Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church History
It is impossible to thoroughly understand an institution without knowing its history. A church’s history encompasses its theology, the community’s economy and geography, the nature and politics of the community, and the wider nation in which it is embedded. Washington Township was established in 1827 and named, “In honor of the father of our country.” It had forty families at the time.
Mount Vernon was probably established about the same time. The village of Mount Vernon has never been incorporated or had boundaries (even though Michigan’s surveyor, William Austin Burt, inventor of the first typewriter in 1828, solar compass, resided in Mount Vernon in the 1840s. There were four Burt family homes, including the octagon house.
We are fortunate in having some histories to draw from in learning about the background of the Mt Vernon United Methodist Church. Louise M. Pohly wrote Historic Mount Vernon, in 1997, privately printed by Multi-copy Printing, Inc., Mount Clemens, Michigan. She had earlier written Country Worship—One Hundred Years in Mount Vernon.
In addition, Mike Jackson, teacher for the Croswell-Lexington District north of Port Huron, wrote History Cast in Stone at the Mt. Vernon Cemetery in 1997. He was also the great-great grandson of one of the founders of the church.
The information below is adapted from these works.
Earliest Mention of the Mount Vernon Methodist Church
In 1858, pastor was sent to Mt. Vernon as a missionary. The areas of Mt. Vernon, Rochester, and Stony Creek were called “waste places” by 19th century historians due to their remoteness. But the northwest corner of Macomb County had cool, well-drained hills, good for farming. The population of Washington Township was 1314 people according to the 1840 Census. The next year, these places were formally organized by the Methodist Church into the Rochester and Stony Creek Circuit with formally elected trustees and the Rev. Lewis T. Mitchell as pastor.
In 1870, Rev. I. Johnson was appointed and soon after, church socials were organized to help raise the $2000.00 it would take to build the church at the corner of 28 Mile and Mt. Vernon Road. The acre of land it was on cost $200.00. The original name was the Mount Vernon Methodist Episcopal Church, changing to its current name in 1969, following changes in Methodism mergers.
Pastors of the Church
- Albert B. Clough (1872-1874)
- William W. Tuttle (1874-1876)
- James R. Noble (1876-1877)
- C. Craven (1877-1878)
- Charles M. Anderson (1878-1881)
- James A. Dunlap (1881-1882)
- James H. Curnalia (1882-1884)
- Thomas Nichols (1884-1886)
- William J. Bailey (1186-1889)
- George Nixon (1889-1892)
- Benjamin C. Moore (1892-1894)
- John J. Smith (1894-1895)
- Julian S. West (1895-1897)
- Thomas Durr (1897-1899)
- William B. Weaver (1899-1902)
- Francis A. Blake (1902-1904)
- Elias G. Gordon (1908-1910)
- S. Hurlburt (1910-1912)
- William Richards (1912-1913)
- George Wesley Gilroy (1914-1918)
- Andrew Wood (1913-1914)
- H. Edwards (1918-1922)
- Luther Butt (1922-1924)
- Arthur E. Smith (1924-1925)
- Robert J. Chase and Ezra P. Roberson (1925-1930)
- Joseph Blackmore (1930-1933)
- Lloyd V. Moffett (1933-1935)
- Earl Sawyer (1935-1937)
- Herman Hudgins (1937-1938)
- Bruce R. Davis (1938-1941)
- Harry v. Clark (1941-1947)
- Thomas Lindeman (1947-1948)
- Marion A. Pohly (1956-1963)
- Nelson Cushmon (1963-1964)
- Charles F. Robbins (1964-1974)
- John N Grenfell, Sr. (1974-1977)
- Paula S. D. Barker (1977-1979)
- Jeffry W. Dinner (1979-1982)
- Thomas F. Keef (1982-1988)
- Kenneth A. Kohlmann (1988-1992)
- Robert E. Burkey (1992-1996)
- Sara S. Griffin (1996)
- George Spencer (1996–)
The typical tenure of pastors at Mt. Vernon was two to four years. This was reflective of church practice of itinerancy. “In 1804, the Methodist Episcopal General Conference decreed that no pastor was to serve the same appointment for more than two consecutive years.” Bishops generally appointed pastors to a circuit of churches in rural areas, so they would preach at two or more churches, travelling between communities on horseback. This organization allowed the congregation to grow and ensured the denomination’s success in the 18th and 19th century in America’s rural areas.
Mt. Vernon’s pastors, before 1996, included 4 women, 3 Canadians, an Englishman, and an Irishman and many who were born in Michigan. Some of the pastors were at the beginning of their careers and several retired from service at Mt. Vernon. The first pastor served in the Civil War as Army Chaplain. In the early 20th century the pastors earned between $100-$200 per year.
Only the sanctuary was built in 1872. In 1952, a room was built onto the back of the church for a Sunday school, kitchen, and dining room space. In the mid-1960s, a wing was added to the west for rest rooms and more space.
“A complete renovation of the exterior took place in the summer and fall of 1993. This included a new front porch; redesigning the entrance to the small cellar; new roofing; replacing the asbestos shingle siding installed in 1956 with “old fashioned” looking siding; restoring the gingerbread above the windows; extending the front entrance outward with a lovely lighted window above the doors; and a new bell tower with the additional of a steeple.”
The church bell cam from the Rochester Woolen Mill and brought to the church by the Men’s Club in the 1950s. Inside, the walls were plastered (rather than the former wallpaper) in 1957 and new hardwood flooring added in 1958. The pews were given to the church by the Plymouth Congregational Church of Lansing in 1957.
“The original windows were a black/white design in diamond shaped panes with colored stained glass borders and lovely Christian symbols near the top. Over the years, deterioration took place. In 1962 crafters Harry and Effie Garey carefully took the old windows apart, saving the large emblems, rosettes, and as much of the border as possible. Then new amethyst stained glass and the beautiful old symbols were assembled in new frames.”
“In the early 1960s the pulpit, lectern and altar were hand crafted by two church members: Thornton Henderson and Thomas Stanis. The Baptismal Font, built by Roy Upchurch, was added in 1996.”
Groups that were active in the church include the Sunday School; the Sunshine Workers, later called the Ladies Aid, then the Women’s Society of Christian Service and now the United Methodist Women; the Men’s Club; the Youth Group; and the music ministry.