from Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society Collections Volume 18 (1892) pages 471-484
1840 SEMI-CENTENNIAL ADDRESS 1890
DELIVERED AT THE SEMI-CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION OF THE ORGANIZATION OF THE BAPTIST CHURCH OF PORTLAND,
MICHIGAN, JUNE 6, 1890.
BY ALBERT F. MOREHOUSE.
This day we occupy a position-an eminence never before attained from which we are to look back through the vista of the past half century, and from its experience, draw lessons of instruction, of admonition, hope, and trust in God for the future. To me is intrusted the duty (and it is a pleasant one) of drawing aside for the time, the intervening curtain of the past, and truthfully and as vividly as I may, present the principal events in the history of this church, from its organization to the present time. God grant me a ret4entive memory, that I may do it in a manner acceptable to Him, and interesting to you. This church is an offshoot of the Baptist church of Walled Lake, Oakland county in this State, since all its constituent members brought letters of dismission from that church. A meeting of Baptists, members of this denomination, was held May 2, 1840, in the log school-house below the railroad station near the stock yards, for the purpose of taking steps for the organization of a Baptist church. The meeting was opened by reading a portion of scripture, singing and prayer, after which Joseph Munn was chosen moderator and John Brown clerk. Dean M. Tyler, Sr., Washington Z. Blanchard, Isaac E. Tyler and John Brown were elected a committee to prepare a code of articles of faith to report at a subsequent meeting to be held June 6, 1840. The meeting on the adjourned day was opened with devotional services as before. The committee reported articles of faith and practice, and a covenant. Eleven letters from the Baptist church at Walled Lake, were read, dismissing Dean M. Tyler, Sr., and Phebe Tyler, his wife, John Brown, and Betsey A. Brown, his wife, Isaac E. Tyler, and Elizabeth Tyler, his wife, Sarah Tyler, Laura Tyler, Caroline Tyler, Joseph Munn, and Matilda Munn, his wife, to which should be added Dean M. Tyler, Jr., whose letter I have, dated March 3, 1839. Brother John Brown, the first church clerk, was usually very exact in recording the proceedings of the church, and it is a marvel that in the records there should be a total omission of Brother Tyler's name, with a single exception, until December 29, 1849 at which time letters of dismission were granted to him and Mary his wife. I am told that previous to the sixth of June Brother Tyler went to Detroit and returned as far as this village on that day, but not until the meeting had adjourned. Brother D. M. Tyler, Jr., was always considered a constituent member and so I have classed him, making twelve members in all. On motion of D. M. Tyler, Sr., it was unanimously resolved, "That we form ourselves into a church to be known as the Baptist church of Portland." The report of the committee on articles of faith and practice, with the covenant was adopted, and this church took a place among the family of christian and denominational churches. Let us now take a view of the field occupied by the new organization. The nearest Baptist church was at Ionia. A few years later we received members from the church at Wacousta, but of its date of organization I have no certain record. In Portland a Methodist Episcopal class was formed in 1838. The Congregational church was not organized until February 1843. No church edifice was erected in the village until 1852. The school-house, of which mention has been made, burned down in the fall of 1842 and there was no other school-house until the old red school-house was occupied in the fall of 1843. At that time, there was no house east of Maple street-indeed no street was opened up the hill for several years afterward. The only access to the red school-house was by a ravine back of the present foundry, where the Methodists' sheds now are, and along the north line of the garden of Rev. D. E. Millard. The only mill for grinding grain was at the old saw-mill, near Grand river, where the power was derived from the water of the Looking glass river, on an old-fashioned flutter wheel. The present flouring mill of Newman & Rice was not used until the fall of 1843, and then the hill in front of the mill came so close to the mill that two teams could hardly pass each other without danger of overturning. Kent street south of Bridge street had the forest trees yet growing, and when the house of Dr. Beers, now the residence of Mr. Gamage was built in 1843, there was then only a wagon track leading to it, and the bushes on each side, brushed the dirt from the wagon wheels as lumber was conveyed to the new building, from which we could hear the sound of the hammer and the saw but could see nothing of the house. During the summer of 1843 meetings were held in the Wadsworth gristmill on the west side of Grand river; but the red school-house being finished that fall, it became the church home for the denominations holding services in the village. By common consent the Methodists used the house one-half of the time, and the remainder was equally divided between the Baptist and Congregational churches, though in addition to those named there was a class of Wesleyan Methodists, and another of the Protestant Methodists, each of which held meetings on the Sabbath afternoons.
