Fiery History of Methodism in Shepherdstown by Reva Kave

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The history of Methodism in Shepherdstown goes back to the early days of the denomination in America, since Mecklenburg (now Shepherdstown) as a settlement dates from 1762, and the first Methodists began to preach in America in 1760.In 1776 Freeborn Garretson, one of the leading Methodist preachers of the time, spent several days in Shepherdstown; in 1779 Shepherdstown became a regular appointment on the Berkley Circuit; in 1820 the Jefferson Circuit was formed. Many of the leading men of early Methodism preached in Shepherdstown. Bishop Francis Asbury, founder of American Methodism wrote in his journal of a visit here in 1794.

The first Methodist church building, of which there is any record, was a frame and log structure located on Church Street between where the Catholic and Methodist Churches now stand. This building was destroyed by fire which started in the Bradshaw house on the corner of Washington and Church Streets on March 17, 1853. The flames swept across the street, and set the Methodist Church on fire. The fire was soon beyond control, sparks were blown northward and soon the town was in a state of terror. There was no fire engine, but men, women and children formed a double line from the scene of the fire to the Town Run. With incredible rapidity buckets of water passed up and down the lines. Neither the house nor the church could be saved, but other property was kept from burning.

The Methodists then bought a lot on the corner of Church and New Streets, and in 1854 a brick building was erected (now the Sanctuary of our church).

The Methodists, like other denominations, were disturbed regarding the institution of slavery, and the Southern Conference pulled out of the General Conference to form a separate church. In 1866 the Southern Methodist sympathizers withdrew from the N.E. Chruch in Shepherdstown and held their meetings in the Presbyterian Sanctuary and the second floor of the B. Baker property (above German Street Market) until they could build a church.

In 1868 a new brick church at the corner of Main and King Streets in the heart of town was erected (now the Men’s Club Building). For the next 70 years there were two Methodist Churches in the Shepherdstown Circuit. Mount Wesley went with the N.E. Church and Uvilla, Bethesda and Marvin Chapel with the Southern Methodist. In 1940 the churches were united again. The Reverend J. W. Seay was the first pastor of the United Congregation.

The Main Street Church was sold in 1947 to the Men’s Club for a community building and the building that was formerly the N.E. Church at New and Church Streets was redesigned to serve as the sanctuary. An additional building was designed to surround it to serve as an educational building. The sanctuary of the remodeled church was reopened for divine worship on Sunday, May 8, 1949. The Reverend S. T. Fitch conducted the service. Work on the Educational Building continued for several years and was completed under the pastorate of Reverend Edwin H. Langrall. Throughout the years other congregations have been included in the Shepherdstown Charge: Scrabble, Molers Crossroads, Rocky Marsh, VanClevesville and Uvilla. Reverend Melvin Hughson followed Reverend as a minister.

In 1959, because of an increase in membership in the Shepherdstown Church and the increased enrollment at Shepherd College, the New Street congregation was made a station under the leadership of Reverend Randall Parsons. Another change came in 1969 when the Methodist Church merged with the Evangelical United Brethren to form the United Methodist Church.

The ministers who followed Reverend Parsons were: Reverend Albert Burton, Reverend Bruce Kuehnle, Reverend Charles Cathcart, Reverend Robert W. Richardson, Reverend Charles Cathcart (second term), Reverend Elizabeth Pate Smith, Reverend Wendy Schulemberger and our present pastor, The Reverend G. Dee-Ann Dixon.

The original (Northern Methodist) parsonage was the old Criswell house on Washington Street. This was sold and a brand new parsonage was built on the site of the burned Bradshaw house. The Washington Street property was later deeded back to the church by the will of Mr. and Mrs. Reuben Jenkins. This was the Northern Methodist parsonage, In the 1980’s ministers were encouraged to provide their own homes so when the Cathart’s built a new home in Cavaland, the parsonage was rented for a while and then in 1989 the congregation voted to sell the property. The parsonage on New Street was the Southern Methodist parsonage and was sold when the churches united.

Reva Kave, Church Historian