Pastor helps revive old spirit of church

Photo and story by Dennis Sharkey

Oskaloosa United Methodist Church Pastor Melinda Harwood stands next to one of the stained glass windows inside the Edmonds Chapel at Old Jefferson Town. Harwood attended the original church as a child. Photo by Dennis Sharkey

Oskaloosa United Methodist Church Pastor Melinda Harwood stands next to one of the stained glass windows inside the Edmonds Chapel at Old Jefferson Town. Harwood attended the original church as a child. Photo by Dennis Sharkey

It’s been decades since the old Edmonds Chapel at Old Jefferson Town has hosted community events but thanks to recent renovations the old church is ready for business again.

There will be a special church service this Easter and a morning pancake feed presented by the Oskaloosa United Methodist Church in honor of the building’s new life. Pastor Melinda Harwood hopes the church will return to the prominence it once had.

“It was pretty much the center of the community,” Harwood said.

The church originally opened in 1891 about 4 1/2 miles north of McLouth where K-92 bends toward Leavenworth.

The church stood there for more than 75 years until it was closed in the 1970s and eventually moved to Old Jefferson Town. Harwood’s grandmother, Willo Lobb, was instrumental in raising the funds to move the church.

The church eventually merged with the McLouth United Methodist Church.

According to a report about the church’s 100th anniversary in the Independent’s Sept. 26, 1991, issue there were more than 500 guests at the church’s first service in 1891.

“They eventually became one of the centers for Christianity for the Midwest,” Harwood said.

The church is special to Harwood because it was the church she began going to as a child. She said most of the people who were connected to the church are in their 80s and 90s.

“We’re losing many of our people who were connected to the church,” Harwood said. “There weren’t that many of us as children who began here before the church was closed. No one would have a personal connection unless we revitalized the building.”

Harwood is also personally connected to the church as generation after generation of her family has attended the church. Harwood has a mind full of memories and passed down stories that connect her to the church including the tragic death of her great-grandmother on Christmas Eve. She was killed in a horse-and-buggy accident on her way home from the church to get her family ready for service.

“There are lots and lots of stories,” she added.

Harwood is hoping the new renovations to the church will spur a new interest that will keep the memories of the church’s heritage alive for at least a couple of more generations.

“It’s exciting to see the building come back into use again,” Harwood said.

Harwood doesn’t think the church will be open every Sunday for service but she envisions the building being used more often for community events such as weddings, parties and even the occasional funeral.

Harwood said in the church’s peak it was a social center for many of the area’s residents. Church members came to the church for games, socializing and even to hear what local politicians had to say when it got close to election times. The church was so popular that many famous preachers made their way there to speak.

“We didn’t have television, Facebook and radio like we have today,” Harwood said. “People would come, some of it socially so they could be with other people.”

The church was known for having ice cream socials and that will be the main theme at the grand reopening of the church. In the old days church members would haul a block of ice up to the church and the women would begin to turn the crank to make ice cream.

“They literally made the ice cream that way,” she said.

Two years ago Harwood went to the Jefferson County Historical Society to launch a plan to renovate the church. A campaign was launched at Old Settlers’ Reunion in 2011 and now the renovations are complete. The last time the building had been renovated was in the 1940s.

“The animals had begun to move into the building,” Harwood said.

The church now has a new roof along with air conditioning and heating. The old wood floors were stripped and a new coat of finish shines in the light that comes through the windows.

Harwood said that Historical Society board member Mary Luse commented to her recently that the new building hugs a person when they walk in the door. Harwood couldn’t agree more.

“It does,” she said. “It just hugs you.”

“There wasn’t the energy in it and this gives us the opportunity to bring people in and I think that’s going to be important,” she said.


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Posted by on Apr 16 2013. Filed under The Independent. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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