In the record of those earlier years, I find such entries as this, "No covenant meeting held today, because of the quarterly meeting of our Methodist brethren," or "As the house is occupied by the Methodist church holding their quarterly meeting our services were dispensed with." This was not intentional with that church, but the district of the presiding elder was so large that it required six weeks to make the circuit, and that official would make his appointments and send them in advance, not knowing of any infringement on the rights of others. While no one was especially to blame, those interruptions became irksome, and services were either given up or held at private houses. On the 27th of December, 1851, a proposal was made by the Congregational church to unite with them in the erection of a house of worship, each church bearing an equal share of the expenses. A similar offer was also made by the Universalist society, except that with the latter we were only required to pay what we were able, of the expenses, and were to own one-half interest in the premises. The church however, voted that under present circumstances, it was not advisable to accept either proposition. On the 21st of February, 1852, the above vote was reconsidered, and a resolution adopted to accept the offer of the Universalist society and unite with them in building a house of worship. The church edifice was built and dedicated, each denomination participating. The Rev. Caleb Rice, pastor of this church preaching, and taking for his subject, "Christ the head of all things to the church." On the 11th of July, 1854, at a special church meeting, it was voted, that if the connection between this church and Universalist society can be amicably dissolved, such disposition be effected and the trustees a were instructed to carry the resolution into effect and to donate to the Universalist society the amount paid by members of this church to the edifice fund. September 2, 1854, the trustees reported that the connection had been legally dissolved. April 28, 1855, the Universalist society tendered to this church the use of their house one-half of the time for the ensuing eighteen months on the sole condition that we pay our own expenses. A similar offer was also made at the same time by the Congregational church for the use of their house for one year. Both offers were gratefully accepted, and as for the first time in our history, we had a resident pastor, (Rev. S. P. Town) our services were held every week. This arrangement did not however bring with it all the satisfaction anticipated. On the day appointed the church would be present at the Universalist church, which would also be attended by their membership, but on the next sabbath the church as a body would hold services at the Congregational church, while the Universalist church would be attended by them alone and such Baptists as had lost their calculations as to arrangements. The Universalists were inclined to look on this matter as straining the comity of the mutual agreement. They thought that as they were present at our services, we ought to attend theirs. Another embarrassment arose from the casual absence from service of any of our members, and during the week following, meeting some other member would inquire if next Sunday was Universalist or Congregational Sunday, and they began after a time to ask if we were never to have a Baptist Sabbath. In April of this year the Messrs. Newmans had offered the donation of a building site on the south side of the public square, which was located east of the Universalist church, and on the seventh of July the trustees were instructed to execute a bond to the Messrs. Newmans binding the church to build a house of worship within three years, and the bond to be delivered on receipt of the deed. A committee was appointed to prepare a plan and specifications for a house thirty-eight by fifty-two feet in size and of brick. The brick were engaged at $5 per thousand but owing to the difficulty of getting them, on December 15, 1855, the church voted to build with wood instead of brick. Nothing more was done until April 11, 1857, when a contract was made with T. J. Hitchcock to do the work of building a house of worship for $300, and he to furnish glass for the windows. January 14, 1860, the building committee reported that the house was finished and accepted. The house was not however paid for, and on February 16, 1861, the committee reported a debt of $526.02. January 4, 1862 the debt was reduced to $248.86. May 3, 1862, the church voted to deed one hundred feet square where this house stands for $200 of the debt and assess the remainder on the membership. I find no further record, but the land was never conveyed, and the $200 was paid to the erection of the parsonage which was built where this house now stands.
