History of the North Settlement Church

A Brief History of the
North Settlement United
Methodist Church 

Written by Paula Scarey, Margaret Mulford and Dawn Thorpe

Transcribed by Diana Schnettler

This building, the North Settlement Church, was built in 1826 by the members of a Methodist society formed in 1805 under the guidance of the Rev. Seth Crowell, a minister assigned to the Albany Circuit (which then included Windham).[i]  According to the Rev. Elbert Osborn, that society was actually situated in North Settlement rather than in the hamlet of Windham.[ii] By 1824 the society felt the need for a house of worship and circulated a subscription paper to raise the necessary funds.[iii] The building was erected in 1826, and the following year another subscription paper was circulated to raise money to paint the building and rebuild the slips.[iv] The next information about the church comes from a letter published in the Windham Journal:

In the latter part of the year 1856, the inhabitants thought the old edifice must be re-erected or else they could not have service in it, on account of its old and decayed condition. Upon this conclusion, and by the suggestion of the preacher in charge, the inhabitants in the vicinity of the church called a meeting, to get  the expression of the people as to whether they should build a new one, or repair the old one, and also to ascertain how much money they could raise for the purpose of the same. Whereupon they resolved to re-erect the old one, and appointed a building committee of three…. The result was that something over nine hundred dollars was subscribed and paid in the immediate vicinity of the church. It is now finished, and is a very nice comfortable edifice. It was dedicated last September, and I understand is paid for.[v] 

The Rev. W. C. Smith, writing to the Christian Advocate in 1857, described the re-erected church’s interior as having an old-fashioned high pulpit,[vi] and
Rev. W. R. Phinney notes that such a pulpit was “characteristic of the smaller churches which were equipped with galleries, which enabled the preacher to
establish an effective communication with his divided congregation.”[vii] Rev. Smith’s letter continues: 

The next morning [October 1, 1857] was the love-feast [sacrament of Holy Communion]. It was a time of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. The aged
members wept for joy, and gave thanks to God that the time had come when they had a comfortable church, in which they could worship in their old age. There were many present from different parts of the circuit. There were also present some eight or ten preachers, among whom was Francis Burns, late from Africa. This town was the place of his childhood; here he was reared, and here converted to Godviii] Francis Burns was a Negro boy of eight, living in
Albany, when a North Settlement farmer named Bennett Atwood saw him and was impressed; Atwood convinced the boy’s parents that he should be bound over to Atwood to work on his farm. Francis was a witty boy, both clever and intelligent. He came under the special tutelage of the local school-mistress, the daughter of a Baptist clergyman, who taught him the beginnings of the ways and requirements of religious faith.[ix] This Christian upbringing was soon continued by the Methodist society:

As time wore on, a camp-meeting was being held on the farm of Arad Lewis, near, or a little west of the North Settlement M. E. Church. It was at this camp-meeting that young Burns experienced religion. He earnestly sought Christ at this place, and as Burns himself told it, he knelt down by an old stump and earnestly plead with the Saviour to speak peace to his soul.

The glad message came down from heaven and Francis Burns was made happy in a Saviour’s love.[x] Burns continued in Windham, attending prayer meetings (and especially liking those held in the home of Perez Steele), continuing his education at Lexington Heights (later Jewett Heights), and becoming a licensed local preacher on the Windham circuit.[xi] In 1834 he sailed for Liberia with the Rev. John Seys as a missionary teacher to Monrovia Seminary.[xii] We know (from Rev. Smith’s letter) that he returned in 1857, and he returned again in the fall of 1858 to be ordained the first missionary bishop in the Methodist Episcopal church. He was also the first black bishop.[xiii]

The North Settlement Church continued on. Repairs were made three more times during the nineteenth century: in 1869, of an unspecified nature; in 1888, repairs, painting and redecorating; and in 1897, repapering initiated by the Epworth League.[xiv]

In 1936 the Church prepared for an Old Home Day by planting 30 trees to beautify the grounds. Pines were planted at the back, and hard maples along the sides and front. This work was done by Wilbur Finch, Selon Myers and son Gordon, Ernest Blodgett, Harold Conine, Roger Sweet, Claude Cooke, Elwood Brandow,  and Rev. W. L. Comstock. Mrs. Selon Myers and Mrs. Elwood Brandow were also present but made their contribution to work in the interior.[xv] Old Home Days continued to be a highlight of the North Settlement summer schedule for several years, attracting the local residents, former pastors, and former residents.[xvi]

In 1943 major alterations were made to the interior. A new ceiling was constructed at a height of ten feet (the original had been twenty feet high) by Maurice Benjamin, Elmer Hough, and Hugh Jordan. The exterior, including the shutters, was painted, and the interior redecorated, including the painting of the pews, by Walter Vining, Victor Kelly, and Frank Keller. The interior was also thoroughly cleaned by the ladies, and the piano was tuned by Prof. Hassler,[xvii] “so the famous old church which was erected in 1826, is in keeping with the well-kept homes in the valley.”[xviii]

In 1955 a floodlight was installed at the church entrance for evening access, thanks to Mrs. Minnie Naef and Mr. and Mrs. Robert Baron, and a new walk was laid.[xix]

In the winter of 1959-1960 it was decided to close the church from January through March. Starting in 1969 the church was closed from the end of November until Easter Sunday.[xx]

In 1970 the interior was done over by Mr. and Mrs. Robert Knox and Miss Grace Sutton. Mr. and Mrs. Knox painted the walls, including the deep red behind the pulpit, and Miss Sutton painted the entire ceiling.[xxi]

In the mid-1970’s the North Settlement congregation was facing insurmountable difficulties in raising enough money to keep the church going, and the Administrative Board approached the Ashland Community Church about the possibility of merging the two churches. Over many months the details were worked out and the legal aspects of the merger taken care of, and at the Charge Conference in 1976 the merger was approved. The North Settlement Church has survived intact for 150 years. Since the merger, the church has been open for worship on the first Sunday in July each year. It has been the site of a church picnic and a vesper service.

This North Settlement United Methodist Church is an historic edifice. Of the three church buildings on this charge, it is the oldest, and it has been in continuous use as a church since its erection in 1826. Its congregation gave such guidance to a young man that the nation he served as missionary elected him their first bishop, and Francis Burns, once of North Settlement, became the first missionary bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and its first black bishop. For a little country church, it certainly has a lot to be proud of!

Sincere thanks are due to Rev. William R. Phinney. He provided a wealth of historical information which would have been almost impossible for this writer to find elsewhere.

[i] William R. Phinney, unpublished manuscript about the North Settlement Church, written in 1974,  pg. 1.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid., p. 2.

[v] Ibid., pp. 2-3.

[vi] Ibid., p. 4.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] William R. Phinney,  From Chore Boy to Bishop: The Story of Francis Burns, First Missionary Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1970, pp. 3-4.

[x] Ibid., p. 4.

[xi] Ibid., p. 4-5.

[xii] Ibid., p. 5.

[xiii] Ibid., pp. 5-6.

[xiv] Phinney, manuscript, pp. 5-6.

[xv] Ibid., p.6.

[xvi] Ibid., p. 7.

[xvii] Ibid., p. 8.

[xviii] Ibid.

[xix] Ibid.

[xx] Ibid., pp. 8-9.

[xxi] Ibid., p. 9.

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