Claude E. Yoder Collection: Meetinghouses and the Voice of the Church

Claude E. Yoder (1899-1996), an Amish farmer in the Casselman River Valley of Somerset County, Pennsylvania, preserved a small collection of historical and genealogical documents, photos and mementos.   Mixed among these assorted notes and records are two aging slips of paper that have been kept carefully folded and stored for many years. The first paper is a handwritten note without a title that provides details about the “advice” of the “Pa” and “Md” “meetings” in regard to the “meeting houses.” The second paper is also “about the church house” but is typewritten.

The Amish Mennonite church in the Casselman River Valley grew large enough that by 1877 it was decided to split into two separate but fellowshipping church districts. Ultimately, the Mason-Dixon line formed the boundary between the congregations resulting in one church in Pennsylvania and one in Maryland. [1]

The Amish Mennonites at that time did not have church buildings and were holding their worship services in private homes as is still the custom among most Old Order Amish today. In the 1870s some Amish in various communities, including those in nearby northern Somerset and Cambria Counties, Pennsylvania, began to build meetinghouses. The reasons that building meetinghouses became an issue to consider in the Casselman River area congregations are somewhat varied but their growing size appears to have been the major impetus. [2] In 1881 the matter of meetinghouses was concluded and the result was the construction of four church buildings that year by the Amish Mennonites of the Casselman River Valley. [3]

Maple Glen Meetinghouse - dismantled in 1946 - replaced by new structure (Photo Courtesy James L. Yoder

Maple Glen Meetinghouse - dismantled in 1946 - replaced by new structure (Photo Courtesy James L. Yoder)

The above-mentioned notes give the results of the votes (often referred to as the “Voice of the Church”) of the two congregations regarding the question of whether to go ahead with construction of meetinghouses. The first note is handwritten – one side is in German and the other side is in English. The total number of voting members in the Pennsylvania congregation on December 12, 1880, was 79; 43 were in favor, 22 were against, and 14 were undecided (“leaving it the preachers”). On the Maryland side the total number of voting members on January 30, 1881, was 75; 46 were in favor, 16 were against, and 13 were undecided (“leave it to the preachers” or “accept it any way”).

Handwritten Note in German (front side)

Handwritten Note in German (front side)

One observation that can be made is that the Mason-Dixon line did indeed appear to split the congregations evenly. Additionally, it could be concluded that support for the meetinghouses was slightly stronger on the Maryland side with 61.3% in favor, while the Pennsylvania side had 54.4% in favor. (The Maryland congregation continued to be more change-minded 14 years later when the 1895 division of the Amish Mennonite church occurred.) Overall, opposition to changing to the use of meeting houses was low – 21.3% against in Maryland, 27.8% against in Pennsylvania – but certainly the decision was not unanimous.

Handwritten Note in English (back side)

Handwritten Note in English (back side)

Claude E. Yoder’s grandfather Christian Yoder (1823-1899) was probably among those who voted against the use of meetinghouses. An article in the December 1, 1897 issue of the Somerset Herald reported that, “Mr. [Christian] Yoder says that all who profess his faith are opposed to building houses devoted to worship, and prefer paying reverence to the Almighty in their homes or barns or in ‘God’s first temple’ – the groves.” [4]

Typewritten Note from Claude E. Yoder Collection

Typewritten Note from Claude E. Yoder Collection

The second, typewritten paper, reproduces the German side of the handwritten note (the English side summarized the Pennsylvania side vote).  Another aspect to the papers are that they have an additional breakdown for the Pennsylvania side vote – they indicate the numbers by gender: 45 men voted (27 in favor, 14 against, 4 “undecided”) and 34 women voted (16 in favor, 8 against, 10 “undecided”). While it may be interesting that these congregations made changes in their rules and regulations by voting, it is noteworthy that in the 1880s women of an Amish Mennonite church were participating in making such decisions. This would seem to be consistent with John A. Hostetler’s comment about the Amish that “In church council she [women] has an equal vote but not an equal ‘voice’.” [5] The numbers suggest the Pennsylvania women were less inclined to assert their point of view – 29.4% were willing to “leave it up to the ministers” while only 8.9% of the men indicated such a choice.

