Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Church life in Fairfield

In the days leading up to the end for Fairfield, only three acknowledged churches served the township: The Methodist and Nazarene churches in Fairfield and Old Franklin EUB Church, east of town just off Bath Road. There were doubtless other meeting houses for various Protestant sects.

But prior to that, a number of denominations set up shop in the township, though none endured.

The Methodists in Fairfield were one of the largest congregations in Franklin County in the 1880s. The building was disassembled in the middle 1960s and its bell moved to another church that we are still trying to locate.

In the early days, a Methodist minister at Fairfield would also have served at Coulter's Corner (Bath Twp.) and later at Blooming Grove.

The Methodist building in Fairfield probably seated 250 with comfort. The Nazarene Church was much smaller.

As early as 1806, the Baptist Church attempted to build a congregation in town but, according to historical research I found in the Indiana History Magazine, the Baptists effectively lost a foothold because they simply didn't try hard enough.

"The Baptist churches early attained to an important place, and in many localities they were on the ground and flourishing when the Presbyterian and Methodist denominations made their appearance. In some places, however, these rural Baptist churches were supplanted by other denominations, and the causes of this decadence are attributed by some to the refusal of such churches to grow with the general progress of opinion."

Baptists date back to 1798 in Indiana, with only the French Catholics being older. There is evidence of Primitive Baptists in Fayette County but that sect's impact is marginal at best. An anecdote here: Author James Maurice Thompson's grandfather was a key leader in the Primitive Baptist movement. There is no evidence J.M.T. followed that path.

A Presbyterian Church was founded in 1825 in the Bath area, but the Presbyterians were prominent in the valley earlier than that. Rev. Samuel Baldridge, a native of Virginia, organized a church of 17 members in 1811 near Harrison, and became as an itinerant missionary in the Whitewater Valley after 1814, having various stations from Lawrenceburg to Dunlapsville. Baldridge was a close acquaintance of Robert Templeton and John Hanna, both in Fairfield Township, the magazine research indicates.

The Presbyterians were staunch abolitionists as were the Quakers.

The Old Franklin EUB, which absorbed Fairfield Methodist, has been on the current site since the 1830s. The church's entry into Franklin County dates to 1819 with Henry Fry being the first local leader. It is one of the oldest churches in Indiana that still conducts regular Sunday services. It's also known as Farm Hill.

So were the Quakers, who had less luck establishing in the valley though they were prominent in Wayne County, particularly Richmond (where Earlham College is located) ... but the church (also known as Friends) held meetings in Fayette and Union counties in the 1810s.

Apparently the Quakertown area of Franklin County, which was also flooded, never contained one of the sect's churches. In Jackson Township, Fayette County, the only Quaker church ever to exist in the county was organized in 1818 or 1819.

There was minor Quaker presence in Fairfield, so far as I can determine.

The Quakers were often mistreated because of their refusal to take up arms in the War of 1812 against the British and antagonistic Shawnee Indians. It wasn't uncommon for a Quaker to be jailed for refusal to fight.

Another short-lived sect was the Universalist Church, which had odd beginnings, an even more peculiar format and an extreme minority membership.

A Universalist Church was founded in Fairfield in 1848 and lasted six years before it disbanded, due to a shortage of membership, leadership and resources. The building was located on what we called Jefferson Street in Fairfield (directly west of Naylor's farm). It burned in 1902. There is little record of it beyond that.

Universalists were also quite active in the Bentley area of Fayette County, just north of Blooming Grove (near Everton.)

As a sideline, records indicate the Universalists held a district meeting in the "town" of Philomath, which is west of U.S. 27 between Liberty and Richmond in Union County. (A couple of farmhouses would constitute the town.)

The Nazarenes arrived in Fairfield in the early 1960s and had a small membership at the end. Plans to build a church never reached fruition and services were held in a converted garage directly adjacent to the school grounds. I can't find any information that suggests Nazarenes were in Fairfield in any other time frame.

There was no significant Jewish, Catholic or Shaker presence in Fairfield Township.

-- John

-- Pictured are Fairfield Methodist (top) from 1910; Old Franklin EUB Church; Nazarene Church (bottom).
-- Sources are Fairfield publications, Reifel and the IU research documents, as well as personal recollections.

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