"In The Heart of Quakertown..."
By James Roth
"In the heart of Quakertown, for the hearts of Quakertown." For many years, this phrase described the location, and direction, of the body of believers now known as Grace Bible Fellowship Church of Quakertown. Although the church is not now, and has not always been in the geographic heart of Quakertown, it has always sought to place the Word of God in the hearts of Quakertown.
Through the rears, differing versions of the origin of the Quakertown church have been offered and published in local vehicles. H. H. Bergey wrote the following in 1947 for the "75th Anniversary Commemoration Booklet of the Grace Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church at Quakertown, Pennsylvania.
It has fallen to my lot to give a brief historical sketch of the church in Quakertown, but as I was born in Montgomery County, three years after this church was built, I did not get in contact or even know much about it before the rear 1900, or almost thirty years after it was built. I have relied on such records as I could obtain, and from others who are more advanced in rears and were better acquainted with the early history of the church.
Sometime prior to 1872, Jonas Musselman, a young man affiliated with the Evangelical Mennonites, who was then living in the lower end of Lehigh County, felt called to preach the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ that saves from sin. Rev. William Gehman was preaching in that section of the country, so he looked for other fields to begin his labor in the vineyard of the Lord. He bought a farm about a mile from Quakertown on what is now known as the California Road. There he began to preach and conduct prayer-meetings in homes wherever doors were opened. As time went on there were conversions the number of believers growing to such as extent that it was deemed advisable to have a regular place of worship. In 1872, just 75 rears ago, Elder Jonas Musselman and his band of faithful followers secured the plot of ground on Third Street, the present location of the church and parsonage.
At this time there was a vacant church in Haycock Township, possession of which was obtained by this band of Christians, who then razed it, and the brick and other material were hauled to Quakertown and used in the construction of the present church. In its original state it was without a basement, just a four square building with hand-made pews heated with two large stoves, one on either side. Regardless of the discomforts of an oft-times cold church, there were warm hearts inside and the Glory of the Lord was manifested in spirit and power. (1)
In the November, 1951, issue of the "Bucks County Traveler", the following paragraph was inserted into Bergey's account:
This abandoned church building stood on the road leading from Applebachsville to Quakertown about a mile east of the Richland Township line. It had been the Evangelical Methodist church, erected in 1856, by Abel Strawn and Henry Diehl, the former of Haycock and the latter of Richland, to commemorate their remarkable escape from death, when a tree blown down during a storm and falling across their wagon between them, without injuring either as they were driving along a road. The church had only a few members and finally disbanded. Only two persons had been in the graveyard adjoining and their bodies were taken up and buried elsewhere. (2)
J. H. Battle's HISTORY OF BUCKS COUNTY PENNSYLVANIA which was published in 1887, contains the following paragraph regarding the Quakertown church:
The Evangelical Mennonite congregation originated in Haycock Township where in October, 1859, the first church building of this denomination, was dedicated. This was torn down and rebuilt at Quakertown in 1872. Reverend Abel Strawn is pastor. (3)
It is interesting that Battle specifically mentions Abel Strawn, since he is the man whose name is most closely associated with the Haycock church. It is reasonable to assume that Battle wrote this paragraph based on information supplied by Abet Strawn, the man most qualified to comment.
In order to determine the origins of Grace Bible Fellowship Church of Quakertown, it becomes necessary to investigate these differing opinions and find the proper story. We are fortunate that through the availability of microfilm records and past scholarly research, the sources of material are more readily found and reviewed. The majority of the facts on which I have based my opinion are recorded in the Bucks Counts Deed Books, the tax records, the federal census, and maps of the period. I have recently discovered that five boxes of uncatalogued papers from the Strawn family are in the possession of the Bucks County Historical Society. They may contain valuable information on Joel and Abel Strawn and the Evangelical Mennonites.
We are presently unable to determine the exact date of completion of the Evangelical Mennonite Meeting House in Haycock Township. We do know that:
The first council meeting of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference, held the first Tuesday in November, 1859, in the Meeting House in Haycock Township, Bucks County. (4)
occurred the week before the dedication of the Zionsville church. In light of Battle's comment on the dedication of the Haycock church in October, 1859,and the subsequent use of the Haycock church for the first conference in November, 1859, it is apparent that the Haycock church was the first Evangelical Mennonite Church to be constructed and dedicated.