The first church edifice becoming too small to accommodate the congregation an addition to it was made on the west side which, though unsightly in appearance, for a time answered its purpose, but becoming convinced that it was a duty, the church took measures for the erection of this house we now occupy. I regret the almost total silence of the records on this important subject, but the fact remains that the basement walls of this edifice were built during the autumn of 1875. An examination of the work the following spring proved the necessity of rebuilding them, and the corner stone was laid with appropriate services June 16, 1876. That year the house was inclosed, and the year following was finished, and dedicated October 28, 1877, at a cost of $17,456.67. Though the house was occupied it was not paid for, and a troublesome debt of several thousand dollars with constantly accruing interest rested upon us, until December 18, 1887, the church celebrated the payment of the last dollar of debt incurred in the erection of this house. May no occasion hereafter arise, when it may be necessary to place another mortgage on the premises.
Now, let us contemplate another branch of our subject. The first pastor was Rev. Moses Clark, who with his wife, in April, 1842, joined the church from Wacousta, and he appears to have been licensed to preach, though not ordained, as I find on record a request to the church at DeWitt "that they as soon as possible attend to his ordination." February 6, 1841, the committee reported to the church that they had secured the services of Brother Clark, for one-fourth part of the ensuing year for one hundred dollars. One year later the committee reported the pastor's salary as paid for that year. In May, 1842, Elder Clark and D. M. Tyler, Sr., were appointed delegates to the Shiawassee association, with which the church was then connected. Elder Clark appears to have imbibed the sentiments of the Millerites, and his connection with the church terminated April 29, 1843. During the summer of 1843, the church had the ministrations of Rev. Mr. Sangster of Ionia, as the records say, "for the present." When he discontinued his labors, the records do not inform us, but my recollection is that he preached for us one-fourth of the time for about a year. He was never a member of this church. Our next pastor was Rev. Alfred Cornell of Ionia, and the first record of him, was January 3, 1846. Elder Cornell did not then reside in Portland, and there is no record as to length of his pastorate, but I think we enjoyed his services once in every four weeks until the autumn of 1849. In February, 1850, Rev. Caleb Rice entered on his ministry with us. He was never a member of this church, nor did he reside here, but on his farm at Roxand, and he preached for us once in every four weeks until February 23, 1855, a ministry of just five years. His successor was Rev. Samuel P. Town, from Eaton Rapids. He had been licensed to preach but was not then ordained. He was, with his wife received into membership May 12, 1855, and was ordained February 6, 1856, the services being held in the Universalist church. In July, 1859 his pastorate terminated and letters of dismission were granted to him and Mrs. Town. The church remained without an under Shepherd until August 4, 1860, when Rev. James G. Portman, residing at Lyons, consented to preach for us one fourth of the time at a salary of one hundred dollars per year. The following June he resigned. Then followed an interregnum and we had no pastor until April 15, 1863, Rev. David Osborn assumed the pastorate until May 6, 1865. The following month Rev. Harvey Pettit settled with us as pastor and labored acceptably until April 1, 1871, when he resigned. From September 2, 1871 to March 2, 1872 no record is preserved, beyond the fact that the covenant meetings were regularly held. Daring this period Rev. Alfred Cornell commenced his second pastorate, as I find on the last named date a committee was appointed to settle with the pastor as to his salary. Elder Cornell's pastorate continued until February 9, 1877, when he resigned. He was succeeded by Rev. Asher E. Mather, May 5, 1877, whose acceptable services will be so well remembered by every one present. He filled the pastoral office until April 25, 1882. The next incumbent was the stalwart Rev. Isaac N. Carman who labored in the ministry with us until September 30, 1886. Rev. Albert H. Jessup accepted the call of the church and entered into his pastoral office December 19, 1886. On the 30th day of September, 1888, he resigned and removed to his present residence at Wooster, Ohio. We were without a pastor until February 9, 1889, when our present pastor, Rev. Samuel G. Anderson entered on his labors with us.
