Local church celebrates 200 years

By Alice Craig - For the Record-Herald

Bloomingburg Presbyterian Church’s plain New England-style exterior in September 2016.

Bloomingburg Presbyterian Church’s plain New England-style exterior in September 2016.

There are not many present-day Fayette County institutions that are at least 200 years old, but Bloomingburg Presbyterian Church is one of them. On Sep. 17, 2017, the congregation and former members, pastors and friends will assemble to honor the church’s 200th anniversary, re-dedicating it to its mission since 1817 of serving its faithful and its community.

It was the new century of the 1800s. Ohio was founded in 1803; First Presbyterian Church was organized the next decade in Washington C.H.; and Bloomingburg Methodists had also established a church. When Bloomingburg was being laid out (as “New Lexington”), the village’s prospects looked promising enough that some settlers hoped it would even be named the county seat. So in Nov. 1817, 26 people met in the log barn of Col. James Stewart just north of the village to sign a charter for a Bloomingburg Presbyterian Church.

The fledgling church benefited right from the start by sharing a pastor with the Washington C.H. Presbyterians; but after three years of a dual ministry, the Rev. William Dickey decided—for reasons undocumented but suspected (look for a subsequent article about BPC’s Underground Railroad connections)—to concentrate on Bloomingburg. Men of the latter congregation hitched oxen to wagons and literally moved in 1820 not just the furnishings, but also their minister’s actual log cabin itself from Washington C.H. to Bloomingburg. Working 40 long, industrious years, the first minister, “Father Dickey,” holds the honor also of being Bloomingburg Presbyterian’s longest-serving pastor.

The current building on Wayne Street is actually the third structure that previous congregations had built in which to worship. In fact, with the core of the building dating back to 1847, it holds the honor of being the oldest structure in Fayette County still serving as a church.

Originally a one-story frame building, the church was enlarged most dramatically in 1870: in an engineering and architectural achievement for that time, the roof was raised and a second story was put on top of the existing one. Nearly 100 years later, in 1965, the vaulted ceiling was dropped to a more modern (and heatable) level.

Another major addition to the building occurred in 1952, when a concrete-block addition called “the annex” (a “fellowship hall”) was constructed mostly by the manual labor of church members. This writer retains fond early memories of roller skating and square dancing in that spacious room; but the actual purpose had been to provide Sunday school classroom space and a large kitchen. Today the annex is the scene of social hours prior to each Sunday worship service, plus occasional wedding receptions, family reunions, or the like.

Because Presbyterians are known to be proud of the importance they ascribe to education, it is appropriate to add in this introductory article that education was a field in which the BPC figured prominently in its first half-century of existence. When the will of that same Col. James Stewart who had housed the first services in his log barn was read upon his death in 1862, it designated money and ground for an academy north of the village. (Yes, the same location—although not the same building—as the later Bloomingburg School/Miami Trace Junior High).

Bloomingburg Academy, supervised by the Bloomingburg Presbyterian Church’s elected leadership, existed from 1865 until it changed to a Normal School, and then to a Common School. By 1914 a four-year course of study had been instituted. This writer is one of two surviving BPC members (David Cook is the other) who also were members of Bloomingburg High School’s last graduating class in 1962; once the new Miami Trace campus was completely centralized in the 21st century, the crumbling old brick building in Bloomingburg—complete with its notorious bats and asbestos—was razed.

Thus schooling is no longer available in the village. For about a decade starting in 1991, however, it was the Presbyterians’ annex that housed a permanent satellite operation of Fayette County’s Head Start program, providing Bloomingburg-area youngsters with a healthy, stimulating educational foundation. And even earlier, during a year when Bloomingburg School was overcrowded, it was this church that had accommodated two elementary classrooms in the annex.

Subsequent articles during this 200th-anniversary year will focus on topics such as Bloomingburg Presbyterian Church’s Underground Railroad connections, musical traditions, and service to the community. But right now pencil Sunday, Sep. 17, onto your calendar—the public will be welcome to spend an interesting, entertaining afternoon in the historic church.

Bloomingburg Presbyterian Church’s plain New England-style exterior in September 2016.
https://www.recordherald.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/27/2017/02/web1_20161031_151347.jpgBloomingburg Presbyterian Church’s plain New England-style exterior in September 2016.

By Alice Craig

For the Record-Herald