The Thirty-Seventh Semi-Annual Conference held on November 12, 1877, contains this item of business:
This Conference, held November 12, 1877, unanimously agreed that the Brethren Henry V. Smith, William Hixson, and Milton Kauffman, as trustees in charge, shall be authorized to give a purchase deed for the 85 Ruthen of land, which was bought Mar 21, 1850, from Jacob Ziegenfuss and his wife, Hannah, in Haycock Township, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, as church ground. (5)
It is interesting to note that this assignment was successfully completed in 1919. There is a serious error in the date noted in the Verhandlungen. The deed which was recorded in Bucks Counts states:
This indenture made the twenty-first day of May in the year of our Lord One thousand eight hundred and fifty nine between Jacob Zeigenfoos of Haycock Township Bucks County and State of Pennsylvania yeoman and Hannah his wife of the one part and Joseph Snyder of Springfield Township and David Weirbach of Richland Township Both of the County of Bucks aforesaid of the other part witnesseth that the said Jacob Zeigenfoos and Hannah his wife for and in consideration of the sum of fifty dollars to them well and truly paid by the said Joseph Snyder and David Weirbach (6)
conveyed the property to:
the said Joseph Snyder and David Weirbach as trustees elected for the purpose by the Society of Evangelical Mennonites in and adjacent to the said township of Haycock and to the survivor of them or the heirs and assigns of the survivor of these or their successors in Office forever. In trust (illegible) for the only proper use and benefit of the Religious Society of Evangelical Mennonites in and adjacent to the said Township of Haycock to the intent and purpose for the better accommodation and convenience of said Religious Society with a piece of ground for the decent burial of their dead erecting and building Meeting Houses to hold their Religious Meetings as in School Houses and such other buildings and uses as said Religious Society may deem necessary and convenient from time to time and at all times forever. (7)
This conveyance was witnessed by Abel Strewn!
Earlier in that year, on March 29, 1859, Joseph Snyder and David Weirbach signed a Deed of Trust to the Evangelical Mennonites which was then attached to the property conveyance. Therefore, we know that there was a group of believers joined together for the purpose of establishing a church before this date. But who were these believers and why was a site in rural Haycock Township chosen?
We have already seen that Abel Strawn witnessed the property conveyance. His ties to the Haycock church are further proven through the following:
Articles of Agreement made and concluded and entered this twenty ninth day of March in the rear of our Lord One thousand eight hundred and sixty two Between Joseph Snyder and David Weirbach both of Richland Township Bucks County and State of Pennsylvania Trustees in trust of the Evangelical Mennonite Congregations Meeting Grounds of Haycock Township in said County of the one part And Abel Strawn and Joel Strawn of Haycock Township County and State aforesaid of the other part Witnesseth that the said Joseph Snyder and David Weirbach trustee as aforesaid for and in consideration of the sum of One hundred dollars to them in hand paid by said Abel Strawn and Joel Strawn do hereby expressly agree to and with said Abel Strawn and Joel Strawn and their heirs shall hereafter at all times have the right liberty and privilege of occupying said Evangelical Meeting House one week out of every four at all times and seasons hereafter forever And full (illegible) and authority to select such minister of the Gospel to preach in said designated weeks. (8)
The reasons for this agreement have not been ascertained. It certainly cannot be that Abel Strawn was estranged from the Evangelical Mennonites since he participated in the semi-annual conferences. We can certainly say that Joseph Snyder, David Weirbach, Joel Strawn, and Abel Strawn were members of the church in Haycock.
I think it highly likely that William N. Shells of Quakertown was also involved in this church. We know that Shelly was the minister of the Flatland Mennonite Church (Oberholtzer conference) from 1847 to 1857. At that time, he was removed from the roll of ministers in that conference due to is opposition to the conference ruling against prayer meetings. It is likely that some of his members would follow him and would associate with the nearest Evangelical Mennonites who were just one mile down the road. Examination of Flatland Mennonite Church records from this period might prove this theory correct.
Two other possible members would be Jacob Horn and J. Frick. Both lived near the Haycock church. Jacob Horn signed the Charter of the Quakertown Church as did Charles Frick, the son of J. Frick. I think it likely that these two families were associated with the Haycock Church before its relocation to Quakertown. Again, further study is necessary.
"A Map of the Vicinity of Philadelphia, 1860, shows the location of the Evangelical Mennonite Meeting House on the road to Strawntown which is now named Thatcher Road. It sat on the property adjoining the public school at the intersection which is now known as Cope's Corner. This same map shows the farms of Joel Strawn, Abel Strawn, Charles Frick, and Jacob Horn nearby. David Weirbach's farm is in Springfield Township, adjoining one owned by Joseph Taylor, also a signer of the Quakertown Charter. Joseph Snyder's farm is near Bursonville. William N. Shelly as always is at Ninth and Broad Street in Quakertown. By plotting the location of all these, we find that the Haycock church is in the center. I think this may be a better explanation than Berger's tradition of the falling tree.