Now let us survey another feature in our history. The number of constituent members were twelve. The whole number received of which I have authentic information is four hundred and eighty-one. Of this number two hundred and twenty-four have been by baptism, and two hundred and fifty-seven by letter and by relation of experience. Our present number being one hundred and seventy-seven by actual count. Sixty-two have deceased, one hundred and sixty-seven have been dismissed to unite with sister churches. During the pastorate of Elder Clark seven were baptized and twelve were received by letter. By Elder Cornell's first pastorate one was baptized and fourteen received by letter. I have personal recollection that Elder Cornell also baptized others, but I think it was because of personal preference with the candidates, and the fact that his successor resided so far away in another county. During the pastorate of Elder Rice three were received by baptism and twelve by letter. During the ministry of Elder Town nineteen were baptized and thirty-two received by letter. While Elder Portman was with us three were received by baptism and six by letter. Under the care of Elder Osborn nineteen were baptized and eighteen received by letter. Rev. H. Pettit baptized thirty and received forty-eight by letter. Elder Cornell's second pastorate forty-nine were baptized and forty-two received by letter. By Rev. A. E. Mather forty-eight were baptized and twenty-four received by letter. By Elder Carman forty-two were baptized and fifteen were received by letter. During the pastorate of Rev. A. H. Jessup, which was quite brief, seven were received by letter, but none were baptized. The present pastor has baptized three and received five by letter.
The faithful labors of those several pastors are by no means to be estimated by the numbers converted under their ministry. For the first fifteen years, we had no resident pastor, and during those years the number received on profession, only doubled the number of constituent members. I do not in this include those received by letter. But residing elsewhere, and coming to us only once a month their advantages were of necessity very limited.
Residing here a portion of the time and in this vicinity nearly all the time, participating in, and enjoying the greater portion of those years of blessing, I wish I could reproduce and set before you, as vividly as they are impressed on my own memory the experience of those years. Beginning at the meetings held by Elder Town at the Taylor school-house in 1856, when the house was filled every evening of the week, and when he was taken ill continued by Elder Cornell and then because of the increasing interest transferred to this village, and meetings were held every evening in the basement of the Universalist church under the pastorate of Elder Town, ably supported by Elder Cornell and William R. Connelly, and resulting as before stated in the conversion of nineteen souls during his pastorate. Nor was the presence of the holy spirit lost during the brief ministy of Elder Portman-inasmuch as three were converted in those few months-one of whom has become an able minister of the grace of God. Then came Elder Osborn with his impulsive preaching the living word. Who can forget those noonday and four o'clock prayer meetings, when the spirit brooded over them, touching every heart, and nineteen were the trophies of divine grace. Those precious experiences were continued under the services of Elder Pettit, who was accustomed to tell us that we had a higher interest than to be merely entertained, and so often claimed the promise, ôLo I am with you alway even unto the end," and faith and repentance brought forth fruit in the gathering in of thirty believers. Then came the results of the second pastorate of Elder Cornell with his old time energy in advocating the claims of the gospel, with the forty-nine of the saved, as results of his labors. Nor did the holy spirit leave us on the accession of Elder Mather with his cogent, incisive presentation of the truth, and forty-eight were baptised. To him succeeded the analytical I. N. Carman, whose labors were blessed with the conversion of forty-two. Nor are we yet without the witness of the holy spirit, since three have testified of their passing from death into life during the present pastorate. As I remember the past labors of those servants of God, I recall the fervent prayers, the solemn warnings, the affectionate entreaty, yes, and the faithful consecrations which hallowed and sanctified those labors. If we had no other proofs of the faithfulness of our God in the remembrance of his children, surely here is enough to drive away all unbelief.
