HIGHLIGHTS FROM FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH HISTORY
Methodism came to western Stark County in 1808 with the arrival of Peter Slusser. His cabin is believed, to be the first building in Tuscarawas Township. Jacob Ground, joined by Joshua Carr, organized the first settlement and the Township was organized in 1810. Joseph Poyser, Peter Johnson, Wesley Hatton, William Henry, Seth Hunt, Thomas Eldridge, William and Thomas Dean, Stephen Thacker, Rev. Josiah Foster, and other Methodists were among the early settlers. Rev. James Dixon en arriving formed the first society in 1810. After the settlement of Kendal, the Kendal Methodists came to the township for worship.
In the winter of 1811, Thomas Rotch and his shepherd, Arvine Wales, each built a cabin in Kendal. The Kendal plat was recorded April 20, 1812. Soon settlers came to the new village. Among these was John C. McCoy, a young man of about 22, a tailor by trade. He was prominent in the business community and as a local preacher. In 1815 he bought a lot, built a home and shop and married Mary Comely en February 11, 1816. His home located on the northwest corner of Rodman and Wales NE became the meeting place of the first Methodist class. It is likely that Rev. Curtis Goddard was the first circuit preacher. Rev. Josiah Foster from the Tuscarawas class preached here every five or six weeks.
About 1820 John C. McCoy and Mary moved from Kendal to settle in Ashland, County on a farm that later became part of Loudenville. Another local preacher, Rev. William Foljambe, and wife Ann, both born in England moved to the area buying a farm in Jackson Township located at what is now the land north and east of the intersection of Brunnerdale and Perry roads. He was “ordained by Bishop Hedding and a very active and useful gospel minister.” In 1822 Thomas R. Ruckle was on the circuit, preaching in the east wing of the “L” house in Kendal.
An early resident of Massillon, C.H. King, tells of the first class here: “In the fall of 1830 or winter of 1830-31, Methodists organized a. class at the house of Mr. (Rufus) Hardy, on the south side of Main street, about halfway between the canal and river, my mother Rachel King, being one of them.” The Methodist used a schoolhouse that had been an “abandoned brewery” or distillery for classes. Joseph Merwin, then a young boy, writes: “In the summer of 1832, the then recently organized class in Massillon of the Methodist Episcopal Church, having secured the use on Sundays of an abandoned brewery, which stood on the east side of Erie Street, just north of Thorne Alley, steps were taken to establish a Sunday school …” (1892) — In 1910 Merwin said: “The first services ever held in a public place in Massillon, and the first Sunday School ever were conducted in an old distillery in North Erie, beginning in 1831. In February of 1833, the first quarterly conference ever held here was held in the old distillery.”
Rev. David Hawkins, a circuit preacher, determined that the Massillon Methodists should have a building of their own and proposed to the Masonic Lodge that the two organizations should build and share a building together. This was against the Methodist church policy at that time. The official rule was, ‘Methodists not to join the Masonic lodge or any other “secret order”‘. The two Massillon organizations acted on his suggestion erecting a two-story building with a basement. The cornerstone was laid June 24, 1840. The Masons used the upper floor and the church on the first floor. The building was located on Factory St., now vacated for the city hall and Charles St. SE, Prior to entering the agreement the church was incorporated in 1343 as the FIRST METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH, of Massillon.
Sunday, January 23, 1842, at 2 PM the first session of organizing a Sunday School was held. Rev. Patrick McCue presented a form of Constitution that was adopted. Officers were elected with Abraham Chestnutwood as President and Adam J. Humberger, superintendent, Miss Harriett Chestnutwood, female superintendent. A small library and other necessary articles were purchased. A person of “good moral character” was eligible to join by contributing 25 cents annually and signing the constitution. Reading, spelling and “Bible Classes” was given. In two years the scroll had 16 teachers, 80 students with yearly expenses of $26.08.
The great revival in the spring of 1843 by Rev. James White increased the membership for the Methodist class to become a station in 1845. It became the first Methodist church in Stark County with a regular pastor. White “possessed a vigorous intellect, a tenacious smile, a vivid imagination, and a strong will. He was a most earnest spirit and this … gave character not only to his words but his manner and voice.” In February 1858 the trustees bought the old Baptist Church for S800 at sheriff’s sale. In July 1859 the Masons bought the Methodist share of their building for $800. The structure, on the northwest corner of First and North Sts., was renovated and dedicated January 22, 1860, by Rev. Dr. J.C. Pershing. With the new building, the Massillon church hosted the Annual meeting of the Pittsburg Conference in March 1867.
In 1882, Rev, Hiram Miller found the church building was in poor structural condition and closed it, declaring it unsafe. A decision was made to build a new church and the present lot purchased for $4800. A new building of “Akron Plan” style, designed by Jacob Snyder of Akron was built and dedicated on January 27, 1889. A new pipe organ was installed, a first for the church. The Town Council requested and furnished $800 in addition to citizen’s donations to place a Town Clock in the Tower. The clock was installed on January 5, 1885. The East Ohio Conference met at First Church in September 1889. The good fortune of the congregation was short lived when someone yelled, “FIRE!”
Friday morning, May 13, 1892, about 1 AM, the sky glowed as the church was consumed by the flames. While firemen fought to save the structure, silhouetted against the fire lit sky the trustees and the pastor, A.R. Chapman, met at 3 AM on the street corner and decided to rebuild, so dedicated was their faith. As debris of remains of the church and clock was being removed, James P. Bailey of Pittsburg was selected as the architect and plans were made to rebuild. The cornerstone of the present church was laid a year to the day of the fire, Saturday, May 13, 1893. A new organ was dedicated June 21, 1895, the gift of the McClymonds family in memory of their mother. The church was dedicated, debt free, June 23, 1895. The new Town Clock has kept time for the city with its four faces for almost a century. The centennial of Methodism in Massillon was celebrated in December 1910, by the First church and the new Wesley church.
In 1921 First Church was the host for the North-East Ohio Annual Conference. Extensive remodeling was done in the basement for a new kitchen, dining room and a gymnasium with a shower room built in the southwest corner of the basement. The lower west entrance to the basement was added. The sanctuary was redecorated, new electrical system and heating installed at cost of $36,400.
The influx of new families after World War II brought about the need for expanding the educational facilities. The adjacent property was acquired and plans prepared by architect Harry Mallalieu for a new educational wing, consecrated December 8, 1957. A new balcony and narthex were added to the sanctuary and redecoration, total cost $281,600. District Superintendent William B. Robinson preached the sermon and Rev. George Beebe conducted the consecration service.