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Church History (1834-1884)

Salem Church  1834-1884


About 1834, the date of the beginning of the religious “class” that we now know as Salem; the fires of the Miami Indians were going out and there songs were to be heard no more. The Miami’s occupied about 52,000 acres in the NW corner of Boone County, Indiana until this time. An unbroken wilderness, no roads, no mills, deep tangled brush and vines and a good portion covered with water.


To this gloomy place around 1823-24 came a few hardy pioneers. Primarily from KY, PA and North Carolina. Names like Patrick Sullivan, John Byrd Harmon, William Zion, W.H. Crose, and others.


Named after Daniel Boone, the noted KY hunter; Boone County was organized in 1830 with only 622 residents. Roads, such as The Michigan Road, were laid out in 1830. The railroads were in operation. Growth was aggressive in Boone county… from 622 residents in 1830 to nearly 32,000 in 1880.


Eagle Village for many years was the voting place; and it was here, most of the business was done in “Eagle Creek Country” as it was known. This ended with the construction of the Indianapolis & Lafayette Road in 1852, when Zionsville sprang up one mile to the west.



According to the legislature of 1830, the Governor of the State appointed five commissioners to locate the county seat of Boone county. Three of the five met near the center of Boone in May 1931. They came upon a tall, dense forest of large trees with a dense growth of underbrush and saplings. After 2-3 days, they stood on a rise, made their decision and drove a stake where the courthouse now stands. That is all that was done to establish the location of what is now Lebanon. Not one resident yet existed in this place.


One problem though… they had to give this place a name. As the story is told in 1887, a Mr. A.M. French, the youngest of the five commissioners, gazed up at the tall trees and they reminded him of the tall cedars of Lebanon in sacred history. The name was fixed and Lebanon, Indiana it became.



In 1834, in southwest Eagle Township, a group of people regularly met in their homes for spiritual devotions to form one of the oldest religious congregations in Indiana today.  Services, or “classes” were held in this manner until 1849 when the first Salem church was built on what used to be Salem Road, now South 800 East or as some of us know, Kissel Road. An old wagon track nearby ran roughly northeast and southwest.  A depression, which is all that is left of that early dirt road can still be seen in our cemetery.


Due to great faith, courage and determination of the pioneers of this time, they started one of the oldest, active congregations still in Boone County, Salem Methodist Church.

Several churches in this area had been established around 1834 – Pleasant Hill in 1832, which later became Trader’s Point of which only the cemetery currently remains. Jones Chapel and Bethel, as well as a church in Eagle Village, also started in 1832.  The Eagle Village church later moved to Zionsville.  Old Augusta was organized in 1833 and Ebenezer Christian Church in 1834, an origin to what is now Traders Point Christian Church.

Class leaders of the time played very active roles in the beginning of early churches including Salem.  Often self-appointed but not left on their own, classes were visited every month or two by Circuit Riders. The Circuit Riders were ordained Methodist Episcopal clergymen. Being ordained, he alone could perform such sacraments as communion, marriage and baptism. He


I was usually young, literally living out of his saddlebags, traveling by horseback from meeting to meeting and never without his Bible or “Book of Discipline”. Congregations of the time were all served by these Circuit Riders, recognized by their long dark cloak, rounded black brim hats and long hair.


Historical archives show the first preacher in this area to be Rev. Asa Beck who served this group in 1834 and 1835. Historical commentary indicates Rev. Beck made the circuit every four weeks.  He generally was associated with a younger man, probably a student who also went around the circuit in four weeks, so services at each meeting place would be held every two weeks with the older preacher alternating with the younger one.  In between times, the group or Sunday School class would still meet and one of their own would lead them in spiritual devotions.

Early history tells us Circuit Riders could arrive on weekdays, not just Sunday.  When this occurred farmers were called in from working in the field for the service and then would return to their work at the end of the service.

For the first fifteen years, the small congregations met in various homes in the community. These were believed to be in the homes of Mr. & Mrs. Jonathan Hall or Mrs. & Mrs. George Wood.  It is certain that these so-called ‘cottage’ meetings continued until the first church was built in 1849.

The land on which the church was to be built was acquired in 1834 from the government by George Wood, one of the pioneer members of this congregation.  Andrew Jackson was President at the time.

George Wood and his wife Elizabeth Wood, deeded the land for the church in 1849 to William Lemon, William Johnson and Jonathan T. Hall who were named as the first trustees. The ground for the cemetery was also given at the same time as the church site, part of it by George Wood and two additional parcels given later by a Thomas T. Wood, son of George Wood.