On Tuesday, June 1, 1869, the members of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference met according to a previous resolution in the Flatlander Meeting House, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, to hold their semi-annual session. (9)
This is the last mention of the Haycock church in the minutes of our conference until 1877, when the property is to be offered for sale. At this Twentieth Semi-Annual Conference, the following men were among those present: Abel Strawn, Henry Diehl, William N. Shelly, and Joseph Schneider (or Snyder), all of whom have seemed to have been associated with the Haycock church. Over the next few rears, all of these men continue to be at the conferences showing that they are still leaders of the church. Tradition says that the church building which was moved to Quakertown was abandoned. It is important that we now look at Quakertown to see if this was the case.
Quakertown had witnessed a great revival due to the tent ministry of Edwin Long and his associate, Jonas Schultz. Long speaks of his ministry in Quakertown in his book, THE UNION TABERNACLE OR MOVABLE TENT-CHURCH. He relates how he had previously been well received in the Hosensack Valley and had been invited to preach in one of their (Evangelical Mennonite) meeting-houses. (10) Quakertown was chosen because it was the nearest point by railroad to the Hosensack Valley. Since they had provided funds for the procurement of the tent, it was promised that it would be brought to the vicinity. (11) The crusade at Quakertown was the fulfillment of that promise. The tent was pitched on Saturday, September 25, 1858, and the following day a crowd of three to four thousand people gathered. (12) Unadvertised prayer meetings were held in the dwelling where Long was staying in order not to anger the Oberholtzer group. (13) It is also said that when people came forward, they were taken to a nearby house for counsel and prayer. I believe that the house spoken about in these statements was that of William Shelly. which was one block east of the crusade site on West Broad Street. This extended crusade saw many lives won to Jesus Christ and certainly showed the participants the value of the railroad for bringing people to meetings. I do not believe that the placement of the Quakertown church near the railroad was an accident. I believe our early church fathers had the availability of transportation in mind.
We know that Jonas Musselman moved to a farm on California Road in 1868.On April 3, 1868, an indenture was made between Joseph Taylor and Jonas Musselman for the purpose of conveying ownership of 56 acres to Musselman for the price of $5700.00. On April 27, 1868, Jonas Musselman purchased 8 acres from David Weirbach for $514.00. We have already stated that David Weirbach was the trustee of the Haycock Evangelical Mennonite Meeting House and owned land in Springfield Township that also bordered land owned by Joseph Taylor. Four years later, Joseph Taylor would sign the charter of the Quakertown Church.
Jonas Musselman is listed as a preacher of the Evangelical Mennonite Church as early as November 5, 1861. He was the brother-in-law of Abel Strawn! There is no record in the Conference minutes of Jonas Musselman being assigned to start a church in Quakertown. On November 2, 1869, Jonas Musselman was appointed "as preacher in charge of the Iron Hill congregation for better control." (14) This is the only assignment listed in the minutes.
I find it difficult to believe that Jonas Musselman came to Quakertown for the purpose of establishing a church. In 1868, there was an existing Evangelical Mennonite Church within reach. There were three Evangelical Mennonite ministers already in the area - Abel Strawn, Elder William N. Shelly, and Henry Diehl. He purchased his property from one man who was a leader of the Haycock Church, and a second man whose initial acquaintance with the Evangelical Mennonites was likely through his next door neighbor in two different locations. I find it entirely appropriate that Jonas Musselman would conduct cottage prayer meetings at his home and win converts to Christ. It is reasonable to assume that through the ministry of Jonas Musselman a group of believers formed in the vicinity of California Road while there was yet a group of believers worshiping in Haycock.
On June 4, 1872, we read the following in the minutes of the Twenty-Sixth Semi-Annual Conference:
RESOLVED: That the next conference shall be held in the Quakertown Meeting House on the first Tuesday of November, 1872. (15)
Abel Strawn, Henry Diehl, William Shelly, and Joseph Schneider were all present at Conference for the vote on this resolution.
In June, 1872, Conference resolved to hold its November Conference in the new meeting house of Quakertown. Apparently, they were aware of events that were to come, because the Third Street property was not purchased until September 17, 1872, from Charles Himmelwright. The conveyance states that Henry M. Smith, the treasurer of the Evangelical Mennonite Church of Quakertown Borough paid two hundred dollars for this property on this date. (16)
On April 8, 1872, Articles of Incorporation were filed for the Evangelical Mennonite Church of Quakertown. In this charter, Jonas Musselman, Henry Smith, and Jacob Horn were named as trustees. It is interesting to note that we have one man from Haycock Township, one from California Road, and one from Third and Juniper Streets in Quakertown. The other signers of the charter reflect this mix of old and new. Henry Diehl, William Shelly, Charles Frick, Joseph Taylor, and John Moyer of Haycock Township may all represent men whose association with the Evangelical Mennonites preceded the arrival of Jonas Musselman. They were likely associated with the Haycock Church. The others include Henry G. Musselman of Springtown, Augustus Seiple, who was probably from Springfield Township, and David Basler from Milford Township. So we see a mixture of men who were associated with the Haycock Church and new figures who likely were the result of Jonas Musselman's prayer meetings.
