A Brief History
With the American Revolution over and a new nation begun, settlers began moving west across the Allegheny Mountains, bringing their faith with them. Among them were the Methodist circuit riders, itinerant ministers who traveled on horseback to as many as 20 “preaching places” to preach and administer the sacraments.
Although John Wesley had founded Methodist societies in England, he never left the Church of England. The American Methodist Societies, however, organized the Methodist Episcopal Church in Lovely Lane Chapel in Baltimore at Christmas, 1784. Even before the official organization, the Redstone Circuit was begun in Fayette County and served as the center for Methodism in Western Pennsylvania, Ohio and what is now West Virginia.
Methodists in Beaver County are mentioned first about 1813 when two men were appointed to preach within this territory. About 1820 under the direction of Presiding Elder William Swayze, a little group of Methodists in Beaver began a class meeting in a house known as Coulter’s Tavern on Second Street near College Avenue. This class, together with classes from Bridgewater and Sharon (upper Bridgewater) worshiped in a small frame church built on a hillside in Sharon, near the present Route 51 and the P&LE railroad tracks. This is believed to be the first Methodist Episcopal Church built in Beaver County.
The First Beaver Church
In 1829 a new church building was begun on the southeast section of the central park in Beaver (now known as Irvine Square), facing Third Street and near the present site of Beaver Trust (now Sky Bank). Completed in 1830, the new church was a one room frame building about 45 x 60 feet. Cost of the building is unknown, but the largest single subscription was $75 by Robert Darragh, and Father Frederick Rapp of the Economy Society contributed $25. Twenty-six ministers served the congregation in that first building. One of them, Joshua Monroe, was one of the founders of Beaver College. He is buried in Beaver Cemetery.
The Second Church in the park
At the close of the Civil War agitation was begun for a new building, and during 1869-1869 the old building was torn down and a new one erected on the same site. During the interim, services were held in the Courthouse.
Much of the material and furnishings from the old church were used to build Dravo Cahpel in Vanport where a dedicated layman, John F. Dravo, preached for more than 30 years until the chapel was closed in the 1920’s because people could easily get to Beaver.
There was some difficulty in finishing and paying for the new building, so the services were held in the lecture room. “Although the money necessary to build the church was subscribed, some failed to pay because of business reverses, and others on the grounds the the subscriptions were taken on a Sunday and therefore, were not legal.” More than half the entire cost was given by John F. Dravo. In June 1870, the completed part was dedicated, but the debt was not retired until 1880 when the ladies finally cleared it by a loan exhibition which lasted about a month and netted about $1,300.
“The ladies also provided funds for the purchase of a bell, the first church bell ever heard in Beaver; but sad to relate it is not the names of the ladies who raised the funds, but those of the trustees who were men, that appear on the musical sides.” The bell is still in use in the tower of the present church.
A ladies organization known as the St. Hilda Society had been organized in the church to do charitable work and was named after a nun who had been canonized for her good works. (A Sunday School room in the present building is named for this group.) The St. Hilda Society was most instrumental in paying for many of the church expenses, including the bell, and also in paying off the indebtedness of the parsonage built in the early 1900’s.
Life in the 1880s & 1890s in beaver
“During the 1880’s and early 1890’s, the town of Beaver was scarcely more than an overgrown country village, with a population (in 1880) of some eleven hundred souls. Everybody knew everybody else, and if a new family came to town, their neighbors felt it their duty to call on them and make them welcome. There were no factories, no industries; Beaver College was one of the main focal points and the Courthouse was the other. It was a residence town pure and simple, ‘dry’ by special Act of the Legislature, and considered an especially desirable place in which to live; beyond question it was a community above the average in intelligence, moral tone, and public spirit. So many retired ministers came to make their home there that the town was facetiously dubbed ‘Saints Rest’.”
During the period of the second church on the park site the General Conference extended the tenure of a pastor to a maximum of three years in a given church, and 11 pastors served in that second church.
In December 1885, the church was damaged by a fire from an overheated furnace, but the loss was covered by insurance and the building was repaired and remodeled.
