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 The Early Years of Tom's Creek United Methodist Church

John Fuss Jr.

Although the present Methodist church at Tom's Creek was built around eighty-three years ago, this building in which we are presently worshiping is not the first church to serve the Tom's Creek congregation. It was in 1757 that the first church was built near Tom's Creek.

We do not realize how many years have elapsed since that first log church was built until we consider the events that were taking place during that period.

In 1757 our great nation consisted of only thirteen scattered colonies along the Atlantic coast. Only 123 years before, the Ark and the Dove with about 300 persons had arrived off Blackiston Island, St. Marys County, Maryland, and the first English settlement in Maryland had been made By 1757, the city Baltimore, had only about 20 houses and 100 inhabitants. The first house in Frederick had been built for only 13 years. Two years prior to this time General Braddock and George Washington had beer, defeated by the French and Indians in western Pennsylvania.

This defeat left the frontier settlements of Maryland open to attack by hostile Indians. The famous survey by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, which established the boundary between Maryland and Pennsylvania, did not start until six years after the first log church at Tom's Creek. Nineteen years were to pass before our patriotic forefathers were to declare themselves independent of the King of England.

We should consider the people who built the first church' Most of the early settlers in central and western Maryland were Germans. Many of them had previously settled in Southern Pennsylvania, but as the area became more settled, they pushed southwestward into Frederick County, Maryland. They preserved their native customs, and in some parts of western Maryland, the only language spoken for years was German. These rugged pioneers often found it necessary to fight off bands of hostile Indians. A few families had settled in this area during the 1730's, but it was not until 1740 that the principal migration began.

By most accounts, Robert and Elizabeth Wilson were the first family to settle in what is now the Emmitsburg area. Sometime prior to 1733, they emigrated to the area, choosing for their homestead, land that lay in a gently slopping valley on both sides of Flat Run, which today is known as the Emmitsburg communities of Emmit's Gardens and Silo Hill. They called their homestead: ‘Wilson’s Fancy.'

One of the earliest land barons in the valley was John Diggs. Diggs, a grandson of the Royal Governor of Virginia, was a wealthy Catholic who played a dominant role in the sometimes bloody border dispute between the Maryland and Pennsylvania governments. With ownership of the Chesapeake and the mouth of the Susquehanna, Maryland pressed its claim of what is now Middle Pennsylvania. This remained a dispute that was not settled until the Mason-Dixon line was laid out.

Diggs believed his right to land, based upon his aristocratic standing, entitled him to most of northern and western Maryland. In 1732, Diggs formally claimed, though without any authority, all the vacant land on the Monocacy and its many branches, which included all of Northern Frederick County, including Emmitsburg. In July 1743, Diggs managed to receive title to three tracts of land in the Emmitsburg area, which included the land upon which the original as well as current Tom’s Creek Church stands.  1757, also saw the arrival of Samuel Emmit, who’s son William, founded the town of Emmitsburg in 1785.

In 1757, a Lutheran Church was organized at Tom's Creek with the Reverend George Bager as Pastor. One acre of land was purchased to be used as a cemetery and church property. A log church was erected on the west end of the lot. The Lutherans and Reforms continued to use the church until 1797.

During this period a number of Scottish immigrants came to the Tom's Creek community. They formed a Presbyterian congregation. Their organized worship was irregular, as records indicate that they had no permanent pastor, but depended upon traveling ministers who were sent to them from time to time. There are many who claim that the Presbyterians also worshiped in the old Lutheran and Reform church for a time before their first church by the Gettysburg Road was built, but there are no written records to prove this belief.

In the meantime, a new Protestant group was being established in England and America which was known as the Methodist Society. About 1767 Robert Strawbridge, the third Methodist preacher in America, settled in Frederick County, Maryland. He did not confine his efforts to any one community, but instead he rode around the countryside organizing congregations wherever he went. He would leave these groups under the guidance of a local preacher, who would conduct the services during his absence, With so many scattered churches and the slow means of travel in those days, Mr. Strawbridge could not have been with any one congregation more than four or five Sundays a-year.

