On Saturday August 18, 2018, a group of us met at the Historical Society parking lot and made our way south of Indiana to visit two historic churches in Indiana County. The two churches have what can be described as a friendly feud: which church is the oldest? Bethel or Ebenezer? At each church the group had a church representative to give a tour of their church and grounds along with a the history about the grounds, the building, and even the cemeteries.
The oldest recorded history of Bethel Presbyterian Church began on April 15, 1788 with a barn owned by Major James McCombs, where the first church services were held. In 1797, a log cabin was built on the church grounds and used as the church for many years, until a frame structure was built in 1842. The present building was built and dedicated on August 29, 1886 for a cost of $3,000. There were no more major renovations to the building until 1957 when a basement was installed for a cost of $12,000. Another major renovation came in May of 1993 with the dedication and addition of the Educational Wing for a total cost of $145,000.
There is some sadness in the church’s history when the minutes of the church were destroyed by fire, not once but twice: in 1933 and again in 1935. Unfortunately, in 2005, the records were lost once again due to a burglary of the church. During the burglary, three suspects stole the office safe which contained records of members and their baptisms, weddings, and funerals. The safe was found later in a farm pond, but all the records were burned including the session minutes that dated from August 18, 1935 through the time of the burglary. Thankfully, a member of the church was able to complete some of the record restoration.
Ebenezer Presbyterian Church is an impressive two-story brick building, with the main sanctuary located on the second floor of the structure, originally only accessible by a set of stairs in the back of the building. Interestingly enough before the current structure was built, the former structure was turned the opposite way, with the front door facing toward the hillside, and every Sunday it was one person’s job to stand guard to watch for Indian attacks. The structure has remained the same with a few modifications over the years. One of the major modifications was the removal of the pews on the first floor (yes this church had two sanctuaries) the reason being it was easier to only heat the first floor during the winter months. The impressive sanctuary boasts the original gas lights, although modernized for electricity; along with the original wooden pews. Ebenezer has a unique feel inside with the large stained-glass windows along with the high ceiling; walking inside takes one back to a simpler time.
Buried in the Ebenezer Church is John Montgomery, for whom Montgomery Township, Indiana County is named. Mr. Montgomery was born in 1759 in the County of Antrim Ireland and came to America in 1774. He enlisted in the Army in 1776 and was attached to the life guard of General George Washington in which he served until the end of the war. John Montgomery died at the age of 81 on November 11, 1840. In his will he left $75 to the Ebenezer Sabbath School for a library. At one time the Federal government offered to move Montgomery’s remains to Arlington National Cemetery, but the residents of the town refused their offer, wishing John Montgomery to stay at Ebenezer.
We thank everyone who attended the tour and remind you to watch the Society’s newsletter and social media for upcoming events.