By Frank D. Myers
The recent closing of Bethel United Methodist Church in Cedar Township (above) has reduced the number of that denomination's congregations in Lucas County to three, a far cry from the days when there was at least one and in some cases more in every township. Today, only the Chariton, Norwood and Russell churches remain. And of the three, only the Chariton and Russell congregations began as Methodist; Norwood (and Bethel) became United Methodist in 1968 following merger of the Methodist Episcopal and Evangelical United Brethren denominations.
Lucas County owes its rich Methodist heritage to the work of a hardy band of circuit-riding preachers who arrived with the first settlers, preaching first at the cabin of the Xury West family at Greenville in Washington Township in 1849 --- the first formal religious sesrvices held in the county. As population expanded, dozens of Methodist preaching stations were established in homes, then schools and finally church buildings.
A six-page hand-written manuscript added during late November to the Lucas County Historical Society collection recalls those early days. It came to us from the Chariton Public Library and will be restored to the collection from which it came originally, the bulk of which was donated to the historical society by the library in the 1970s. This collection includes a variety of manuscripts prepared at the turn of the 20th century for the first Lucas County Historical Society and carefully conserved by its founder, Warren S. Dungan, then placed in library custody when that first society failed to develop.
The title of the manuscript, "History of Early Methodism in Lucas County, Iowa," is a little misleading because its primary focus is early Methodism in eastern townships, specifically what became the Russell Charge. According to a note on the manuscript, it was "read at the organization of the Washington Township Auxiliary Society at Russell, October 15, 1903." The Washington Township, or Russell, "auxiliary" was intended to be a branch of the first Lucas County Historical Society.
The manuscript was written and read by J.H. Cook, a prime mover in organization of that first Russell historical society (the current Russell Historical Society, which has recently expanded its fine museum, was organized about 100 years later). But it appears that the Methodist pastor in Russell at that time, J. L. Johnson, may have done most of the research.
So here's the document, original pages first and then transcripts. Cook uses a couple of abbreviations that could confuse 21st century readers, "P.E." for presiding elder and "P.C." for preacher in charge. He also tends to spell Xury West's name as "Zura." If you'd rather read the original document, click on the images to enlarge them.
Russell, Iowa, Sept. 14th, 1903
The history of the Methodist Church on Russell Charge is somewhat meager; however, the following facts have been gleaned, to wit.
The first preaching in the county was at the home of Zura (Xury) West near Greenville in Washington Township during the year 1849.
Rev. A. G. Price and Joseph Ackerman had an extensive field of labor up and down the Des Moines River and Zura West’s house was one of their appointments. In 1850, Jas. Q. Hammond travelled the Edyville Circuit which embraced Xury West’s. In 1851, Robert Coles was assigned to and travelled the Albia mission and his appointments that year were Albia, Wests, Evans, Potts, Ireland, Soap Creek, Grays Creek and Mathews. That was the year of the great flood. Des Moines River was three feet higher than it had ever been known up to that time. Just for a moment imagine the difficulties of travelling so large a circuit without bridges and very meager road improvements.
In 1852, Chariton was honored with her first M.E. preacher in the person of Rev. E. L. Briggs who has since left the M.E. Church.
In 1853, Rev. Parker was pastor and in 1854, Rev. Johnson Allen was pastor.
In 1855, the Lagrange mission was organized. The first quarterly conference was held at ...
,,, Jas. Rolands Dec. 31st 1855. Jas. Q. Hammond, P.E., and D. T. Sweem, Preacher in Charge.
The mission was separated from Chariton this year and the allowance for ministerial support for the year was $387.40.
In 1856, Lagrange became the head of a circuit and Chariton the head of a district with Pearl P. Ingalls, P.E., and B.F. Williams, P. in charge, his allowance for support being $240.
In 1857, Jacob Delay was P.C. with appointments in Lagrange, Ireland, Blues, Melrose, Osprey, Greenville or Wests, Cofffman, Iconium, Potts and Wayne, taking in parts of three counties, viz. Lucas Wayne and Monroe (Iconium actually is in Appanoose County).
In 1858 and 9, R. S. Robinson was P.E. and Rev. Jessie Sherwood, P.C.; allowances for support first year $150; second year $167.
