The Caseville United Methodist Church
In Berlin, Waterloo County, Canada, on May 10, 1830, a child was born who was destined in later years to be the first minister to carry the Gospel as preached by those early Methodists to Huron County. His name was Joseph Bradley Varnum. Mr. Varnum was converted and received into the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1850. In 1854 he was granted a Local Preachers license and appointed to the Forestville Circuit which extended from Lexington to Bay City around the shore of Lake Huron. This great circuit he traveled on foot and endured almost incredible hardships.
The first permanent settlement at the mouth of the Pigeon River was made by Leonard Case of Cleveland, Ohio in 1851. Here he erected the first saw mill in 1854 under the supervision of William Rattle, also of Cleveland, a few months before Rev. J.B. Varnum entered the county. The settlement was named Port Elizabeth in honor of Mr. Rattle’s wife and it bore this name until 1856 when the Case property of over 20,000 acres of land along the Pigeon River was purchased by Francis Crawford and a Mr. Martin of Cleveland and the village was renamed Caseville.
When Mr. Varnum came to Port Elizabeth he preached in a boarding house used for mill hands and situated on the south side of the river. He also preached in a lumber camp on the Pigeon River where the Richmond farm is now located.
The next Methodist preacher to come to Huron County was Rev. Samuel Bird. The first Methodist class was formed under Mr. Bird’s direction. Some of the names on the first roll are, Mr. & Mrs. William Fisher; Mr. & Mrs. Abram Fox; Mr. & Mrs. A. Emory; Mrs. Charles Fisher and Nelson Fisher. A Sunday School was also formed at this time which included Abram Fox and Agnes McAulay; William and Maria Gwinn; John and Sarah Leverage; A. & Jessie Emory; Mrs. Dufty and Mr. & Mrs. Richard Gwinn Sr.
The next ministers to serve this area were Rev. A.R. Laing 1857-60; and Rev. W.J. Campbell 1860-61.
In 1861 the war broke out and many of the men of the area enlisted. At that time the Sunday school ceased to meet because of the lack of leadership and nothing further of a religious nature was attempted until the Woodworth family came to Caseville in 1867. Mr. Woodworth began at once to plan for a Methodist Church in Caseville. He attended the Annual Conference in the fall and was instrumental in securing the services of the Rev. Mr. William Cross who preached the following year in the school house at Caseville. The Methodist Episcopal Church of Caseville was organized on September 26, 1868 under the law of the State by Rev. Manassah Hickey, Presiding Elder of the Flint District. There were 12 members. The first trustees were T.B. Woodworth; Mrs. Fisher; Edward Harding; Francis Crawford; Horace Murdock; Dow L. Lighthall; and Henry Compo. A Sunday school was organized with seven pupils, Annie Woodworth; Mary Shapaign; Martha and Agnes McAulay; William, Maria and Richard Gwinn.
Mr. Woodworth was elected Sunday School Superintendent and held that office until his death in 1904.
The next preacher sent to Caseville was Rev. E. Klump, 1868-71. He was followed by Rev. D. J. Odell, 1871-72. Rev. R. Woodhams came in 1872 and remained two years. When he was appointed to Caseville he was unable to rent a home and immediate steps were taken to build a parsonage. It was erected near the Woodworth home and cost about $600.00. It was during his pastorate the erection of the present Church building began. The building was of fine frame construction, 40 by 60 feet of Gothic architecture, with a 70 foot steeple. Rev. Woodhams and the former pastor Rev. Klump, as well as several church members cut and hewed the timbers for the frame and foundation. The building sat on cedar posts; it had two front doors and no rear door. There were two stoves which were used for heat and a chimney near the front of the building. The dedication service took place on November 15, 1874 during the pastorate of Rev. Issac Wilcox, 1874-76. Rev. Jocelyn Russell of Albion College officiated at the dedication of the building. There were 36 members at that time. This was a milestone in the history of Methodism at Caseville. The building and furnishings cost $4979.00, a large amount to be raised by a new village in those early days. Mr. Francis Crawford gave land and money equal to approximately half this amount.
The first Ladies Aid Society was organized on November 26, 1880. The first officers were President, Mrs. T.B. Woodworth; Vice President, Mrs. H.H. Case; Treasurer, Mrs. J. Shelton; and Secretary, Mrs. A. Frank. Other members were, Mrs. D.C. Cable; Mrs. A. McAulay; Mrs. J.A. Holmes; Miss M. McAulay; Mrs. M. Milerick; Mrs. Ella Brown; Mrs. F. Poss; Emma Adams; Maggie McKinley; Mrs. Baily and Mrs. R. Cope. Mrs. T.B. Woodworth served for 30 years as president of the Ladies Aid.