Back side of Typewritten Note

Back side of Typewritten Note

So how did these papers make their way into Claude’s collection and by whom and when were they prepared? Was the handwritten paper written contemporaneously with the 1880-81 vote? That can only be speculated on as there are no notations about their origin. If they do not date back to 1881 they may have been copied from another document.

Claude’s wife – Olive Tice – was a granddaughter of Elias A. Yoder (1834-1901). Elias was a minister in the Casselman River congregation and is believed to have been ordained in 1868. He was living near Meyersdale in Summit Township, Pennsylvania during the time of the meetinghouse votes. Elias would certainly have had firsthand knowledge of the votes or access to someone who did – he would seem to be the most probable source of the papers.

It should be mentioned that there are other records of the meetinghouse votes – copies of similar records are in the Casselman Historian Archives. The source of those records was Joel J. Miller (1844-1915), ordained a minister in 1880 and bishop in 1887. It would be interesting to see how they compare with the data that come from these two papers. Perhaps a subject for a future blog post. [6]

Since different individuals went to the effort to record these vote details in multiple formats it speaks to the importance of the meetinghouse issue to the Casselman River Valley Amish Mennonites at that time. Hostetler wrote that “The question of whether to allow meeting houses caused considerable tension among the Amish from 1860 to 1890.” [7] The tension surrounding this vote is no doubt one reason that high value was placed on preserving the “Voice of the Church” for future generations.

Modern Photo of Cherry Glade Meetinghouse (Photo Courtesy James L. Yoder)

Modern Photo of Cherry Glade Meetinghouse (Courtesy James L. Yoder)

Modern Photo of Summit Mills Meeting House (Courtesy James L. Yoder)

Modern Photo of Summit Mills Meetinghouse (Courtesy James L. Yoder)

Modern Photo of Flag Run Meeting House (Photo Courtesy James L. Yoder)

Modern Photo of Flag Run Meetinghouse (Courtesy James L. Yoder)

 

ENDNOTES

[1] Miller, Ivan. J. (1977). Maple Glen Conservative Mennonite Church. The Casselman Chronicle, XVII (1), 26.

[2] Alvin J. Beachy wrote: “There have been numerous traditions as to why this was done, but the simple fact is that the community had grown so large that it was a burden upon any one member of the brotherhood to have the service in his home.” Beachy also presented a slightly different view: “Jonas B. Miller, minister at Grantsville, is of the opinion that the real reason for building the meetinghouses was that large numbers of the congregation were absenting themselves from the church services, particularly when it was held in the smaller homes, in order to avoid the overcrowded conditions.”

From: Beachy, Alvin J. (1954). The Amish Settlement in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. Mennonite Quarterly Review, 28 (4), 278-279.

Elmer S. Yoder cited lack of a central meeting location: “As the community grew … it also became scattered over a wide area, especially for horse and buggy transportation. This distance was one of the factors contributing to the construction … of meetinghouses...”

From: Yoder, Elmer S. The Beachy Amish Mennonite Fellowship Churches, Diakonia Ministries, Hartville, OH 1987, p. 112.

Location of the four meetinghouses in the Casselman River Valley

Location of the four meetinghouses in the Casselman River Valley

Leroy Beachy quoted a letter from Iowa minister Jacob Schwarzentruber: “Forty years ago when we still lived in Somerset County, many times the complaint was that [in the dwelling house services] those who sit in the kitchen or behind a wall get little or nothing from the sermon.”

From: Beachy, Leroy, Unser Leit … The Story of the Amish, Goodly Heritage Books, Millersburg, OH, Vol.2, p.g 381.

[3] The four meetinghouses built in 1881 were: Flag Run (near Niverton and Springs, PA), Summit Mills (near Meyersdale, PA), Maple Glen (near Grantsville, MD), and Cherry Glade (near Bittinger, MD). The Flag Run and Summit Mills buildings are still used today by the Old Order Amish.

[4] The Somerset Herald (Somerset, Pennsylvania), Wednesday, December 1, 1897, p. 3.

[5] Hostetler, John A., Amish Society, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1993, p. 150.