In 1860, the conference was divided and the Lagrange Circuit was assigned to the Western Iowa Conference, R. S. Robinson, P.E., and Adam Burris, supply. The appointments inside the Iowa Conference were dropped and Highland, Barkers and Salem appear on the list.
In 1861, M. Cain was P.E. In 1862, E. M. H. Fleming was made P.E. and the church records show that the first quarter J.B. Talmadge was P.C.; second quarter, J.B. Gardner; and 4th quarter, Saml. A. Talbott.
During the year 1863, Rev. E. M. Fleming was P.E. and S. A. Talbott was Pastor in Charge.
The name of the conference was during the year 1864 changed to Des Moines Conference. This proved to be a very stormy year on account of the Civil War then raging. Neighborhoods, churches and families were divided. Bro. Bellamy, who was at that time pastor of the church, dropped a part of the work in the year 1865. Rev. Bennett Mitchell was the P.E. and Rev. B.B. Kennedy, P.C. Allowances were $600.
The war being over church work revived and Bro. Kennedy met with great success in his work for God and the Salvation of men and women. Bros. Mitchell and Kennedy continued to labor in this same field during the year 1866 and during the year 1867 Bro. B. Mitchell was continued as P.E. and Bro. Jas. Bracewell was P.E. Bro. Bennett continued P.E. for the year 1868 and Bro. J.M. Rust was for this year P.C. The church records show that their labors during those years were attended with most glorious results.
In the year 1869 Rev. J.M. Conrad was duly installed as P.E. and J.M. Dudley, P.C. This year Russell takes its place at the head of the circuit and during the years 1870, 1 and 2 J.M. Conrad was the P.E. and Revs. J.S. Morrow and Riley Woods were each pastors of our church.
Bro. Riley Wood’s good work in the master’s vineyard proved to be a grand success. A large number uniting with the church and the church enterprises at Russell, Salem and Pleasant Plains were pushed to completion (this apparently means church buildings were constructed).
In 1873, Rev. J.W. Todd was made a P.E. Levi Park, P.C. 1874, Rev. D. Austin was assigned to Russell Charge this year. At the 2nd quarterly conference holden in the month of March 1875 a board of trustees were elected for the purpose of building a parsonage. Said board was P.P. Prather, J.B. Fergeson, Aaron Scott, A.V. Boyland, David Fluke.
During the conference year of 1875 the work was divided. D. Austin, P.C. at Russell, Greenville and Salem, and P.J. Volmer his assistant, taking charge of the north appointments of the circuit. In 1876, Rev. J. R. Horswell was the pastor in charge. The old parsonage at Lagrange was sold and proceeds turned into the treasury of the Russell Charge. The following year, 1877, J. M. Holmes was chosen P.E., and Rev. A. Thornbrue, P.C. Bro. Thornbrue served Russell Charge for three successive years and during his administration all old church indebtedness was fully paid, had good revival meetings and the results were one hundred and twenty-five persons were added to the M.E. church.
It was 1881 that Bro. T. McK. Stuart took charge of the work as P.E. and this year W. A. Wiseman was pastor. He proved to be a successful pastor and large numbers were added to the church, finances were all fully paid up and benevolence fund exceeded the apportionate regardless of the fact that crops were almost a failure. Rev. T. McK. Stuart continued to serve as P.E. for the year 1882 and J. H. Stevens was P.C. Presiding eldership went to Rev. A. Brown for the years 1883 and 4 and plain everyday John Harned was P.C. The work for those years was successful, both spiritually and financially. The Liberty appointment was dropped, a class formed at Zero which soon failed, leaving Russell, Greenville and Salem as the three appointments of this charge (Sept. 15th, 1903).
J. L. Johnson, pastor, M.E. Church, Russell, Iowa
In connection with the above I will add the following to wit: The M.E. Church of Russell still continues to grow and prosper financially and spiritually during the past three years under the administration of Rev. J. L. Johnson, present pastor. Good solid Christian work has been accomplished and as an evidence of this fact will say that during the years 1901 to 3 seventy-five persons have ...
... become members of said church here at Russell and Salem either by letter or probation. The Epworth League and Sunday Schools are growing in numbers and interest and are proving to be living factors for the conversion and betterment of our unchristian young men and women. Finances of the church in each and every department are in most excellent condition this 15th day of Sept. 1903.