Since the Twenty-Sixth Semi-Annual Conference scheduled its next meeting in a building which was not present on a lot which was not yet owned, it must mean that plans had already been made to both purchase the Third Street lot and move the Haycock church building. We have seen that the leaders of the Haycock Church were also leaders of the Conference, and that men who were associated with the Haycock Church were also charter members of the church in Quakertown so we should not be surprised that plans were made beforehand. It must also be noted that the time from November, 1869, when the last Conference was held at the Haycock church, and April, 1872, when the Articles of Incorporation for the Quakertown Church were signed was thirty months. Let's examine the possible events of that thirty month period.
If we continue to accept the traditional version of the origin of the Quakertown Church and combine it with the knowledge we have of the Haycock Church, we must visualize the following events. Following the Semi-Annual Conference in November, 1869, the congregation of the Haycock Church melted away and the building was abandoned. Since Jonas Musselman was endeavoring to establish a church in Quakertown through cottage prayer meetings in his home, the remnants of this congregation united with the Musselman group. The combined number of believers were too large for home worship, so plans were made for establishing a meeting house two miles away in Quakertown. While these plans were being made, the Haycock Meeting House stood empty and available three miles away. In fact, it was in the possession of Jonas Musselman's brother-in-law, and the man who sold his property to Musselman one year earlier. And so, at a time when this group needed a meeting place, one would have been readily available, but ignored. I find that hard to believe.
Perhaps this is what happened. The Haycock Church in 1869 was small in number and was not growing. The Musselman group was growing and was eager to build a meeting house in Quakertown, a community about to undergo a growth spurt due to industrial development. The brothers-in-law Strawn and Musselman combine their groups to form one central group at a central location. Since the Evangelical Mennonite Church of Haycock is a bad name for a church in the heart of Quakertown, Articles of Incorporation are filed for the Evangelical Mennonite Church of Quakertown. Thus, an existing body of believers merges with a second body of believers and relocates the church building.
If this is true, where did the tradition of the abandoned church develop? On the 1850 map of the area, a church labeled "M. E." is seen on Union Road near Thatcher Road, a short distance from the future site of the Haycock Church. In fact, for several rears, I thought that this was the site of the Haycock Church. On the 1860 map, this church has disappeared and the Haycock Church is shown at its proper place. To my knowledge, nothing is known of this earlier church. The amount of knowledge of the Haycock Church is negligible. I found a recent church directory in which the editor stated that the Haycock Church was located three miles from its actual site and was removed to 1308 West Broad Street, Quakertown, where it became the Quakertown Methodist Church in 1872. Perhaps the abandoned church tradition is a cross between this earlier church and the Haycock Church. Further research and hopefully the location of some of Abel Strawn's papers may decisively prove the origins of the Quakertown Church. However, for now, it seems as though the truest version we have is the earliest one we have, J. H. Battle from 1887:
The Evangelical Mennonite congregation originated in Haycock Township where in October, 1859, the first church building of this denomination was dedicated. This was torn down and rebuilt at Quakertown in 1872. Reverend Abel Strawn is pastor. (17)
1. 75th Anniversary Commemoration Booklet of the Grace Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church, 1947.
2. Bucks County Traveler, Doylestown, PA., November, 1951.
3. HISTORY OF BUCKS COUNTY PENNSYLVANIA, J. H. Battle, 1887.
4. Verhandlungen (1859-1895), Richard Taylor, Ed., page 24.
5. Verhandlungen, page 111.
6. Miscellaneous Deed Book of Bucks County, Book 118, page 010.
7. Miscellaneous Deed Book of Bucks County, Book 118, pages 011.
8. Miscellaneous Deed Book of Bucks County, Book 118, pages 013, 104.
9. Verhandlungen, page 59.
10. THE UNION TABERNACLE OR MOVABLE TENT-CHURCH, by Edwin M. Long, 1859, Philadelphia, Parry & MacMillan, page 83.
11. Long, page 161.
12. Long, page 163.
13. Long, page 162.
14. Verhandlungen, page 62.
15. Verhandlungen, page 72.
16. Miscellaneous Deed Book of Bucks County, Book 174, page 389.
17. Battle, J. H.