[6] Email correspondence with David I. Miller. In his Casselman Chronicle Maple Glen Church history article, Ivan J. Miller mentioned that “Of those who expressed a preference, about one third responded negatively to the proposal to build.”, and in the October, 2001 issue of The Historian ("History of the Amish Mennonites in The Forks of Garrett County, Maryland,"), David I. Miller wrote “The vote was 71% favorable in the Pennsylvania congregation and 80% in the Maryland congregation to build meeting houses.”

[7] Hostetler, p. 371, 373.

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Comments

  1. Elaine Beachy says:

    You are an excellent historian, Keith, as shown by all of your posts in this blog. Thank you for educating me to more of the history of my grandparents, Claude and Olive Yoder.

  2. David I. Miller says:

    Thank you, Keith, for your excellent treatment of the Amish Mennonite church votes that resulted in building four meeting houses in the Casselman River area in 1881. The reasons you list for building the meeting houses, rather than continuing to meet in homes, is an important part of your contribution. I find especially interesting the reported comment of J. B.Miller (1870-1952) that often many did not attend church services because of crowded conditions, especially when held in smaller homes. That comment should be given special credence, since J. B. Miller was eleven years old when the meeting houses were built, was the son of one of the ministers newly ordained at the time, and, according to tradition handed to me as a grandson, remembered carrying drinking water for the builders of the Maple Glen meeting house in 1881. A comment by Samuel J.(Rever Pap) Beachy (1825-1921) has come to my attention very recently when I received a copy of a letter of 1893 written by him. He was a seventy-five-year-old member of the Amish Mennonite church when the meeting houses were under construction. In that letter, he wrote (my translation from German): The church houses (Gemein Hauser) . . . were built more out of need and poverty, since many had not noted [the idea of] building dwelling house large enough for church services. There should be, where it can be, a house where all can be together and hear God’s Word. While Samuel’s thesis of the residences in the Casselman Valley having been too small has seldom been recognized by the historians, it is thoroughly compatible with J. B. Miller’s reported comment. For more on the letter of 1893 and Samuel’s comparison of the Casselman Valley residences with those in Iowa and Illinois where he had visited, see my article, “Revver Pap’s Epistles,” in the April 2015 issue of The Historian.” Yet an additional historical observation related to the meeting house vote: the two Casselman River Amish Mennonite Congregations, after they were formed as the Pennsylvania congregation and the Maryland congregation in 1777, were closely related to each other. They each had their own bishop and communion, but they were not independent of each other in matters of discipline. It is clear, I think, that either the meeting houses would be built on both sides of the Mason and Dixon line or that none would be built. This interdependency broke down, however, with the 1895 division, after which the Pennsylvania congregation became known as Old Order and the Maryland congregation as Conservative.

  3. Keith Yoder says:

    David, your final observation is timely. I have had a few questions about the name “Old Order Amish” in regard to this post. For example: How were Amish Mennonites different from Old Order Amish in 1880-81? As you point out, at that time in southern Somerset County, they were really the same – the designation “Old Order” came later – after the meetinghouses were built. I am not sure when the term “Old Order Amish” became common usage in the U.S. I just did a search on newspapers.com (an online archive of over 3,000 newspapers) and the first usage of “Old Order Amish” I could find was in 1910.

  4. Larry Pearce says:

    In re-reading Keith Yoder’s recent wonderful “Meetinghouses” article, I am reminded of an Ohio relative of mine, Fred A. Tice (1891 – 1977) who wrote a fascinating historical piece entitled, “The Tice-Pearce Heritage”: http://e-gen.info/?page_id=765 . It’s a journey from early 19th century England to Western Pennsylvania and eventually Shreve, Ohio, very near Amish territory south of Wooster. Fred’s parents were Henry and Lillie Pearce Tice, who are buried in Shreve. My question is whether anyone can connect Henry to the Ohio Amish. I’m always looking for additional ways to “relate” to my wife Susan, whose grandmother was Annie Lee Krause, Somerset County Amish granddaughter of Tommy Lee, apprentice to Bishop Benedict Miller who encouraged settlement in Ohio. As members of The Historians, Susan and I continually find new narratives that her Amish and my Jacobite/Methodist ancestors have in common. I wasn’t sure where to start with this inquiry, but I hope someone there can direct me. Thanks, and keep up the good work! Larry Pearce Boswell, PA

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