The traveler visiting one of the palaces of the old world is taken by his guide to a gallery where are suspended the portraits of former sovereigns, painted by the most talented masters of those times. In his examination he comes to a portrait veiled and with the features to the wall. On inquiry he is informed that that sovereign was recreant to his trust, and a traitor to his country. We have sixty-one whose portraits are veiled. They went out from us because they were not of us, for had they been of us no doubt they would have continued. Do you ask if they were believers? I do not know. I only know that they said they believed. We have also had other sorrows, for in our history the tombstones are more numerous than our milestones. I will mention two especially impressive. The first, I have once before spoken of in this place, and now refer to it again as being on that hot day July 13, 1848, when one came here with the declaration, "Deacon Tyler is dead." "What?" was the interrogative reply --"Deacon Tyler is dead," was repeated. It was true. While assisting in the removal of the effects of a sudden summer tempest on his farm, he was stricken to the earth by a falling stub. With a half uttered expression on his lips, his eyes closed forever on the scenes of time, to open on the bright effulgence of God's eternal rest. The news spread rapidly, and on the day of his burial it seemed as if all the residents of this part of the county were present to show their respect to his memory. All hearts were sad, and every eye was directed to the coffin, in which was laid prepared for burial, one universally respected for his integrity, the oldest constituent member of this church and its only deacon; and when oppressed with the sense of the uncertainty of all earthly interests, the young pastor, still in the providence of God spared, and with his head covered with the almond blossoms of age, with us today, when he arose and gave utterance to the plaintive cry of the Psalmist, "Help Lord, for the godly man ceaseth, for the faithful fail from among the children of men," every heart present responded a deep amen. Twenty-eight years later, former residents of our village, who for several years bad been sojourning in the far west more than two thousand miles away, resolved to revisit their former home and the relatives and friends residing here. With quickened pulses every preparation was made, and when seated in the railroad car gave themselves up to pleasant anticipations of soon meeting the loved ones living here. Onward went the train. climbing the mountain side, descending to the valleys, crossing the level plains, pausing at the larger towns, passing through Chicago: every stroke of the piston rod, every revolution of the driving wheel bringing them nearer, until they breathed again the air of Michigan. Relatives and friends here, apprised of their coming, anticipated with equal pleasure the expected reunion. At an early hour one brother repaired to the railroad station. The other, engaged in his 'duties, heard the shriek of the coming engine, and hastily closing his books, left his place of business on the east side of Grand river, ran out to the railroad bridge and passed over its ties. Had he looked behind him he would have known that it was not the passenger train, but only the engine pilot, which that fall preceded by a few minutes the regular train, or had he remained on the bridge he would have been safe, but anxious to reach the station he left the bridge and ran out on the trestle work which then existed at the west end of the bridge, and that act sealed his doom. He was overtaken by the engine, and in unconsciousness hurled outside the track, and when the expected friends arrived a few minutes later, their vision fell upon the mangled body of their brother. To say that the community was shocked does not describe the fact.
John J. Maynard was a brother beloved in this church. He had united with it June 1, 1872, and at once entered into the vineyard to work for the Master. His labors were unremitting and his love for Christ never chilled. When this church resolved to erect this edifice Brother Maynard was second to none in his subscriptions or his labors, and at the date of his death was treasurer of the board of trustees. As a christian, in our prayer meetings, who that ever heard his fervent prayers and exhortations will ever forget them, for they are hallowed in the memory of us all. The result in each of the cases cited was a tragedy. In the one, was an experience ripened by years of faith, of prayer and toil, and though the transition was in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, yet was Deacon Tyler like the ripened grain, gathered in by the reaper to go no more out forever. But with Brother Maynard it was not so. In the warmth of his first consecration, with a zeal that could not do too much for his Lord, he gave all his powers to the work, and while in the rich fullness of a mature manhood, he was not, for God took him. May we not believe that during those few hours of unconsciousness, when earth with all its tinsel had receded in the distance, there came to him, as to Stephen of old, an open heaven, and a gleam of God's glory shining into the soul, and then our brother fell asleep. To human experience such losses are covered by a pall of sorrow deep and poignant, but while the heart is bleeding, the eye of faith looks upward, and the lips respond, "even so Father for so it seemed good in thy sight." Other loved ones have also been taken whose memories are fragrant with the love they bore the Savior, and of whom I should be glad to speak but I am admonished by the time already taken that I must refrain.
