Bethel A.M.E. Church
March 8, 1937
To the Pastor and members of Bethel A.M.E. Church:
For more than (20) years, twenty years, I have worked to help raise money and have tried to conserve to build our church, but during that time, there has been over eight thousand dollars [$8000.00] wasted.
I believe that God’s will, will be done and if it had been His will, this church would have been built long ago.
I do not feel that the Lord is pleased for me to function any longer as Treasury of the Building Fund, or as a member of the Trustee’s Board.
So I do now, herewith, tender my resignation as the Treasury of the Building Fund and as a member of the Trustee’s Board of Bethel A.M.E. Church.
Prayerfully and Faithfully Submitted,
This letter was written in 1837 to Bethel A.M.E. Church by one of the trustees, James M. Dyson, stating how the members of the church should have finished the whole church earlier than what they did (Dyson). Including this letter, there is a broad history of Bethel A.M.E. Church, from the founding of the church, the different buildings in which they worshiped, the previous owners of the land, the construction of the basement, and the construction of the church sanctuary.
Early Days of Bethel A.M.E.
In the beginning, before Bethel A.M.E Church was at its present site, there was a founder. Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church derived from Hill’s Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Weaver, Indiana (Mortgage). In 1873, Daniel Burden organized Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. It started out with 7 members. They were Edmond White and his wife, Sarah, Wrintha Sizemore, David Smith, Eliza Stewart, and Mollie Fletcher, along with Burden (Mortgage). Daniel Burden was the first minister of the church’s history in Marion.
There were several different places where the members of Bethel A.M.E. Church worshiped. The members of this newly founded church first worshiped in an old building on Washington Street. This building was known as “The Tabernacle” (Mortgage). They later moved to a school building on Adams Street. And, finally, they moved their worship to the County Court House. During their stay at the courthouse, the membership “greatly increased.” (Mortgage). The church purchased a vacant lot owned by Ben Norman, and a store building from George R. Fravell in 1876. Members of the church moved to this new location, under the pastorate of Rev. W.R. Hutchinson. Some of the families included in this move were the Whites, Sizemores, Hills, Weavers, Smiths, Clarks, Hawkins, Nickles, Overmans, Fletchers, Hampton, Stewarts, Nukes, Gullifords, Goens, Woodys, Pitts, Wilsons, Russells, Morgans, Moores, Hayes, Youngs, Fraziers, Walkers, Lloyds, Keenes, Burdens, and others (Mortgage). In 1883, a brick church located on West Fifth Street was purchased from the First M.E. congregation. The cost of the structure was $2100.00. The members of the congregation worshipped in this location until the land purchase of the church’s present location, which is 324 West Tenth Street (Mortgage).
Building at Tenth Street
There were many owners of the Tenth Street property before Bethel. The abstract of the property of the church’s current location, dates back to October 19, 1825. Martin Boots purchased the land through the General Land Office, Fort Wayne, Indiana. The president at the time was John Quincy Adams (State). Prior to the purchase of the land on March 7, 1918, by the board of trustees, the property was owned by Adaline Turner. The trustee board consisted of David H. Morrell, Cassel Chavis, William Lindsey, Peter Hinton, Edward Poindexter, Edward Claybrook, Oliver Harris and Rev. William Shannon, who was the pastor (State). The principal note was $2000.00, due in 5 years, with interest due payable in ten installments of $60. The mortgage was paid and released on June 25, 1920 (State). The land served as a playground with tennis courts, at the time (Stevenson 35).
