THE MARCELLUS UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
MARCELLUS, ONONDAGA COUNTY, NY
The following information was submitted by John Curtin
Taken from Heffernan, Kathryn C. Nine Mile Country. Published by Visual Artis Publicans, Inc. 1978. p. 182-186. Copyright by the Board of Trustees, Marcellus Free Library, Marcellus, NY
Among the early settlers of Marcellus, those who held to the Methodist faith were so few, that no effort had been made to organize them until David Holmes arrived in the area in June of 1816. However, a Reverend Mr. Phillips had preached in the schoolhouse on North Street in 1809 or 1810 and Robert Dyer, another local preacher and a founder with his brother of the first woolen mill, had also held meetings.
As indicated in an earlier chapter, Holmes, a Methodist preacher, settled on a farm northwest of the village and shortly thereafter began holding meetings in his barn. His efforts attracted much interest and some opposition. However, two circuit preachers, James Kelsey and Josiah Beebe, gave him assistance and the first class of sixteen members was formed. That first class included David Holmes and wife, Susan Holmes, Temperance Holmes (afterwards, Mrs. Stephen Cobb), Matilda Holmes, Thomas Pryor and wife, Isaac B. Benham and wife, Josiah Gilson, Polly Shepard, Silas Bush and wife and Mrs. Hawley.
In 1817 meetings held on Limeledge by Alexander Foreman, a forceful young preacher, added about sixty converts to the young society. Then, in 1823, at the home of Reverend Stephen Cobb, the society was organized into a church with Reverend Cobb, Joseph Wilson and William Newton chosen as trustees. The group called themselves the First Zion Society of Marcellus. Although they were Methodists and served by Methodist preachers, the word Methodist does not appear in the trustees' records until 1839. During their first twenty-one years, the society was served by forty-two different circuit preachers.
In 1824, the society raised thirteen hundred dollars for the purpose of building a church. Since a majority of the members lived near Marcellus Falls, it was first proposed to build the church there. After exploring that possibility and investigating another site on East Hill, the first church was finally erected above the village on the land now the old St. Francis Xavier Cemetery. It was a plain stone building, thirty by forty feet, with no steeple. The worshipers wore a beaten path up the hill from the village to what became known as the Methodist Chapel.
By 1832, the congregation had decided that their choice of location had not been a wise one. Consequently, they carefully took their building down and reconstructed their second church from the same materials on a site in the village, just across the street from where the present church now stands. Like the original, it was without steeple or bell. The pulpit stood between the two front doors, so the congregations faced not only the pulpit but the late arrivals.
In 1838 the Marcellus church was made a separate charge and a resident pastor, the Reverend L. K. Redington, was assigned to serve the congregation, which tradition says he did "very acceptably for one year." He was followed by two young unmarried preachers in succession, namely Walter Hare and Thomas Preme. With no parsonage available, like school teachers of the day, they "boarded around." During the pastorate of Reverend Ezra Squires in the early 1840's, the society built its first parsonage.
Succeeding pastors were to serve terms of only a year or two, but the congregation continued to grow. By 1855, the old stone church was in need of repair and the congregation had outgrown it. The society was able to acquire the point of land between West Main Street and what was then Maiden Lane. Under the pastorate of Reverend Thomas Harroun they then erected the first brick church in the village on the site now occupied by the present church. Stone from the old church was used in the he foundation.
Following the dedication of the new church about September 1, 1857, the congregation expanded rapidly. Membership increased from one hundred thirty to over two hundred. The minister's salary, which had been three hundred dollars, was raised to four hundred, and a donation added three hundred five dollars.
On January 25 1877, the twenty-year old church was destroyed by fire which supposedly originated in a defective flue. The congregation bravely set out to build their fourth house of worship. With the proceeds of a five thousand dollar insurance policy, they immediately began construction on the old foundation, again using some of the stone from the original Methodist Chapel. The pastor, Reverend William Jones, worked with the trustees, Hiram Bronson, James Sarr and Robert North, in the planning. J. G. Northrup and James Axten were selected to serve with the trustees as a building committee. The cornerstone was laid with appropriate ceremonies on May 8, 1877. During the construction, services were held in Fulmer's Hall, which was located on North Street adjacent to St. John's Church, which was then standing on the corner of North and Main.
On January 3, 1878, the new church, which had cost a little less than twelve thousand dollars, was dedicated, free from debt. The ladies of the congregation have been credited with providing much of the furnishings for the church through their aid society. The windows were donated as memorials. About this time the name of the society was changed from The First Zion Society to the First Methodist Episcopal Church.