The Move to college avenue
Once again the question of a new church building was raised, and, after much debate, the congregation bought a lot at Elk (now College) and Turnpike. There were many who wanted the new church to be built on the park site once again, and a farewell service was even held in May 1903, in preparation for razing the building for the new one.
However, the Borough told the trustees they had no right to rebuild in a public park. The matter was taken to court because the original church had been built on land granted by an Act of the Assembly in which the four central parks were to be used for churches, the courthouse, a cemetery and a jail. After almost a year’s legal action, the church was given the right to rebuild in the park, but decided to move in deference to public sentiment as the Presbyterians had done. And so the church was moved to the lot on Elk and Turnpike, next to Beaver College. The lot was 120x120 feet, with an additional plot of 60x 30 feet.
The original cost was estimated to be $30,000 and the contract was awarded to Anderson and Cook. Ground was broken on April 4, 1904, and the cornerstone was laid on July 17th. The last services in the old church were held Easter Sunday, April 23, 1905. “It was a most solemn occasion – double solemn to those of us who since childhood had known no other church home. The congregation filed out in almost utter silence.”
While the new church was being built, John Dravo had proposed that the Pittsburgh Conference be invited to hold its Annual Conference in Beaver in 1905. Once before, in 1883, the Conference had met in Beaver; but Captain Dravo did not live to see the Conference. His funeral was held in the church the opening day of the session when he had been scheduled to make the address of welcome.
The church expands
With the growth of the church through the years, the building, and particularly the Sunday School space, was inadequate. To gain more space the Hammond house next to the church was bought in 1946 and used for classrooms. During the pastorate of Dr. Clifford Buell, the house was torn down and an educational unit was built in 1961.
The educational unit has four levels with a fellowship hall, church offices, classrooms, and the church library. A pre-kindergarten for three and four year olds meets daily in the building as well. One group which was particularly instrumental in the growth of the congregation during those years was the Fireside Class, a Sunday School class that often numbered 100 men and women. Spiritually, financially, and often physically, they contributed to the church.
Under the pastorates of the Revs. Frank Snavely, Wayne Price, William R. Wilson, Dennis Henley and Ralph Cotton, there have been a number of major improvements, including the remodeling of the sanctuary in 1968 and the church kitchen in 1970. Since then, the room in the back of the sanctuary was renovated into a parlor and chapel room in 1983, and a new heating system was installed in 1987. More recently, Fellowship Hall has been updated with a new stage curtain, window treatments, and chairs. Its kitchen has been completely renovated through the efforts of the United Methodist Women and others.
The United Methodist Women also developed a Bridal/Hospitality Room in the former Men’s Sunday School classroom. This suite includes a sofa, mirrors, and chairs for a bride and her attendants. A new handicapped accessible bathroom is also part of the suite. At the far end of the room a sink with generous counter space and a refrigerator were installed to facilitate the preparation of light refreshments for receptions in the Parlor. Monies from the Memorial Fund were used to help the United Methodist Women with the purchase of some of the furnishings.
In keeping with the opportunities of modern technology, “Prayers in the Night”, a telephone tape devotional ministry was begun in 1967 and continues daily. Audio-visual materials, including videos and books on tape, are readily available for congregational use.
One of the former classrooms along the balcony above the parlor has been turned into a “museum” for our own church history, thanks in large part to the work of the late Laree Riley.
The gift of a three octave set of Malmark handbells by Dr. and Mrs. Clair Merriman in 1987 has added to the music ministry of the Church. In the winter of 1998 a campaign began to replace the 1961 Allen Organ. On June 27,1999, a new three manual digital Allen Organ called the Renaissance 370 sounded in the sanctuary for the first time. The cost of the organ was completely paid at its inauguration, and because of the generosity and faith of our members, enough gifts were pledged to enable the purchase of a new five foot grand Samick piano for the sanctuary.
To maintain our beautiful church building for future generations new steps leading to the tower entrance and a new sidewalk were installed in 2002. A fund for the restoration of the stained glass windows has been established as well.