There are no actual records to prove that Robert Strawbridge actually founded the Tom's Creek Methodist congregation, but it is safe to assume that it was through his efforts that the congregation was formed. According to tradition, the first Methodist services in this vicinity were held in a barn near Four Points. William Moreland was the Christian pioneer who established Methodism in this community. There are records stating that as early as 1786 he was holding worship services in his home every Sunday and Wednesday evening.

In 1797 the Lutheran and Reform congregations at Tom's Creek built the present Lutheran Church in Emmitsburg. The Methodist congregation under William Moreland purchased the old log church near Tom's Creek from them. They continued to worship in this same building until 1904.

The Lutheran cemetery was not transferred to the Methodists. It is the oldest burial ground in the northern part of the county. During the period of the first settlers in this area, many were buried there in unmarked graves. Many had been buried on that plot of ground prior to its purchase in 1757 for use as a cemetery and church ground. There are headstones dating back to the Revolutionary period. We must remember that there was no stone cutters in the frontier settlements, and therefore only the very rich could afford tombstones.

When the Methodists under William Moreland purchased the old log church from the Lutherans and Reforms, they established a cemetery of their own on the west side of the church. This cemetery is the one located on the west side of the road leading from Route 140 to Four Points. The Lutheran cemetery lies on the east side of this same road. The ancestors of many of the present congregation are buried in the old Methodist cemetery.

Reverend William Moreland was the leader of the Tom's Creek Methodist Church until his death in 1833. He owned and worked the land which in 1954 was owned by George Riffle located on Riffle Road and Hornets Nest Read west of Emmitsburg. Both Reverend Moreland and his wife were linen weavers. He held services in his home and beginning in 1797 also at Tom's Creek. His intentions were to build a Methodist Church in the growing town of Emmitsburg.

This is evidenced by the fact that on April 1, 1805, he and Joseph Harvey purchased Lot No. 53 from William Shields for the amount of $24.00. However, the building of a church was not accomplished until 1833, when he and others purchased two more lots, Nos. 51 and 52. A brick church was built during the summer of that year, but Reverend Moreland did not live to see his now church dedicated One Sunday morning in the autumn of 1833, while on his way to preach at Tom's Creek, this devout Christian passed on to his eternal reward. Reverend Charles B. Young, the Methodist preacher at Gettysburg, conducted the funeral services and William Moreland was laid to rest beside his newly erected church.

Since its erection in 1833, the Methodist Church in Emmitsburg and the Tom's Creek Church have been on the same circuit. For a short while they were member churches of the Gettysburg circuit, and the ministers served from there. The ministers were: 1833, Charles B. Young; 1835, Richard Bond; 1837, Amos Smith; 1839, Henry Furlong; 1840, Josiah Forrest; 1842, Thomas McKee 1844, Solomon McMullen 1846, Thomas Taneyhill; 1848, Horace Holland; 1852, a Reverend Smith; 1853, Jonathan Monroe. In those days each circuit consisted of a number of churches, and so, when possible, assistant pastors were provided. Those serving Tom's Creek included John L. Pitts, J. H. Went, J. M. Richardson, James Brad, Joseph H. Brown, John M. Jones, Leslie Howe, Henry Hoffman, Thomas Reese, Thomas Switzer, R. S. McClay, Hohn Thouch, and Beverly Waugh.

During the year 1856, there being so many Methodist churches in this area, the Emmitsburg Circuit was formed. Initially it consisted of six churches. By 1865, five additional congregations had been added. Tom's Creek apparently was the largest, church, for its apportionment of the circuit budget was greater than any other church. For the year 1857 the total budget of the circuit was $510.00 of which $328.00 was the pastor's salary. A rented house near the Emmitsburg Methodist Church was the circuit's parsonage. The minutes of the second Quarterly Conference, held on July 7, 1866, at Tom's Creek, called attention to the Centenary of American Methodism.

Three years later, the East Baltimore Conference was reorganized, and Tom's Creek became a member of the Mechanicstown (row Thurmont) Circuit. It remained a member of this charge until 1966 when the charge was divided, making Trinity in Emmitsburg and Tom's Creek on a charge of their own.

