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Commission on Archives & History

Historical Sites

The Clinton Church -- Oldest Church Building in the ConferenceClinton Church

by Ronald A. Brunger
(from the Historical Messenger, March 1979)

Location:  Lenawee County - The Clinton United Methodist Church with its massive brick walls painted blue (formerly dark red) stands one block south of the main corner, on the corner of Church and Tecumseh Streets.  Clinton is one of-the oldest Methodist preaching points in Michigan, and this is the oldest church edifice still in use in the Detroit Conference! [Note: This was the case at the time when the historic designation was made.  The building still stands, but the Clinton Methodists, and the state historical marker, have moved to 10990 Tecumseh Highway (1.6 miles south).]

State historical marker information at: http://www.michmarkers.com/startup.asp?startpage=L0506.htm

In the fall of 1826, the Ohio Conference increased its appointments in Michigan from two to four, adding the Monroe Circuit and St. Clair Mission, to the Detroit Circuit and Detroit City.  The previous year John A. Baughman had served the Detroit Circuit preaching as far west as Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor.  Now he was appointed to the new Monroe Circuit, which proved to be a very difficult one.  The flat country back from Lake Erie in Monroe County, southern Wayne County, and northern Ohio was very swampy and wet in its wilderness state and travel was arduous.  Baughman at once established Tecumseh, and almost certainly Clinton, as preaching points on the Circuit.  Elijah Pilcher, on the Tecumseh Circuit, in 1831-32, preached at both Clinton and Tecumseh every fourth Sunday; with the junior preacher, these adjoining towns had preaching services every other Sunday.

In the autumn of 1828, Rev. Joseph Bangs, a local preacher and brother of the prominent Methodist leader Rev. Nathan Bangs, moved to the area and settled on the Raisin River between Clinton and Tecumseh.  His coming greatly strengthened the cause of Methodism in the area.  He worked as a blacksmith and farmer, and did a great deal of preaching.  He held the first religious services in Macon Township.  We read that, ''The grave of Benjamin B. Fisk was the first dug in the old burying ground (at Clinton).  Elder Bangs, the first Methodist minister in Clinton, preached the funeral sermon."  The first Quarterly Meeting in the area, the first visit of a Presiding Elder, was held in Tecumseh in the summer of 1829, conducted by Zarah H. Coston.  The people rejoiced in the Communion service and the testimonial meeting; having expected that they might "be deprived of such privileges for years."  The Methodists in Clinton and Tecumseh were closely linked together in the early years.

In 1835 the Clinton Society bought land from the government.  "They could have built an adequate frame building for their Church," a historian records. The wood was readily available and not so expensive.  "Instead they elected to build at great expense, labor, and sacrifice, a brick church.  The edifice was started in 1837.  The bricks were made southeast of Clinton.  The walls of the Church were made 3 feet thick.  The timbers were hand-hewn oak."  The laymen did the work, but the cost was great.  Finally, there was a heavy mortgage on the Church and the Clinton Methodists were in danger of losing their church.  "Some of the builders mortgaged their own farms, to save the church."

In 1841 Luther Day Whitney came to the Tecumseh Circuit, and he lived in a parsonage at Clinton.  He reported long afterward, "There was the body of a fine brick church up at Clinton, with a roof on and basement finished for use, with a debt of $1,300.  We raised funds to finish and dedicate the church at Clinton, and more than half pay the indebtedness."  The church then was completed in either 1842 or 1843; the exact date of dedication is unknown. Whitney left the circuit in the fall of 1843.

This solid brick church built and completed at such great cost around 140 years ago, is still in use today.  The tower was built in 1897 and the north wing was built 20 years later.  As noted in the last Messenger, this Church was designated a Michigan Historical Site in May 1977; the Michigan Historical Marker has been mounted on the middle panel of the three-cornered signboard.   Now with the designation as a Methodist Historic Site and the arrival of the small Methodist Site Marker, dedicatory services were held on January 7 with Rev. Ralph Harper, Conference archivist and historian, as guest speaker.