L. F. Koch Recollections

HEPBURN BAPTIST CHURCH
and my
RECOLLECTIONS

Written by: L. F. Koch, Williamsport, PA 1943

Typed, and spelling corrected in 1998 by Rebecca J. Wright

 

This is not written as a history, but only as a few things come to my mind, to set down for others to know. The first religious work in this place according to records was begun in 1844 by Rev. Konrad Fleishman, but my recollections date back to about 1869 when I was about five years old. Mother, sister Mary, and I lived in the little house on the South side of the road, a short distance west of the church. It was owned then by Leonard Ulmer, and it is still standing, though several times remodeled.

Church and Sunday School Services were conducted in the school house, which stood about midway between the present school house and church. In the very beginning services were held in private homes. There was an orchard where the church and parsonage now stand. Leonard Ulmer, John Ulmer, Abe Miller, and Bill Stoltz were the leaders. The women were my mother, Margaret Ulmer, Katy Ulmer, Sarah Miller, Tilda Bower, and I think Sarah Spotts, and Margaret Dangle. There were others, but I don't recall their names.

Leonard is credited with organizing the first Sunday School. I don't remember much about Church or Sunday School conduct of those first years, but suppose like other youngsters of that time, I sat with Mother throughout the entire service, and when sleepy, rested in her arms, or on the seat by her side. Some old-timers tell 'us it was not uncommon for a mother to lay a sleeping child. on the floor, under the bench. I saw many sleeping children in church, but never saw one laid on the floor, which, of course, don't mean it was never done! In those days babies were taken to church very young. A few churches had a small room in the rear, connected to the auditorium, with chairs and rockers, to accommodate mothers with small children. Then, and for several years after, men and women sat separate, the men on the right, and the women on the left, and the "kiddies" with mother. When a boy was permitted to sit with "Pop", he felt pretty big.

Our Sunday School, like other rural and small town schools, had no departments as we now have, nor graded lessons. I well remember when they first came into use. We little fry were bunched and packed together on the front seats, three, and four, in seats that were intended for two. Once, when crowded for rooms, Abe Miller gave us a penny each, to sit five in a seat. There was no need for a "Room for Rent" sign on that seat ! It wasn't very comfortable sitting, but we were paid a penny, and to me that was a pretty big piece of money. Sometimes when seating room was scarce, we youngsters sat on the platform, but not "with" the speaker. We turned our backs on the speaker, not with disgust, but from necessity. To have a seat on the platform was usually considered an honor, but we didn't covet that honor. We sat on the floor, facing the audience, with our feet resting on the main floor, (if the legs were long enough), if not, they just hung limp, but not always motionless.

If we reached the school house a little early on Sunday mornings, we chased around outside, but rarely inside until "school" was called. Once Sam Miller fired a green unhulled walnut at me through the open door. Either I dodged, or his aim was bad, anyhow I wasn't there, and the teacher's desk got the walnut. For years it had a walnut-colored rosette half the size of a man's hand on one side. Whether or not Sam Miller made his mark in the world, the teacher's desk long bore mute evidence that he made it in the school house! This, by the way, was the only paint there was, inside or outside of the school house.

 

All services for both Sunday School, and Church, were conducted in German. We beginners had an ABC Book beginning with the alphabet, then words and syllables of two letters, then three, and so on, and ending with short illustrated stories and Bible quotations. Those able to read used Bibles. Some of us learned to read German fairly well in Sunday School with very little outside help. Others went over the same ground for years, and never could read a sentence outside the ABC Book. Every child was given a blue ticket for each Sunday. Three blues could be exchanged for a red, and one red was worth a cent for the purchase of books at the end of the year. Tickets were also given for memorizing scripture.

