History presentation brings back the origins of the Hughesville Baptist Church
HUGHESVILLE Those attending the meeting of the East Lycoming Historical Society (ELHS) on President’s Day were honored with a visit from Abe Lincoln. Jacob Corson portrayed the 16th president sharing highlights from the emancipator’s life. The third grade student from Ferrell Elementary School repeated his soliloquy from last fall with a class project to identify individuals in ‘This is your life’ type skits. The Reverend Robert Berger presented Corson with a newly minted Lincoln dollar.
Reverend Berger, the evening’s scheduled speaker, shared the “History of the Hughesville Baptist Church.”
Beginning in 1884, efforts were put forward to establish a church in the borough with the assistance of sister churches in Picture Rocks and Muncy.
Berger said, “It’s important to keep church minutes and we’ve not been able to locate any prior to WWII.” The speaker’s alternative was limited to references from annual reports submitted to the denomination’s district senate. Such information included a yearly listing of finances, memberships and baptisms. The names of delegates to annual conferences and signatures affixed by church clerks, revealed a few who called the Baptist Church at Hughesville their church home. Among them were Amos Sprout, Abner Fague, Deacon Corson, S. D. Kaufman, Jacob Shipman, Samuel E. Fox, Florence Casselberry, Mrs. E. M. Purdy, Harvey Oliver, also D. B. Elder of Bryan Mills.
Since it’s beginning, the church remains on its current site at the corner of East Water and Third Streets. The lot became available after fire destroyed a factory there. At first, the $4,100 structure consisted of a chapel and common Sunday school room.
The 40-year-old Gothic style pulpit and platform furniture was gifted by the Muncy Baptist congregation when they erected a new church.
“It had been a very poor church during the first few years, listing only women members,” Berger said. There was no electricity and heat was radiated from a single floor register serving both spaces.
Tom Hess relayed to Berger that his father often told how he’d been rousted from his bed at five o’clock Sunday mornings to build fire for service. As the Baptists held afternoon Sunday school, Hess also said his brothers and sister were obliged to attend two services each Sunday.
Later a parsonage occupied the rear of the lot. “The house was sold by the Sears & Roebuck Company and arrived in Hughesville by way of the W&NB railroad,” Berger said. He described its dimensions as sparse. “The kitchen was so small it couldn’t accommodate a table. Rev. Guyer’s daughter slept in the pastor’s study and an attic bedroom, for two of the sons had cardboard affixed to the interior, a minimal effort at keeping out the cold.”
The church’s original windows were of clear glass which reminded Berger of a humorous incident occurring during Rev. Guyer’s tenure. The pastor observed a man peering through the window and told the congregation that when he gave the word, to turn around and look at the window, which they did, causing the peeper to run swiftly away.
A remark as to Mrs. Edith Guyer’s character came from Pauline Montgomery, who said, “She was a saint.” Instances were given as to how she supported with fervor, her husband and the church’s community activities.
Berger spoke of “Roll Call” Sunday, a common practice at many churches of the day. Annually, a call of the membership resulted in the names of absentees published and displayed on the bulletin board. In some churches, (not this one) annual offerings of each member were posted as well.
A Baptist youth organization was established, and for many years the town’s Boy Scout troop met at the church.
Mention of pastors included the Reverends Phillips, Joseph W. Crawford, and Henry C. Munro, the latter also served at Muncy, Moreland and White Hall. Years later, Berger visited two of the Munro daughters rescuing one hundred of their father’s sermons which included dates and places given. Munro had meticulously sewn them into book form. Unfortunately, prior to Berger’s visits, the daughters had destroyed many, “dumping them into a ditch in the field,” he said.
Researchers of local history will find numerous examples of Munro’s signature on marriage certificates and many mentions in obituaries, as an addition to his own congregations, he was also called into service by non-Baptists.
Berger said, “Rev. Munro had a love for horses. Often during funeral processions, he’d rush ahead to make a short house call, then rejoin the procession as it came by.”
Rev. Berger began his ministry here in 1951, “we never left, one reason being we were near our parents,” he said of himself and wife Eileen. His wife is from the Allenwood area and he is from Watsontown.
In addition to himself, family members in the ministry included a grandfather who’d ridden here from West Milton for an annual gathering of the senate, and the Reverend Jeff Berger currently at Cape May, New Jersey, the couple’s son.
Luminary files revealed that when the new high school was opened in the mid 1950’s, Bibles were distributed to each classroom by the Hughesville Ministerium of which Berger was president at the time. He was also a substitute teacher.
Reverend Berger has kept every bulletin from his pastoral days. A charter member of ELHS, he has donated many items pertaining to local history.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Berger was gifted a glass ball featuring the likeness of the Hughesville Baptist Church, hand painted and donated by Joy Barto.