Pastors during the period of the Emmitsburg Circuit were: 1856, J. H. Monroe; 1858, Elias Welty; 18059, L. D. Herron; 1861, P. B Reese; 1863, John Munroe; 1864, R. C. Haslup; 1865, W. H. Keith; 1867, J. D. Moore.

In reviewing the list of Pastors who have served this church, one must admire the courage and fortitude they exhibited. Men of great faith were required to travel miles and miles by horseback over dirt roads in all types of weather in order to take the word of God to the people. Statistics reveal that the average life of the early circuit rider was just a little over 40 years.

Many of our pastors were later promoted to positions of presiding elders or, as we know the position today, district superintendent. Beverly Waugh, who served Tom's Creek as an assistant pastor in 1849, was later ordained a bishop of the Methodist Church.

The following served the pastorate until the end of the last century: 1870, John Montgomery; 1871, Thomas Cross; 1874, George E. Maydwell; 1877, H. F. West; 1880, E. 0. Eldridge; 1882, Daniel Haskell; 1884, George M. Berry, 1885, Osburn Belt; 1888, D. Davis; 1890, J. F. Gray; 1892, J. C. Starr; 1893, Henry Mann; and 1896, M. H. Courtney.

Articles of Incorporation of the Trustees of the Tom's Creek Methodist Episcopal Church were received for record at the Frederick County courthouse on September 26, 1888. As far as can be determined, this was the first legal incorporation of the church.

From the pastors' reports that were given at the quarterly conference meetings, Tom's Creek was a progressive church during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Attendance here was better than any other church on the circuit. A missionary society had been holding regular meetings prior to 1880. Sunday School was well attended except during the winter months.

But the church lacked a good location. The Sunday School was closed from November until April and often worship services had to be canceled because the road leading to the church was knee-deep with mud or closed by snowdrifts.

By 1890, a majority of the congregation wanted to tear clown the old church which had been built in 1757 and erect a new church at a more central location. However, some of the members objected. It was then decided that the building should be remodeled. New pews were installed, and carpet was placed in the aisles. The small windows were enlarged. An organ was donated by William Gilson. Trustees of the church at the time of these improvements were: N. Stansbury, William J. Troxell, William Fuss, J. A. Ohler, Meade Fuss, John Moser, Philip Stansbury, William J. Gilson, and William Devilbiss.

Since the old log church at Tom's Creek had been used for 146 years, in 1903 the congregation decided that a new church was needed and at a better location. The condition of the church at the turn of the century can best be described by quoting from the report of Reverend W. L. Orem, who was the circuit minister from 1901 to 1903. Just prior to his departure for another circuit, he wrote the following report concerning Tom's Creek:

"This appointment is sadly in need of a new church edifice. We are satisfied that with a new building in a more central location, this would be a strong congregation, and there would always be a, good Sunday School. As it is, the church building is situated in such a remote place that our Sunday School is poorly attended and must be discontinued during the winter months. The location is such that we are unable often times to fill the appointment, and during the winter season our people are without services for four and eight weeks at a time. However, with all of these things with which to contend, our congregations have been good, and the spiritual condition of the people healthful."

Under the leadership of Reverend George W. Harris, a new church location was selected approximately two miles from the old site at the intersection of two important roads. A parcel of land was purchased from Elias Valentine for $25.00. A portion of the adjoining woods was given the Church by James Troxell for use as a parking lot.

Mrs. Carrie Fuss Long contributed to this history with the following bit of information: James Troxell was a Frederick County Commissioner around the turn of the century. Unfortunately, Mr. Troxell died before the new church was dedicated in May,1904.

In April, 1903 following a service in the old church, the ground was broken for the new building. Holland Weant wielded the spade to move the first shovelful of earth. Work on the foundation began immediately. The work was done by Singleton Sheely, a member of the Church and a mason by trade. The members hauled the stone from a nearby farm and rendered other assistance to Mr. Sheely as it was needed.

The cornerstone was laid in August, 1903. A small box containing Sunday School and Church papers, coins, the Carroll Record and names of the church members was sealed within the cornerstone.