Our class was compose of: George Ulmer, Sam Miller, Charlie, Frank, and Andy Spoils, and me. Jake Eckerd, Ed Schon, Lew and Gus Edler. Pierce, and Charlie Keiss were soon added. My first teacher was John. Ulmer, a kind, patient, elderly man with a long beard. In a sawmill accident, he had the flesh torn off the end of his right index finger, leaving the bone exposed about a half inch. In time this was worn smooth and shiny, and he used this to point to letters and words in our lessons.

About 1873, Yoney Ulmer, from Anthony, then working on the Bill Stoltz farm, organized a. singing class, made up of most of our young people. Yoney was a nickname, short for Yonadan, German for Jonathan. He was called this to distinguish him from Jonathan Ulmer of our own church He later was a Senior member of the Firm of Ulmer, Ferguson, & McCollom, a music firm of Williamsport. For many years, he was choir leader of Calvary Baptist Church in town. Oh, could those Hepburnites ever sing I There was nothing like it this side of Williamsport

Rev. John Eisenmenger, Tom Shafer, and others were choir leaders in later years.

In the summer of 1875, our Sunday School held a picnic Some of the "Old Church Fathers" thought "pickanic" sounded too secular, so it was called a "kinderfest", German for children's feast. We met at the school house and went together to Shallenmiller's woods, now a part of the Ed Ludwig farm It was a great day, with speaking, singing, and no end to good eats The speaking and singing didn't interest us lithe folk very much, and we hadn't the capacity to hold as much of the eats as we wished, but we did our best. There were no games, so we hade plenty of time to stand around the outer edge, and gawk and stare at people we didn't know. The Anthonyites were our guests, and came in several farm wagons and other conveyances. There were strangers aplenty, so we were busy all day gawking and staring. The next summer, we were invited to a picnic/kinderfest at Anthony. We left the church in the morning in two farm wagons, one pulled by four horses, some spring wagons, and buggies. It was a long ride over rough and dusty roads. It might have been called a straw ride, for there was a little straw in the bottom of the wagon bed, but we sat on bare board seats without backs, and most of us without so much as a blanket under us. But we were young and tough, and it was new country to most of us, so we had much to see and talk about. The picnic was practically a repetition of the previous year. I reached home after dark, tired, stiff, and sore in every joint. After this, the picnic spirit seems to have gone to sleep, for there wasn't another one until 1890, in T. L. Ulmer's grove. After that, they were a yearly event.

Early in the year of 1876, ground was staked out for a new church. The first sign of building was two sled loads of lumber delivered to the site by Dan and Sam Ulmer, from Anthony. While unloading, Sam was struck on the leg by a skidding timber, resulting in ,a fractured bone. He was taken to the Leonard Ulmer home nearby, and remained there until he was well enough o be taken home. The church site adjoined our playground, so when building operations got underway, there was more attraction outside the school house than inside.

One morning a gang of men with picks and shovels, horses, and wagons, started digging the foundation. At noon Mrs. Ulmer had them at her house for dinner. Tools, of course, were left on the job After we had swallowed our lunch, on which no time was wasted, we started to do our bit on the new church. We loaded the wagon with all it would hold, then piled big stones on top of the side boards, and piled on more dirt. Those of us with the biggest feet, got on the top and packed it down, while others kept piling on dirt as long as a shovel full would stay on the wagon.

Even the girls lent a hand. Pete Bower elected himself foreman, and saw to it that the wagon was well loaded. When the men returned to work, we were in the school house loading up with knowledge, though it must be admitted that we never loaded our heads as weel as we loaded the wagon. Just what happened outside, I didn't see, but it was said that it was quite interesting. No two horses in the United States could have moved that load of dirt, and none tried! William Ulmer drove his father's team, and it was a good one, but not good enough. After unloading part of the load, they gave it a try, breaking the harness, and they unloaded more dirt, and tried again. After John Dykens and several others had each taken a fresh chew of tobacco, every man helped pull, push, lift, and grunt, and the load went out. Not one man thought of extending us a word of thanks, but we got many dirty looks instead. It was said a few unorthodox gentiles even sneaked a little mild profanity! I felt half sorry that I helped to make so much trouble, but way down in my heart there lurked a little secret satisfaction that I had a part in "building" the church on the very first day.