After the church bought the land, the members decided to begin the first phase of the building project. A contract by and between Noah Arnest of Kokomo, Indiana and the trustees, William Lindsay, Joseph Hornady, Edmond Mathews, and Charles Winslow, of Bethel A.M.E. Church, was signed for the sum of $13,778.72 (Arnest). The contractor agreed to erect a complete basement for the proposed new church building. The cost included “excavation, concrete footings, walls, basement floor and steps as specified, furnishing re-inforcing steel, interior and exterior plastering for walls and ceiling, all metal corners and lath, furring strips, one brick flue, steel columns, rough wiring, plumbing complete, ash door, coal chute, and office room to be given to the Owners when basement is completed for garage” (Arnest). The contractor also agreed to “furnish liability insurance, lumber for temporary roof, interior trim, all pointing and carpenter labor, in fact, basement is to be completed same as if entire church was being erected.” No heating or outside plumbing was included, but the contractor was responsible for any city water used during the construction (Arnest). Under the pastorate of Rev. A.E. Taylor, the construction of the basement began in 1925. Construction was complete in 1926 (Mortgage Burning). The congregation worshiped in this unit for years. Efforts were made throughout the years to begin the 2nd phase of building the church.
Phase Two: An Auditorium
It took many tries and years to start to begin building Bethel auditorium. On October 18, 1928, Rev. C.H. Jackson presided over a church conference to discuss the finishing of the church (Chavis). The members agreed to complete the church. Each department of the church would raise a determined amount (Chavis). During another church conference held on March 4, 1937, Rev. W.A. Searcy wanted the church to decide whether or not to continue with plans to begin construction. It was voted that the project be put on hold until a later date (Pate 1937). Bricks had previously been purchased and it was decided that they would be sold, and the money be used to repair the roof. The remaining portion was to be put into the building fund. The bricks were sold to Brother Claude Watkins for $87.00 (Pate 1937). Under Rev. H.L.P. Jones’ pastorate, a church conference was held on June 14, 1940. A representative from Atlas Construction Company of Indianapolis spoke to the members regarding the auditorium (Pate 1940). Rev. Jones’ plan was to petition Presiding Bishop J.A. Gregg and Presiding Elder J.P.Q. Wallace for their approval to solicit help from other churches in the state to benefit the building fund, in addition to other fundraising events (Pate 1940). It was decided at this meeting that the maximum amount to be spent for the completion of the building would be eight thousand dollars (Pate 1940). On August 19, 1941, the contract to begin construction of the auditorium was signed. The signing took place in the home of Bethel’s clerk, Edward Tandy (Hawkins).
The contractor was Luther J. Rhinehart of Marion. Using a total of sixty-thousand bricks, and the ability to seat seven hundred people with chairs, the total cost was four thousand seven dollars and eighty-eight cents, “A record unprecedented in former years” (Hawkins). Harley Burden, Edward H. Tandy, Grant Shear, Robert Hawkins and Claude Watkins served as trustees (Hawkins).
In conclusion, there is a broad history of Bethel A.M.E. Church from the founding of the church, the different buildings in which they worshiped, the previous owners of the land, the construction of the basement, and the construction of the church sanctuary. Since the addition of the auditorium, the interior and exterior of the church have seen improvements. Besides the necessary maintenance for the upkeep of the church, renovations have been made to the restrooms, new carpet has been purchased, new pews were purchased, and customized stained glass windows have been installed (Huskey). Recently, the basement has been painted and the floors and ceiling have been redone. One of the members, Miss Nevada Pate, who “came up from the basement” is still a member. Every now and then, she will mention being in the basement (Huskey).
- Arnest, Noah. Contract to build basement.
- Chavis, Sarah. October 28, 1928. Church conference records. Manuscript.
- Dyson, Morris. Letter to Bethel A.M.E. Church. March 8, 1937.
- Hawkins, Robert. Church records. 1941.
- Huskey, Eileen. Personal interview. 2 January 2004.
- Mortgage Burning. September 25, 1945.
- Pate, Hubert. March 4, 1937. Church conference records. Manuscript.
- Pate, Hubert. June 14, 1940. Church conference records. Manuscript.
- State of Indiana. Abstractor of titles to real estate. In and for Grant County, Indiana.
- Stevenson, Barbra J. An Oral History of African Americans in Grant County. Charleston, SC: Arcadia *Publishing. 2000. 31-44.
Submitted on January 6, 2004 by Alissa Huskey for Mr. Munn's AP US History class at Marion High School