The contractors for the construction of the Church were Tyson and Lansinger of Emmitsburg. The building was under roof before unfavorable weather arrived, and during the winter months the interior of the Church was finished. The Congregation exhibited a great deal of cooperation in building the Church. The Ladies Aid Society, composed of the women of the Church, met during the winter months and made enough carpet to cover the entire Church. The cost of the building was slightly under $4,000.00, with the members contributing a consider able amount of labor.

Worship continued in the old Church until April, 1904. Some of the furniture was moved to the new Church. Some pews are still in use today, also, two Windsor chairs which were given to 'he old Church about 1850 by Richard Gilson. Our present pastor delivers his sermons from the same pulpit as the circuit riders of the last century. The organ was also moved and used for a while in the new Church.

A large memorial window in the rear of the Church was given in honor of William and Lydia Stansbury by their children. The old Church was torn down and the lumber and materials sold at auction. The old doors are still in use on the Murray Roop farm.

The new Church was dedicated in May, 1904, with services in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Reverend B. F. Clarkson, the District Superintendent, was the principal speaker. He was assisted by Reverend George Harris, the regular pastor, and Reverend Osburn Belt, who had served as the circuit pastor twenty years prior to this time. The congregation had the debt of the Pew Church cleared in a short time.

The congregation grew rapidly after the erection of the new Church. Services were usually bi-weekly, there being four other churches on the circuit. Sunday School was held every Sunday except during the winter months with William Devilbiss as Superintendent for many years. All classes met in the Sunday School room, and the sanctuary was used only for worship services.

In 1907, Reverend Koontz organized an Epworth League for the young people which lasted only one summer. Reverend Fox, in 1913, started another young people's group called the "Tom's Creek Young Peoples Society", which continued for a number of years.

Ministers supplying the pulpit since the building of the new Church up through 1954 are as follows:

  • 1903 - George W. Harris
  • 1905 - Frank R. Bayley
  • 1907 - Richard G. Koontz
  • 1911 - J. M. Hammersley
  • 1913 - Hamilton P. Fox
  • 1915 - Samuel E. Rose
  • 1918 - E. 0. Pritchett
  • 1920 - Clarkson R. Banes
  • 1922 - W. Stanley Jones
  • 1926 - S. T. Fitch
  • 1927 - Charles S. Harrison
  • 1929 - Earl Hexter
  • 1932 - Vern J. Munger
  • 1933 - William E. Nelson
  • 1938 - Milton P. Crist
  • 1942 - A. Dean Kessler
  • 1945 - George E. Wunder
  • 1947 - Adam E. Grim
  • 1952 - Bryon Keesecher
  • 1954 - Paul H. McCauley

The Tom's Creek one room schoolhouse, closed in 1928, was purchased a year later by the Church from the Frederick County Board of Education for $300.00. For twenty years it was the scene of many board meetings, church socials, and church suppers.

In 1939, under the program of unification of the three branches of Methodism, namely Methodist Episcopal, Methodist Episcopal South, and Methodist Protestant, the charter of the Tom's Creek Methodist Episcopal Church was duly amended, and the word "Episcopal" was deleted. This charter amendment was not completed until late 1942 when A. Dean Kessler was pastor.

Children's Day and Christmas programs had been held in the Church f or years. The small curved pulpit stage did not allow much room for this type of service. Therefore, during January and February 1942, a remodeling of the Church was accomplished. The stage was enlarged and the appearance of the front part of the Church interior was greatly enhanced. Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Stambough gave an altar to the Church in honor of Mrs. Stambauah's parents, Mr. and Mrs. John Ohler. This alter was made by Lloyd Ohler.

A portion of the ceiling was re-plastered, and then the interior of the Church and Sunday School was repainted. The furniture was all re-varnished, and the floors were sanded. New carpet was placed in the aisles and on the pulpit. Most of the work, except the painting and plastering, was done by the members.

At this time, two additional memorial windows were installed: one was presented by Mrs. Mary C. Fuss in memory of her husband, Edward M. Fuss; the other was presented by Mrs. Harry Baker in memory of her mother and father.

While the improvements were being made to their Church, the Tom's Creek members worshiped with the congregation of the Trinity Methodist Church in Emmitsburg. On February 21, 1942, the Church was rededicated, with the District Superintendent as the principal speaker. Reverend Milton B. Christ was the regular pastor at the time.