The deed, a quaint document with duplicate forms, was recorded on May 31, 1849, in Deed Book #9 by James McCann, the Boone County Recorder.  This recording, according to a notation on the deed, was ‘gratuitous.’   The consideration given in the deed was ten dollars ($10.00), but Mr. & Mrs. Wood generously waived the consideration and so the land was a gift.  Due to a fire in Lebanon where all documents were stored, the deed has a second recording dated June 3, 1857 in Record Book #3, page 270.

Quoting from the original deed, “This Indenture made the 13th of March in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and forty-nine (and recorded May 30, 1849 – 1st recording) between George Wood and Elizabeth Wood, his wife, of the County of Boone and State of Indiana of the one part and William Lemon, William Johnson and Jonathan L. Hall, Trustees, in part for the Methodist E Church of the County and State aforesaid.”



The first church of which we have definite recorded information was indeed built in 1849, fifteen years after the organization of the “classes.”  The meetings had been going on and apparently growing, almost entirely without ownership of real or personal property of any kind.

The first building for Salem Church was placed on the shoulder of a knoll that dipped down to the banks of our nearby stream, Fishback Creek, which gave “freshness to the land, recreation for the boys, and refreshment to bird and beast and man”. Over the valley to the little hills in every direction, one had the ability to look at fertile farmlands, well-tended abundant crops and large droves of grazing cattle.  Orchards, here and there, bore their fruit and golden grains were in the fields as far as the eye can see.


There is an interesting record, probably by Jonathan L. Hall, of the donations of time and labor made toward the building.  From it we find that one day’s work rated from 25 cents to 50 cents, depending on whether the worker was a man or a boy. Samuel Cooper was the builder, and Hiram Harmon put on the rafters. Hiram was paid $1.00.  There is no record that Mr. Cooper was paid, or if so, how much.


The original building was 30 feet wide, 36 feet long, and 12 feet high.  There is a pencil sketch on cardboard drawn by Emory Shaw of this first building. 


The building was somewhat different from most Methodist churches of that day.  Most were built with two front doors, one for the men and one for the women.  But the men and women of this church seemed from the beginning to be willing to use the same entrance.  However once inside they divided – women sat on one side and the men sat on the other side in gender segregated pews.  (An old saying from those days…they divided the sheep from the goats – always has been, is now and shall forever be.)


The central stove and the high straight-backed pews of the interior were common furnishings of the mid-1800s.  The pulpit was high with at least three steps leading up to it.

Since George Wood had migrated to Boone County from Salem, North Carolina and then from Salem, Indiana in Washington County, he requested that this church be named Salem. His request was granted with the church name recorded as Salem Methodist Episcopal Church.


By a sad coincidence, the first grave in the little cemetery in August 1849 was the five-year old daughter of the donors, George and Elizabeth Wood.  Later in the same month, a little five-year old boy, son of William Lemon, was buried in the second grave.  Mr. Lemon was one of the trustees of the church.  The first adult to be buried in Salem Cemetery was Mrs. Eliza McCabe, wife of Robert McCabe, in November 1849 at the age of 38 years.


Life on the farms of this community was somewhat isolated.  The majority of the people lived in comparatively quiet times, with their hard work centering around the home and their social and emotional life centering around the church.


As some may know, the town of Zionsville began as a promotion by railway speculator William Zion, who partnered with Boone County landowner Elijah Cross to build a railway station on Cross's land in Eagle Township. The town was chartered in 1852, and the first resident was John Miller, who built and lived in a boarding house. By the 1860 census, the population of Zionsville was counted at 364.


In this period, local businesses and houses of worship, specifically the local Methodist and Church of Christ parishes, relocated from nearby Eagle Village closer to bustling Zionsvile. Abraham Lincoln made a whistle-stop speech in Zionsville in 1861 when traveling to his inauguration.


Also, at this time, it gives cause to emphasize… over the last several years, with recent acts of terrorism both in the U.S. and worldwide, we have watched at home on our televisions the tragedies and atrocities of war from around the globe. While hard to imagine and comprehend, at the same time of the beginning of this peaceful little church, The American Civil War was raging as close as Kentucky, Tennesee and Georgia from 1861–1865.


Yes, these years were challenging, hard working, and fast changing. God was there then as He is now and evermore. With a fast growing local population, fertile farmlands providing many with prosperity, a new church was in need in this community and it came to be.


Recorded Sermons

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