Methodists in Early Albion
The Methodists were the first congregation to organize in Albion and set the standard for church construction with their grand and glorious structures. Having a Methodist affiliated seminary in town greatly strengthened the local congregation. This brought a number of out of town guests who would come to visit the seminary, to visit the church, and who were interested in seeing Albion advance. In its heyday during the 19th and early 20th centuries, Albion served as home to many leaders in the Methodist Church who would rise to positions of prominence.
The earliest Methodist church meetings in Albion were most likely held in houses of the early settlers. Following construction of the Little Red Schoolhouse in 1837, services were held there by the Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Episcopalian congregations. Citing scheduling conflicts, the following year in 1838 a Meeting House was erected on the site where the Presbyterian Church now stands today.
After being given land to locate the Wesleyan Seminary in Albion in 1839, this fledgling institution managed to attract some remarkable individuals. The earliest leaders came from the east, oftentimes sharing similar academic pedigrees. Charles Stockwell was the first Principal of the Wesleyan Seminary. He studied at the Newbury Seminary in Vermont and later Dartmouth College. He taught at the Wesleyan Academy in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, before coming to Albion. Clark T. Hinman, the second Principal of the Wesleyan Seminary, graduated from the Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, and later taught at the Newbury Seminary in Vermont where Stockwell had studied. Stockwell tragically died en route to California in search of gold and was buried at sea. Hinman became the first President of Northwestern University, though died the following year of choleric dysentery on October 21, 1854.
Lewis Ransom Fiske with many academic accomplishments and titles, as well as being an ordained Methodist minister. He gained a masters degree at the University of Michigan in 1850, and became a professor of chemistry at the Michigan Agricultural College in 1854. During that time he was ordained as a Methodist minister. From 1863 forward he filled pastorates at the Central Methodist Church in Detroit and also at Ann Arbor. Fiske received the degree of Doctor of Divinity from Albion College in 1873, and that of LL. D. in 1879. He accepted the presidency of Albion College in 1878. For the next two decades he faithfully served in that capacity. A fairly remarkable document remains, titled the Baccalaureate Addresses Delivered at Albion College by Lewis Ransom Fiske. These give a sense of the intellectual rigor of the times, as well as the blending of religious themes into instruction.
Returning to the history of the Methodist Church in Albion, during the pastorate of J.F. Davidson a brick building was started in 1849 on the corner of East Erie and Ionia Streets. This structure cost $9,000 and was dedicated by Bishop Morris in 1850 who presided over the Michigan Conference that was held in Albion.
The interior was reconstructed in 1876 with a raised floor to permit a basement, new stained-glass windows, and new seats for the auditorium. The church became overcrowded and pressure grew for a larger building. Rev. John Graham became the pastor in 1884, and people would crowd to hear him until there was no room to spare. He left the following year for a larger church and salary, and a smaller congregation.
This is where one of the most important figures in Methodism in Albion and nationally enters the narrative. Rev. Washington Gardner became pastor in 1887. He was remembered as an able, cordial, and eloquent orator. Gardner took the initiative to begin a campaign for a new church building. He managed to raise $25,000 and a new building was constructed during the winter of 1887-1888. The new building was dedicated by Bishop Newman on June 16, 1889, and was the largest in the county and one of the finest and most complete in the state.
Having a church related seminary and later a church related college in Albion helped to shape the character and accomplishments of the local congregation. In this creative milieu came the origins of Mother’s Day and composition of the “Old Rugged Cross”.
One Sunday when Rev. Myron Daugherty was unable to complete his sermon a church mother Juliet Calhoun Blakeley rose to take his place. Each year her sons returned to Albion to commemorate the event, honoring her and all mothers.
The Old Rugged Cross was composed by Rev. George Bennard in the home of Albion College professor Delos Fall at 1101 Michigan Avenue. Bennard who was a Methodist minister, composed The Old Rugged House while vising Albion. This is one of over 300 hymns he composed in his lifetime. Bennard also operated a gospel tract society in Albion for many years at 108 W. Porter St. This inter-commingling of figures associated with the college (Delos Fall) and ministers (Bennard) while seemingly awkward to our modern tastes and sensibilities, was likely quite common then.
Perhaps the greatest story of Methodism in Albion was the influence that a few local idealists had on the United States through the temperance movement and the Prohibition Party. Around the same time that the Methodist Church was being constructed downtown, a faculty member from Albion College was becoming recognized at the national level as a leader of the Prohibition Party.
Samuel Dickie served as convention chairman for the party in 1884, ran for governor of Michigan and lost on the Prohibition ticket in 1886, and in 1888 took over chairmanship of the Prohibition Party National Committee. At this point his public speaking career began in earnest, visiting cities larger than 10,000 people and advocating strongly for the Prohibition cause. Following his service to the nation Dickie focused his concentration at home again, serving as president of Albion College from 1901 to 1921, gently caring for the local culture that had such a powerful influence in shaping him and his ascent into national prominence.
WCTU Hall before and after fire.
Dickie’s efforts at a national level had a profound influence at the local level, creating a particularly vigorous local chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Their meeting hall was directly across from the GAR Hall and Methodist Church on Erie Street. The WCTU Hall was renamed Dickie Hall to honor the work of he and his wife Clarissa Brockway Dickie, but regrettably was destroyed by a fire on December 19, 1944. Just fourteen years later in 1958 the Methodist congregation across the street moved from their home of over 70 years to the newly constructed Goodrich Chapel on the Albion College campus. A few years later the Old Methodist Church was demolished as well – severing this connection between the people of Albion and part of their glorious past.
Frederick Goodrich is yet another figure who rose to positions of great prominence. Goodrich attended the Wesleyan Academy in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, which he graduated from in 1885. Later he attended the Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, where he received his bachelors degree in 1890. Goodrich traveled abroad and taught elsewhere, before joining the Albion College faculty in 1892. His first recorded title was as the “John Morrison Reid Professor of Greek language and literature.” Goodrich served as interim president from January to July 1924. He eventually retired June 4, 1935. At the time of his retirement the Detroit Free Press had this to write about him:
People all over Michigan know Dr. Goodrich, as he lectured in nearly every city and village of the State on Palestine, which he visited in 1890, 1913, and 1930. The lectures have been profusely illustrated by slides and garments gathered in the Holy Land. Other popular lectures include those on the Passion Play and Mexico. Possessor of a remarkable memory, he recites many chapters of Scripture without a note and unhesitatingly can quote scores of shorter passages. His services to the college have been manifold. Nearly 100 students have made their college home with Dr. and Mrs. Goodrich during the 43 years. They are scattered from Florida to California and even to the Orient. It was Dr. Goodrich that the college trustees turned when they needed an acting president of unusual skill after the administration of President John W. Laird. He served until President John L. Seaton was installed.
Rev. Frederic Goodrich died April 17, 1948, and was buried at Riverside Cemetery in Albion. Plans for the construction of the “Frederic S. Goodrich Memorial Chapel” began in late 1945 while Goodrich was still alive. Groundbreaking did not take place until 1956 after his death, and the dedication was not until 1958. This was an ample sized space by any measure, though one that would seldom be fully utilized in the decades that followed. A 1998 renovation was done of the chapel removing the choir loft and religious symbols and making an avowedly secular building with a stage suitable for college performing concerts, where evidence of a religious past could be rolled on and off stage.
Leaders like Gardner, Dickie, and Goodrich were living expressions of the importance of Albion Methodism on a national scale. They would no doubt delight in the growing stature of the college they helped to get established, though feel a slight pain in how it turned its back from early Methodist origins.