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Early Methodists answered city's educational prayers

from the archives of The News-Sentinel

This is the 210th anniversary of organized Methodism in North America, and Fort Wayne is one of the earliest Methodist centers.

A 10-story pylon, with its carillon of four bronze bells, marks the First Wayne Street United Methodist Church at 300 E. Wayne St., and is a fitting symbol of the 160-year Methodist tradition in Fort Wayne. First Wayne represents the reunion, since 1968, of two of the city's oldest congregations, which had been formed in 1849 from a division of the original Methodist church here.

Methodist preachers were in Fort Wayne as early as 1824, when the Rev. James Holman came from Boston to join his brother, Joseph. James settled on a farm just west of the St. Marys River, where he preached the first Methodist sermon in the area.

Another brother, the Rev. William Holman, also came to preach briefly in Fort Wayne in about 1825. A "class of five" was the entire Methodist congregation. Fort Wayne was then only a missionary station, and in 1830 it was governed by the Maumee Mission of the Ohio conference. In 1834, the Indiana Conference was formed, with Fort Wayne as a mission and center of the large northern Indiana Circuit that included Logansport and South Bend.

Black-clothed, circuit-riding preachers went from one settlement to the next. Most were uneducated and some were illiterate. But because there was an abundance of these zealots, the Methodists, like the Baptists, grew more rapidly on the frontier than other denominations such as the Presbyterians and the Congregationalists.

Mission becomes stable

Under the pastorate of the Rev. James Harrison, from 1834 to 1836, the mission in Fort Wayne strove to become more stable and build a church. The leading layman, Samuel Edsall, persuaded the Ewing brothers, George and William, to give the Methodist Circuit a lot on West Main Street on the condition a church be built there (west of Webster Street, on Main's south side).

Only the frame was raised by 1837 when funding ran out; the next year a roof was put on, but again the funds were not sufficient to finish the job. The building remained in this condition until 1840 when it was abandoned. During these years the Methodists used the Presbyterian schoolhouse to meet.

In 1840 under the talented Rev. Jacob Colcleazer and a new board of trustees, a church was erected quickly at Berry and Harrison streets, and was known as the Berry Street (or First) Methodist Church.

In the nine years that followed, the First Methodist Church was served by one minister after another. Some were well-trained, like George M. Boyd and the outstanding Samuel Brenton (who went on to serve in Congress), while others like Howly Bears were . . . well, vigorous, at least.

In 1849, the Indiana Conference ordered that the congregation be split, with Harrison Street as the dividing line. The Berry Street church continued to serve those east of Harrison, while a new church, West Wayne Street Methodist, was built at the corner of Wayne and Broadway (dedicated in 1850). In 1968, these two congregations were joined again in the First Wayne Street United Methodist Church.

Originally anti-intellectual, the attitude of American Methodism toward education began to change in the 1830s. By 1845, 59 Methodist educational institutions had been established. One of the most successful of these was Indiana Asbury College in Greencastle, which became DePauw University in 1884.

This was a men's school, and in 1845 the Indiana Methodist Conference determined to have a women's school also. Bids were solicited from various Indiana towns for the site.

The city of Fort Wayne, led by William Rockhill, Sam Edsall, Joseph Edgerton, and ex-Gov. Samuel Bigger, offered $13,000 in cash and 3 acres of land for the campus. Rockhill donated land at the west end of Wayne Street, with 500 feet of river frontage.

In 1847, 15 trustees were appointed, ads for students were printed, articles of incorporation were secured, and one of the largest buildings in Fort Wayne was erected. School began in the fall of 1847 with 100 students.

Traditional teachings

The curriculum was traditional, with a required program of large amounts of Latin and Greek. Mathematics also was a must for "it disciplined the thinking." Essential, too, were courses in drawing, penmanship and music. The president of the college taught the "Moral Philosophy Course," which gave the student the greatest range of study and discussion, from ethics and ecomonics to religion and sociology.

Soon discussion began on whether to make the school coeducational. In September 1850, the school enrolled its first male students although they were treated as a separate division known as the Collegiate Institute for Men. This men's division was formally incorporated as a separate school in 1853, and two years later, the male and female colleges were united under the name of the Fort Wayne College (popularly called the Methodist College).

The Fort Wayne College differed from a modern college in that most of the students were enrolled in preparatory and even grammar-level programs. Very few ever were graduated with college degrees.

College life was strictly regulated. Daily attendance at chapel, Sunday worship, and a weekly "Singspiration," were all required. Smoking, chewing, drinking, Sunday work (or fishing), cards, dancing, "roaming the fields," and frequenting the downtown were forbidden. Ladies might "receive calls" only in the dormitory parlor in the presence of a faculty member.

Noted pupils

Among the most notable students in these years before the Civil War, when the college enrollment was as high as 300, was Henry W. Lawton. He became a career soldier and a model hero of the later 19th century. He fought in many of the major campaigns of the Civil War, winning the Congressional Medal of Honor. In the 1880s, he was instrumental in securing the surrender of the Indian leader Geronimo. A general by the time of the Spanish-American War, Lawton was killed in the Philippines in 1899.

Another student, a product of the Methodist African missionary work, especially touched Fort Wayne and the college. Prince Kaboo of the western Liberian province of Kru was born in 1873 and suffered as a child in the local tribal wars. Coming under the missionary influence of a Miss Knolls , a former student of the Fort Wayne College, Kaboo was converted and took the Christian name of Samuel Morris, in recognition of a Fort Wayne banker who supported the Liberian mission.

Determined to be educated in a Methodist school, Morris came to the United States and entered Fort Wayne College in 1892. He had a charming personality and a zealous religious vocation.

The next year, Morris became ill and died. The touching story of Samuel Morris' conversion, his zeal for education, and his untimely end was widely told and attracted numerous new students and large donations.

When the college left Fort Wayne in 1894 and moved to Upland to become Taylor University, another major Methodist institution began: Hop Hospital, at Barr and Washington streets, was the forerunner of today's Parkview Memorial Hospital.

--July 4, 1994