God has blessed us by calling at least five of our former members to preach the gospel - Lewis C. Morehouse, Grover Osborn, Marshall Pettit, Dumont Pettit and William R. Connelly, all of whom at last accounts were doing efficient work for the Master. In the war of the rebellion, eight of our number enlisted in the Union army, and all, save one, returned to meet with us again. Brother Daniel K. Rich, whom I had regarded as one likely at some day to fill official position in the church, fell in the battle of Spottsylvania, in May, 1864, with his face to the enemy. The church have elected at various times, in all, nine deacons, the present board, five in number, being full. The attention of the church was at an early date turned to the importance of the Sunday school, and cordially united with others in a union school, in which were several of our members as teachers. Since we have had a house of our own, we have maintained a Sabbath school which is as flourishing today, as at any time in the past, having an attractive library, and reaching out to the regions beyond, contributing to all the objects of church work, one of which has been for several years the education of a young Telagoo, named "Portland Peter," and who it is hoped may by divine grace, develop into an earnest worker for Christ, in his own nation. The church has also been largely interested in the support of missions-foreign, home and State, as well as all others of which we have any knowledge.
Of those who were component parts at our first organization, but two remain, and their slow and hesitating footsteps, all foreshadow the near close of life. Nor they alone, but others of our number. The bending form, the bedimmed vision, and the furrowed countenance, all tell that the frosts of death are gathering around our heads. The fathers, where are they? And the prophets, will they live forever? Let the conflict be maintained but a little longer, let it be mingled with the flame of an ardent consecration, that when we, like our fathers, are called away we may dwell in the presence of the Savior to go no more out forever.
It was this morning a fitting tribute to the memory of the past half century, that the tolling hammer should tell of its having passed away. It was equally appropriate that the tolling should be followed by the cheerful peal of the bell as it rang out its welcome and ushered in the new half century in notes like those calling worshipers to the house of God. Of this new half century I may not speak. In a review of the past how proper that we acknowledge our shortcomings, in the many instances of God's special blessings which have followed us for a full half century like a cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. God has planted this church, when it was but an acorn in the forest, which watered by the dews of the Holy Spirit, and warmed by the rays of the Son of righteousness, has developed into what we this day see. Our dear ones, that we with grieving hearts committed to the tomb are tot dead, they live. They are only gone before. They have gone to the mountains of myrrh, and the hill of frankincense, where the day breaks when the darkness has fled forever. Should the Bridegroom still delay his coming until the full centennial anniversary is rounded out, I hope that 'some who hear me now, will then be present with the precious memories of this occasion, that in the years to come, this church, united in earnest work for Christ, may with greater zeal perpetuate and show forth to the world around it, the power of that grace which has saved us, and made ample provision for a world's redemption-And let all the people say-Amen.
READ AT THE SEMI-CENTENNIAL ANNIVERSARY OF THE BAPTIST CHURCH AT PORTLAND, MICHIGAN, JUNE 6, 1890.
COMPOSED AND READ BY MRS. S. M. WILLIAMS.
We oft have heard the story told,
The place was then a wilderness,
The white men's houses were very
No church bell sounded out the
And did these sons of christian
Not all forgot, for some who laid
True sacrifice ascended there,
Then while they called, the God
With one consent they now arose,
Under the Holy Spirit's power,
'Twas in a school-house built of
Next in a grist-mill standing
From place to place, like those
Then as the voice of one they
And as the years came rolling on,
Then did they find the place too
Then once again the cry went up,
And now God speaks in sovereign
Then with glad hearts they all
Then from the school-house built
Nor has this proved a fruitless
And from this church and Sabbath
The truth of God, firm as his
From here the message has been
Now may the streams flow ever on,
Then glory, honor, praise 'be
Last update December 06, 2012