A Brief Informal History of the New Church in Middleport, Ohio1

Philip and Nan de Maine

New Church Life 112.6. (June 1992): 259–63.


Halfway between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, on the banks of the Ohio River, lie the twin towns of Pomeroy and Middleport, both of which figured prominently in the history of the New Church in the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century.

It all began about 1818 when three young men decided to seek their fortunes in the wilderness of the newly formed state of Ohio. John Sherman, John McQuigg and William Hobart had been members of Rev. Mr. Beers' society in Darby and Spencer, New York. They must have found it an adventure to set off through uncharted lands. Perhaps it was the wide sweep of the Ohio River as it bends almost in a loop around fertile bottomland, promising good farming, that convinced them to settle there.

Eighteen years later they were joined by John Randolph Hibbard. Mr. Hibbard was an itinerant preacher of the Methodist Church, and during his circuit riding he chanced upon a copy of True Christian Religion in a wilderness cabin. One may assume that this lucky find can be attributed to the tireless efforts of Johnny Appleseed. Mr. Hibbard read his newfound book assiduously while riding his rounds, and two years later persuaded his father, Mr. Elisha Hibbard, to join him and break with the Methodist Church.

In the summer of 1817, John Grant, Sr. and his wife Sarah, their son Samuel, a miller, and his wife Hanna with their sever children migrated from the state of Maine. On reaching the Ohio River, they built a flatboat upon which they loaded all their possessions and floated down river until they reached the Pomeroy-Middleport area. They left Maine with only four horses, two wagons and the precious millstone, and traveled for eleven weeks. The lumber from the boat was put to good use to build a shelter until individual houses could be built. Three more children were born to Samuel and Hanna, and they raised seven motherless grandchildren as well.

One of the three later children was William Hull Grant, who eventually married Ester Hobart, daughter of William Hobart. Johnny Appleseed was a frequent visitor in their home where they enjoyed lively discussions about the Writings and the spread of the doctrines throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Many settlers arrived and established themselves throughout the county, and by 1845 they organized themselves into "The Rutland Society." Rutland is a small community a few miles west of Middleport, and this group eventually became known as the Middleport Society. The Rutland Society joined the Western Convention, later the Ohio Association, and was ministered to by a succession of men: J. P. Stuart, E. A. Beaman, Chauncy Giles, Theodore Edson, A. O. Brickman and David Powell. To quote from a later New Church Life (Sept. 1896): "It is especially to the labors of Rev. David Powell that the church here owed the inclination toward an interiorly and orderly reception of the doctrines and the life of the church, which for many years have characterized some of its members."

The highlight of 1871 was the purchase of land and the construction of a simple little chapel which became the focal point of church activities. It twice suffered damage from Ohio River floods (1913 and 1937), but in both instances was repaired and continued to be used.

There are many familiar names listed as members of the congregation, names which have spread throughout the church to the present day. Quite a few families were scattered in the countryside, north and south in rural areas: Boatmans, Eblins, Hobarts, McQuiggs. Winter rains and muddy roads often kept the families from attending services and classes. In the towns the Cooper brothers, James and Lewis, kept a dry goods store, Dr. Edward Davis had a pharmacy, while Thomas Davis (no relation) had an ice and coal business. The Bradburys were it real estate, and the Hobarts had a grocery store. Dr. Arthur Hanlin and his son S. Bradbury were well-loved physicians, and J. S. Boggess operated a machine shop servicing the many) steamboats on the river. Cyrus Grant ran a prosperous salt works, and William Grant owned a flour mill.

The society produced a number of respected teachers in New Church schools, notably Miss Alice Grant, Miss Clara Hanlin Miss Electa Grant and Miss Lucy Boggess (Mrs. Victor Waelchli). It should be noted that at one time in the history of the Academy, all four heads of schools had been born in Middle port: Prof. E. S. Klein, Dean of the College, Miss Clara Hanlin Dean of Women, Prof. R. R. Gladish, Principal of the Boy School, and Miss Dorothy Davis, Principal of the Girl Seminary.

Bishop Benade came to visit in 1876, bringing with him Rev. Richard de Charms to serve as their first resident pastor He remained for about two years and then they were without pastor until 1882 when Rev. Ellis Kirk came to stay for two years. Quoting again from New Church Life: "The influence o the Academy of the New Church now began to be more active in the society. Some of its members became teachers in the schools of the Academy, and some of the children of the church in Middleport attended their schools. Students of the Academy were invited to spend their summers there, and the society thus enjoyed the services of Rev. Messrs. Home Synnestvedt, Alfred Acton, J. B. Boyesen, Charles Doering an R. H. Keep."

To illustrate the activity of summer candidates, Mr. Acton is quoted as holding two evening classes for young men, two afternoon classes on singing in Hebrew, a regular Wednesday evening doctrinal class of thirty-three people reading Brief Exposition, preaching on Sundays when the resident pastor was not on hand, another doctrinal class that evening, and special instruction to the Sunday School teacher! Following Mr. Acton's return to Bryn Athyn, Dr. W. H. Hanlin became the leader of a Sunday evening discussion group and also taught a Wednesday evening group of boys studying Conjugial Love.

In 1894 the society passed a resolution dissolving their connection with the Ohio Association, and two years passed before they were granted membership in the General Church of the Advent of the Lord. During that period they had the services of candidate J. B. Boyesen, followed by candidate C. E. Doering. Finally in July of that year a minister was appointed as a full-time pastor, a Mr. R. H. Keep. The December 1896 New Church Life has a long account of the festivities celebrating the formal recognition of the society, including the baptism of "a man and wife of African extraction, the first colored members of the New Church."

The following year was highlighted by the marriage of Miss Lucy Cooper, daughter of J. M. Cooper to Rev. Charles Doering, Rev. Homer Synnestvedt officiating.

In 1901 it was voted to ask Mr. Keep to continue his services indefinitely, but by August of that year we find that Rev. David Klein had arrived to become resident pastor. Mr. Klein reported enthusiastically his reception, and noted that over sixty people were present at the opening service.

After two years Mr. Klein was called to the Chicago Society, and he was replaced by Rev. W. L. Gladish. A year later a constitution was adopted as required for admission to the General Church.

The next ten years were happy ones except for one sad note which tells of an epidemic of diphtheria which took the life of little Philip Gladish.

There was also a scarlet fever epidemic which disrupted the life of the society for a whole winter, but fortunately spared the lives of the congregation.

In 1914 Mr. Gladish, the last of resident pastors, was called to other uses, and the long period of Rev. F. E. Waelchli's visits began. Mr. Waelchli paid at least one visit a year until 1937, staying usually ten or twelve days each time, noting as time went on, that deaths and removals were sadly shrinking the membership. The decrease in river traffic and the loss of a large steel mill took their toll on the prosperity of the towns, and people moved to larger cities. Finally, after years of faithful service, Father Waelchli arranged with Rev. N. H. Reuter to take over, visiting four times a year.

When there was only a handful left, Mr. Reuter arranged to sell the little building, and the Middleport Society was dissolved.

Footnotes top

1 In January of 1983 we had two articles relating to the history of the General Church in the Cincinnati area. Ed.(of New Church Life)