is purchased (Washington, Ohio, Perry and Columbus Streets) 1850
First parsonage located on Perry Stree 1850
First women's group, The Bell Society, is organized 1854
The Reverend Mr. Eldad Barber listed as agent in the Underground Railway 1862
Congregation votes to change from Presbytery to Fellowship of North Central Association of Congregational Churches 1868
Large new parsonage constructed on the comer of Ohio and Washington St 1871
Mary D. Childs class is organized 1888
New frame church is dedicated on Lot 130 1888
Individual communion cups used for first time 1904
The Reverend Mr. Williams organizes the first Boy Scout troop, Campfire Girls, and the first Junior Choir 1912
Ladies Missionary Society organized 1913
Congregational and Methodist Churches vote to unite under Congregational policy; but with a Methodist minister 1927
The Reverend Mr. Earl English installed 1927
Marmaru class organized 1930s
Women's circles organized 1950s
New brick church on State Street dedicated 1957
The Reverend Mr. Louis Bertoni installed as pastor 1960
Dr. Gladys Risden gives log church land to church 1968
150tlt anniversary 1968
Mobile meals 1970
Bell choir 1970
Mini bus 1977
Friendly Town 1960s-70s
Burrows property purchased 1979
Dial-a- Prayer 1980
Lay ministry 1980
Peace Sabbath Sunday April 2, 1982
New hymnals 1982
Handicap access 1984
Daub property accepted as gift 1986
Hands Across America 1986
Sunset Shores Retreat Center 1986
Peace Pole erected 1987
Vermilion concert series begun 1987
175th anniversary 1993
Rev. Bertoni retires 1996
MINISTERS WHO HAVE SERVED THE CHURCH
1818-1884 1884-Present The Rev. Alvin Coe 1818-1819
The Rev. Hervey Lyon 1828-1830
The Rev. Stephen I. Bradstreet 1830-1833
The Rev. Dabiel Griffith 1833-1834
The Rev. E. Barber 1835-1837
The Rev. Geo. W. Lane 1837-?
The Rev. J. J. Griffin 1837-1838
The Rev. Xenophon Betts 1840-1843
The Rev. J. W. Goodell 1843-1847
The Rev. J. B. Parlin 1848-1849
The Rev. J. Coelson 1849-1850
The Rev. Danforth 1850-?
The Rev. Almon G. Martin 1850-1852
The Rev. J. B. Parlin 1852-1854
The Rev. James Spelman 1855-1856
The Rev. D. C. White 1857-1859
The Rev. Amizi B. Lyon 1860-1862
The Rev. Palmer Litts 1864-1865
The Rev. Baldwin 1865-?
The Rev. Shaffer 1866-1867
The Rev. Nelson Porter 1867-1869
The Rev. M. K. Pasko 1869-1870
The Rev. Sydney Bryant 1870-1875
The Rev. C. Rogers 1876-?
The Rev. O. C. Clark 1876-1880
The Rev. John Mitchell 1882-1884
The Rev. Robert Humphrey 1884-1885
The Rev. A. Striemer 1885-1888
The Rev. W. B. Chamberlain 1888-?
The Rev. S. L. Hamlin 1888-1892
The Rev. L. H. Royce 1892-1894
The Rev. J. A. Kaley 1895-1903
The Rev. Geo. E. Merril 1904-1909
The Rev. Raymond C. Swisher 1909-1912
The Rev. W. K. Williams 1912-1914
The Rev. Chas E. Mummy 1914-1916
The Rev. A. R: Atwood 1917-1918
The Rev. H. C. Lynch 1918-1919
The Rev. H. J. Swan 1920-1921
The Rev. A. R. Boone 1921-?
The Rev. F. S. Tinche 1922-1924
The Rev. M. L. Weekley 1924-1927
The Rev. E. T. English 1927-1956
The Rev. James W. Bidle 1956-1962
The Rev. Louis E. Bertoni 1962-1996
The Rev. Gordon M. Forbes 1965-1967
The Rev. Richard Wierwelle 1996-1997
The Rev. Judy Wang 1997-1998
The Rev. Robert Wang 1997-1998
The Rev. "Sprite" Carol G. Johnson 1998-2000
The Rev. Wendell A. Brooker 2000-2011
The Rev. Kristi Lorainne Foster 2004-2006
The Rev. Robert Richardson 2011-2016
The Rev. David Zerby 2016-2018
The Rev. Melinda Quelhorst 2018 - Current
OUR CHURCH HERITAGE
75 plus years
Lucile Clark 6-11-1939
Mary Jane Laucaitis 4-17-1938
50 plus Years
James Snell 4-9-1941
Robert Clark 4-6-1952
Leslie Ennis 4-2-1950
Shirley Lehky 3-18-1951
William Lehky 4-11-1954
Albert Love 4-11-1954
Nelda Love 4-11-1954
Ruth Maurer 3-25-1951
Dave Rathbun 4-21-1946
Karin Rathbun 1948
Barb Ruggles 4-6-1952
Joyce Smith 1948
Gene Todd 3-29-1953
August Graziano 3-31-1956
Judy Williams 3-25-1956
Mrs. Graziano 3-31-1956
Joyce Dickerhoff 4-18-1957
© 2006 Rich Tarrant
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