The first wedding in the new church was that of Gilbert I. Wells and Carrie E. Cobb. Dr. Franklin Bell performed the ceremony in September of 1882. A pipe organ had been installed in the church in the early 1880's. Frequent changes of pastors over the years make it impractical to note all of them in this brief sketch. However, the entire community is especially indebted to Reverend Andrew Roe who served the Methodist congregation from 1885 to 1887. Upon his retirement, Reverend Roe returned to Marcellus to live. His son was then the publisher of the Marcellus Observer. In the early eighteen nineties, Reverend Roe compiled a detailed history of the town which was published in weekly installments in the Observer. Fortunately, copies of the articles were preserved in a scrapbook by Mrs. Susanm Edwards May. They are now in the historical collection of the Marcellus Free Library.
During the pastorate of Reverend Charles Fryer, the congregation celebrated its one hundred twenty-fifth anniversary. Bishop Flint was the speaker at special services held on October 19, 1941. A highlight of the occasion was the announcement that Mr. and Mrs. D. J. Chrisler were presented the c hurch with the present parsonage at 22 North Street. The house had been built in 1927 by James Parsons. Reverend and Mrs. Fryer moved to the new home, and the old parsonage adjacent to the church was sold.
Up until 1940 various separate women's organizations, each devoted to some special aspect of missionary, social or religious work, functioned independently but cooperatively. In that year all these groups were merged into one organization, the Women's Society of Christian Service. In 1950 this society financed the remodeling of the kitchen and in 1958 underwrote the cost of redecorating the sanctuary in which a new Baldwin organ was dedicated on March 30 of that year.
In 1952 Reverend H. Wesley Bacon began a ten-year pastorate, the longest in the history of the church, and a decade in which an extensive construction program was accomplished. In 1959 a committee of about fifty members began a study of the needs for additional space. The work of the study culminated in a recommendation for construction of an educational building as a major addition to the church building, which had been structurally unchanged for eighty years. The church officials accepted the proposal and appointed a building fund committee. Donald Clay served as chairman, and Hugh Hall and Stanley Munro served as vice-chairmen with Reverend Bacon acting as executive chairman and assisting in the planning.
Beardsley and Beardsley, of Auburn, were engaged in November 1960 to draft plans and supervise construction of the proposed ninety-two thousand dollar addition. A fund drive had netted pledges for sixty-six thousand dollars. The remainder of the cost was secured by a mortgage loan from the First Trust and Deposit Company. Ground breaking took place on April 16, 1961 and the classrooms were ready for use on February 25, 1962.
At the close of the Sunday morning service on the following April 15, the building was consecrated by District Superintendent Harold Swales and officially named Wesley Hall. An unrestricted legacy from the estate of Mr. Stephen Hunt helped defray the cost of furnishing the addition.
During the pastorate of Reverend Robert Bolton, between 1964 and 1966, the classrooms in the church basement were refurbished. Then, on June 2, 1965, with a view to future needs, the trustees purchased the old parsonage property, which they had sold in 1941, for fourteen thousand dollars. The congregation was served from 1966 to 1970 by Reverend James Le Gro, an energetic young man who also served in several important posts in the Annual Conference of Central New York.
In 1968, the official name of the church became the Marcellus United Methodist Church.
The ministry of Reverend Lewis J. Broadbent, which covered the next five years, saw several improvements to the church property. A fund drive called "Response '73" brought pledges in excess of forty-eight thousand dollars. Repairs and improvements were made to the parsonage, the annex property, and the tower and exterior of the church. An old Moehler organ from the Canastota United Methodist Church was purchased, rebuilt and installed in the balcony at the rear of the sanctuary by Mr. Julien Lemire, an organ technician.
A legacy of seventy-seven thousand dollars from Mrs. Viola Merrill made it possible to renovate and redecorate the church foyer and sanctuary and install a new kitchen in the parsonage in 1976. The work represented the first structural alteration in the sanctuary since the early 1880's when the first pipe organ was installed.
Reverend John Fulton came to the Marcellus church in 1975, in time to join the congregation in three bicentennial celebrations, one in February, another on July 4, and a third one in October, 1976. At the October celebration, Pastor Fulton, dressed as a circuit rider, rode into the village on horseback and led the congregation in a colonial service.
Since its opening in 1962, Wesley Hall has been in active use by members of the community as well as by church groups. The church sponsors a nursery school which meets on certain days. On Tuesdays, women from the community meet there to socialize, work on hobbies, or play games, and to enjoy a cup of tea or coffee with their sandwiches. On Thursdays, senior citizens meet there for a luncheon, sponsored and served under a federal nutrition program. The Red Cross Bloodmobile has also found it an excellent location for their recruitment days.
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10 June 1997