In 1904 Rev. J.P. Cooper was appointed to the Caseville Church and during his pastorate the church was remodeled. A new basement was dug beneath the building and many days Rev. Cooper worked alone, digging the basement by hand. A new furnace was placed in the basement and a new stone foundation laid. New steel walls were installed in the building, as were a gallery, class rooms, new seats and a pulpit. The west front door was closed and a new rear door was installed. While the building was closed for remodeling, services were held in the Holmes building and in the Presbyterian Church. The final touch was complete repainting inside and out and the church was rededicated on April 8, 1906. Several members who attended the original dedication service 32 years before were present, among them were Mrs. T.B. Woodworth; J. Aldrich Holmes; C.F. Leipprandt; George Henry; Mr. & Mrs. Richard Gwinn; Mr. Jacob Sheldon and sons George and Charles; and Mr. & Mrs. Hector McLean. The total cost of the remodeling of the building was $2500.00.
In 1908 the Presbyterian Church closed and many of the members began coming to the Methodist Church. With them they brought a new pulpit Bible, pulpit chair, organ and a lovely birthday bank still being used in the church school today.
The 1940’s brought improvements in the basement supports, new doors, the addition of lavatories, memorial windows and a new parsonage. Prior to 1900 a second home was obtained to serve as the Caseville parsonage. The home was located on Pine St., near the present school building. This was the site of the parsonage in Caseville until the construction of the present one at 6522 River Street. The Rev. Mr. Fred Clark and family being the first to occupy the new home. The 1940’s also brought destruction to the steeple which was struck by lightning on two different occasions. It was reconstructed in its original form with the use of insurance money.
In the 1950’s it was found that the base of the steeple was deteriorating and in need of repair and strengthening. The finances were low and the cost of repairs was high, so after much deliberation the Official Board decided to remove the upper part of the steeple. As soon as the action of the Board became known, contributions began to come in from the townspeople and from the commercial fishermen who depended on the steeple to guide them to the mouth of the river after lifting their nets on Saginaw Bay. These contributions along with those of the church members made possible the necessary repairs and so the steeple still stands today, as a guiding light to the fishermen on the bay and to those of us on the sea of life in search of the upward way.
Also in the 1950’s an organ was purchased and a garage at the parsonage was finished, the chimney and the front steps were rebuilt. An 8:00 am worship service was instituted for the summer months.
In the 1960’s important changes were made as well, rebuilding the chancel, the kitchen, laying new carpet, new pews, and a new roof.
Each decade improvements have been made until the Caseville United Methodist
Church is now known as the most photographed church in the State.
On Sunday, April 26, 1964 the District Superintendent Rev. Merton Stevens presided over a service of consecration climaxing improvements made in recent years. On November 15, 1964 a special celebration was held to mark the 90th anniversary of the construction of the building which houses the fellowship of worship which is called the Caseville United Methodist Church.
At the 90th anniversary celebration in speaking of his relationship with the Caseville Church, Dr. H.J. Fox made the following remarks, “Gradually the years slipped by and I began to realize that the church was more than just a pleasant and interesting place, I began to realize that its great mission was to uplift and make the community and the world a better place and to point the way to God.” “We moved from Caseville in 1899 and became members and workers in other churches, but every time I drive by this church a warm feeling steals over me and a little voice within whispers, “This is my Church,” and I would say to you, “Guard her well, for she is the most precious treasure Caseville has.” Ninety years her spire has pointed the way to the river’s mouth for the mariner on the lake and her sanctuary has pointed the way for the souls of her people to the throne of God.” “And so ends the reminiscence of one who has watched her and loved her through many, many years.” “I often ponder on the infinitesimal period that represents the life span of man. He comes on the scene, plays his little part and passes on. But the church goes on forever. In spite of atheism, communism, indifference, pestilence and war, her spires still stand and her sanctuaries are a haven of refuge to a tense and weary world.”
This is a brief record of the Caseville Methodist Church over one century of time. Who is to know if Rev. J.B. Varnum thought or dreamed of what the church that he and a small group of early settlers organized in September 1868 would be like in 100 years. Two men, James Cobb and Leslie Collver have entered the Methodist Ministry from this church. Who is to estimate the influence that has gone out from this community to all parts of the world because of the faith and trust in God of a handful of followers in 1868 and of those who have passed this way in the century since? May the people who are the Church at Caseville today, the Hands, the Feet, the Lips of the Lord in this community, begin our Second hundred years with the prayer that God’s Blessings may be upon us as we seek to do His will in all the days to come.