Isaac Kurtz of Williamsport, was the contractor, but being tied up with other work, after getting the job started, he turned it over to Chris Auch, who remained in charge until it was completed. There were other carpenters whose names I don't know. George Gehr and John Schreiner did the stone work, and Gottleib Ulmer was tender, Elias Shafer, plasterer, and a man by the name of Eckrod, orEckenrod, the painter. Everything went along smoothly, and early in the fall, the new church was dedicated with an appropriate ceremony that ended in an old-fashioned love-feast in the evening. Love-feasts have long since gone out of style. They used to be a regular feature of the Susquehanna Union, much like a Methodist-type meeting, with speaking, singing, prayers, testimonies, and lasted two or three hours, or more. Light refreshments were served, and a social hour was enjoyed as well. I might mention that the entire community was proud of the new church. It did look pretty nice painted snow white, with green blinds, and a neat square picket fence in the front, and on the sides, also painted white. Some of our good people wanted a name for the church. Abe Miller proposed Pleasant Valley, which was suggested to him by a traveling man, who occasionally passed this way. It had a pleasant sound, and was adopted. But how an English name was made to fit a German Church isn't quite clear to me.

About 1880 the Pleasant Valley Congregation bought an organ. Few country churches owned organs, and there were few in private homes of moderate means. It was a great event for Pleasant Valley when the organ was installed. S. A. Mingle, for many years, operated a music store on West Fourth Street near Pine Street, in Williamsport. It was near Green & Eves, a grocery store on Pine Street, about where Kresge's now is. Both Mingle, and Mr. Gree, were good musicians, often singing and playing at local entertainments. When they heard someone say school or church organ, they got on the job. So when Pleasant Valley got organ-minded, a community meeting was arranged for an evening, and Mingle and Green were in hand. They played and sang, and sang and played, and our people sang, and we almost forgot to go home!

For some time, there was a problem finding an organist. There were few organs in the neighborhood, hence, few players, and those that did, were just beginners. Elias Ulmer was the first, and later Susie Ulmer, and Sadie Spotts, Christine Beideispacher, etc. I don't rememberpast that.

The first baptism, I was told, was in a dam built for that purpose in the. run near the John Ulmer house, now owned by Oscar Wright. Various make-shiftswere used, sometimes a dam was built in the run about a quarter mile south of the Leonard Ulmer home. A number were baptized here on Easter Sunday, 1875. It was a beautiful sunny day, but there was plenty of snow that was melting rapidly, making sloppy roads, and water running everywhere. It was said several rowdies had planned to open the gate at the mill dam a short distance above, thinking the extra rush of water would wash out the dam while the baptismal ceremony was in progress, but the didn't, and everything went as planned. Later, the mill pond, about a quarter mile from the church was used until the mill burned about 1879 or 1880. From then, until the Bapistry was built in the church, various ponds did service.

Rev. Andrew Henrich was Hepburn's first pastor. I barely remember him, but do remember his daughter, Lydia. She was a great pianist. Leonard Ulmer had the only piano within miles, and when Lydia came to visit Hepburn, (the Henrichs' lived in Williamsport), she played in Leonard's home. It seemed to me that her music was almost heavenly. Our home, being nearby, caused me to cook up all kinds of excuses to spend as much time as possible at the Ulmers' when Liddy was there. She was very nice to me. It is told of one of America's great musicians, that when he was a bare-foot boy, while after cows on  Sunday evening, passed a house occupied by some city folk, and someone was playing a piano: This was the first he had ever heard. He forgot about the cows, ans sneaked up to the house, to the steps, then up on the porch, and a little farther, until he stood in the open doorway. A girl was playing, and he stood enchanted. After a little while she turned, and seeing him in the open doorway, she snapped, "Get out of here, you little raga muffin. How dare you come in here with dirty feet ?" That was something he never forgot. That very night he made up his mind that someday he would own a piano, and would play for everybody, especially the poor children. It was only a wishful dream, but it came true. Not so with Liddy and me, for I was only five years old, but I was bare-footed, and a little shabby, as bashful and backwards as any country boy could be. Liddy had me stand right by her side, by the piano. I gawked with my mouth wide open, amazed to watch her fingers play over the keyboard, quivering and trembling like aspen leaves. I stood enchanted as the other barefoot, boy, but I never became a musician like him.