On November 10, 1946, Mrs. Carrie Fuss Long presented to the Church a memorial window in loving memory of her son, SSgt. Wilbur Roland Long, who lost his life in the Southwest Pacific during the Second World War. Reverend William F. Wright was the principal speaker. The local posts of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars furnished a color guard for this service.

An Honor Roll of those serving in the Armed Forces during the two World Wars was also dedicated at this service. It contains the names of four members who served in World War I and twenty-four who served during World War H. Since then, the names of five who saw military duty during the Korean conflict have been added.

Under the pastorate of Reverend Adam Grim, a new educational building was added to the church. Prior to the building of this annex, there were not sufficient facilities for conducting a number of Sunday School classes. The layout of the schoolhouse owned by the Church made the serving of church suppers difficult. So with these problems in mind, the Official Board of the Church on February 27, 1950 voted to proceed with a, building program. The previous July, a strip of ground had been purchased from Mrs. Paul Valentine for $75.00. A building committee composed of Lloyd Ohler, Jones Baker, and Maurice Moser was appointed.

The schoolhouse property was sold and the money was applied to the building fund. A groundbreaking service was held during May, 1950, with the President of the Official Board, Ambrose Eckenrode, turning the first shovelful of earth. Construction work began early in June, and the building was completed by January, 1951. A new oil furnace was installed shortly thereafter.

Lloyd Ohler, a member of the Church, was the designer of the annex. The building is a lasting monument to the labors of the congregation All labor, both skilled and unskilled, was donated by members except the plastering of the building. The total cost of the annex was $7,435.55 of which only $108.00 was paid out for labor

The building fund debt was liquidated by December 31, 1951. The entire cost of the annex was raised by the congregation in less than two years. At a special service held November 4, 1951, the new building was consecrated for the Lord's use. The main floor was used by the Primary Department of the Sunday School and for socials, receptions, and various meetings of organization. The basement was equipped with a kitchen and a dining room which was used mainly for church suppers.

At a dedication service held September 16, 1951, the Tom's Creek Methodist Church became the recipient of several needed worship accessories. Reverend E. 0. Reter delivered the sermon with our regular pastor, Reverend

Adam E. Grin assisting. An electric organ was presented as a, gift from Mr. and Mrs. John Baumgardner. An altar and matching vases were presented to the church by Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Fuss. The Junior Class of the Sunday School gave new offering plates. Candlesticks were presented in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Bentz by their two daughters, Mrs. Ruth Eckenrode and Mrs.Marian Strine.

The children of George Naylor presented to the Church a large Bible in honor of their father on his eightieth birthday November 1, 1953.

Being a rural church did not hinder the growth of the Church. The membership numbered, in 1953, 135 with an average attendance of 75. Church school was held each Sunday prior to the worship service and was well attended.

The women of the church had organized a Helping Hand Society which met once each month. Their meeting coincided with the meeting of the Official Board which was composed of men only.

The membership of the Church in 1953 included nine persons who had been members at Tom's Creek for over fifty years. They all united with the Church when it was at the old site. They are: Mrs. Grace Baker, Mrs. Florida Haugh, Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Stambaugh, Miss Emma Ohler, Mrs. Maurice Hahn, Mr. Emory Ohler, Mrs. Edna Clem, and Mr. George Naylor. Many others of the congregation remembered worshiping in the old church, but had not joined prior to fifty years ago.

Mrs. Carneron Ohler, age 92; Mrs. Isaiah Ohler, age 90; Mrs. Grace Baker, age 90; and Mrs. Mary Fuss, age 89. These ladies often were unable to attend services due to their age and physical condition.

We owe the foregoing material to John Fuss, Jr., who did extensive research in 1954 at the time the Tom's Creek Church celebrated its Fiftieth Anniversary in the present church building. John compiled and recorded this detailed and most interesting history of Tom's Creek United Methodist Church. We are very grateful to him for the use of this material.  This artic was updated in 2003 to correct historical inaccuracies identified as a result of recent historical research.

Read about other churches in Emmitsburg

Read other articles by John Fuss

Read John Fuss's: The Life and times of John and Helen Fuss

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