But to get back to my story, Rev. W. H. Kunkle succeeded Rev. Henrich in 1869, and was the first preacher within my memory. In addition to Hepburn and Anthony, he served several other churches. His home was in Anthony, and when roads were too bad for him to keep his several appointments, he went horse-back. In my early boyhood days, I was "preacher shy". I felt that preachers were holier than average mortal man, and 1 felt awed in their presence. But I loved Rev. Kunkle, and felt perfectly at ease in his presence, and enjoyed his visits. Years after he left Hepburn, when I was in my early teens, we sometimes met on the road, and he remembered me as well as I did him. He always took the time to shake my hand and inquire, "How are you? How is Mother and Sister ?" In later years, he gave up the ministry and became a practicing physician in Newberry.

After Rev. Kunkle, Rev. C. Poelman came in 1872. He was from Canada, and also served several churches. He resided in Warrensville, and served Warrensville, Hepburn, Rose Valley, and Fairfiled churches, which meant he had two or three services every Sunday, miles apart. He was a fine man and was well-versed in scripture. During his ministry a goodly number was added to the church. He was succeeded by Rev. Eisenmenger in 1875, who was also a Canadian. He was more serious than Rev. Poelman, who had a dry humor. He looked with disfavor on some of the young people's conduct, but still retained the respect and good will of the young as well as old. He was a good musician and revived the slumbering talent of our people, which had waxed a little dull. Those were the days of old-fashioned revivals, and everybody attended, saints and sinners alike, and he could really stir them up. He preached the gospel straight without mincing words. Perhaps one of the greatest revivals in the history of the church up to this time, took place during his ministry. He resigned in 1887, having served the church 12 years.

Rev. A.L.Tilgner, from Wisconsin, succeeded Rev. Eisenmenger in 1887. He was a new man to the ministry, and this was his first charge, where he was ordained. He was well received, and probably had a better standing with the younger element than either of his predecessors. Up until this time, all services were in German, but our English Sunday School Class. During revivals, and other special occasions, some English sermons, and songs were sung. There had always been a few in our neighborhood who understood little, or no German, and for their sakes there had long been agitation for some English. Rev. Tilgner, who was German, also did well in English, so he accepted the call to our church. For several years there were both German and English services, but as the older members became fewer, and the younger members increased, German was dropped entirely. During his ministry, the church prospered, and a goodly number were added.

.In the spring of 1891, I moved away, and personal contact with the church ended, but not my interest. The church has been remodeled, and it's surroundings have changed. But most of all the people have changed. Few of the old members are still living, and most of the younger members are strangers to me, but a visit to the old home church is still a joyful occasion.

I touched only a few high spots that came to mind, to tell of the hardships, and discouragement endured by a little handful of faithful consecrated workers who organized and built up the church and kept it going in it's early years. To tell it all would sound like fiction to the present generation and would make a long story. There were no smooth, hard-surfaced roads, and men, women, and children, often walked four or more miles to get to church, while carrying small children. Ministers traveled winter's cold, storms, and snow, as well as summer's heat, mud, dust, and stones, going many miles between their charges on horseback, sled, or buggy. It was hard, hard work, and little pay, but they had their satisfaction in knowing they were doing the Lord's work, and that their names were written in a book up in Heaven, where a rich reward will be given to all who have kept the faith, and worked so faithfully that others might live here in Pleasant Valley and go to church.

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