United Presbyterian Church Oxford, Ohio Historical Profile
Our Journey begins…
A group of early settlers in the area arrived at the Preble County site known as the “Beech Woods” in late summer 1808. They traveled from Chester County, S.C., a settlement along Rocky Creek, and would have made the trip on foot, on horseback or by wagon. The distance is approximately 700 miles and they might have made the journey in five months, traveling only during the spring and summer and never on Sunday. They were Associate Reformed Scotch-Irish and left their homes in South Carolina because of their opposition to slavery.
These early settlers built cabins and shelters and their first church services were held in these cabins. Soon they built a small 30 x 30 ft. building which they named Hopewell after their former SC church and community. Dr. Alexander Porter was called to supply this initial church and a Session House was also built. Members of the session acted in judicial capacity during the early days of the church.
The brick church that we know today was built in 1826. The bricks were made right on the property and the kilns fired from the plentiful beech wood. The floor of the church was also brick and each family paid for their own floor-space and pew. Pews were sold and re-sold if members left Hopewell and these sales of the pews provided some income for the church.
As more and more settlers came into Israel Township, the membership of Hopewell began to grow (more than 400 members at one time) and members had to travel further and further from their farms to attend church. Daughter churches were built to accommodate the overflow. The first of these daughter churches was to the north in Fairhaven built in 1835, the next daughter church was in Oxford in 1837, the next was in College Corner in 1849 and then last was in Morning Sun in 1876.
1835 FIRST CHURCH
From 1825 to 1835 worshipers in Oxford gathered in the chapel in “Old Main” (Harrison Hall) for services…a practice originated by President Robert Hamilton Bishop who served as pastor. Until 1834 there was but one Presbyterian Church and one college in Oxford. The ties between the two were strong.
Necessitated by the growth of the congregation, the First Church was erected in 1835 on the corner of Campus and Church Street and worship in “Old Main” was discontinued. Of the first seven presidents of Miami, nine were Presbyterian ministers
1838 SEMINARY (BANK) CHURCH
In 1834 Miami professor Samuel MacCracken organized a group of residents and students as the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church of Oxford and served as its pastor (with the support of Miami president Robert Hamilton Bishop, clerk of the session of First Church)
In 1838 the Oxford Theological Seminary, constructed at the corner of Church and Poplar Streets, opened its doors and for the next twenty years sent a steady stream of men into the Associate Reformed Ministry.
Classrooms and offices were located on the first floor and a sanctuary for congregational worship was established on the second floor. In order for worshipers to enter the sanctuary without going through the classrooms an inclined earthen bank was built in front of the building where it remained for the next 50 years.
1842 SECOND CHURCH
A third Presbyterian Church evolved as a result of a split within the Presbyterian Church USA into “Old School” and “New School” factions. The split came over the 1801 Plan of Union between Congregationalists and Presbyterians. The two groups agreed to not establish competing churches within certain regions of the country (New England dominated areas would be served by the Congregationalists and Presbyterians would control the Mid Atlantic, Midwest, etc.) “New School” supported maintaining the plan. “Old School” wanted to be their own missionaries and abandon the plan. Also, the “Old School” believed slavery was a sin but believed that there was no cure and the southern brethren should manage their own affairs. “New School” became abolitionists. Locally, the division was fueled by the First Church (Old School) and Pastor Rev. William Graham’s theoretical belief in slavery. In addition, the First Church was still under a debt from the 1835 building construction cost of $4,500. About 65 members left the First Church as well as the debt and constructed a separate church in 1842 at the corner of Church and Main Streets.
1860 THIRD CHURCH
Merged with the First Church congregation
In 1850 the Presbytery organized a third church congregation to be merged with the First Church congregation with services to be held in the First Church building. By 1853 the membership had increased to 180 with 24 members remaining of the First Church congregation. The combined congregation managed to pay off the building debt. But by 1863 the First Church was down to 15 members and the Presbytery declared the First Church dissolved and the church became the First Presbyterian Church of Oxford.
By 1860 Oxford offered four Presbyterian churches, the First, the Second, the Third and the Associate Reformed. Concurrently, five colleges had evolved within the community…Miami University, Oxford Theological Seminary, Oxford Female Institute, Western Female Seminary and Oxford Female College. This was truly a period of union of faith and learning.
1863 CIVIL WAR
The advent of the Civil War had a significant impact on colleges and theology throughout the nation. In the South the “Old School” Presbyterianism prevailed. In the North the “New School” was dominant. Colleges were mostly all male institutions and their numbers decreased as students and faculty disseminated to support their respective allegiances. Miami closed in 1873. Female and coeducational schools managed to keep going.
1869-1888 POST CIVIL WAR
Following the Civil War, worship in Oxford was impacted by several events. In 1869 the First and Second churches resolved their differences and reunited. They worshiped in the Second Church. The First Church property was sold and the building was demolished in 1883. In 1885 Miami reopened. Robert McFarland was hired as Miami president and he promptly eliminated compulsory chapel for Miami students. He was fired in 1888 and Ethelburt Warfield was hired and compulsory chapel was reinstated…to continue until 1954. By the end of the century interest in church attendance had significantly declined.
1925 MEMORIAL PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF OXFORD
In 1925 the Oxford Presbyterian Church began planning for a centennial anniversary celebration of the First Church. To mark the occasion, Mrs. Laura Kumler donated funds to build a new church in memory of her late husband Theophilus Rex and her late daughter Mary.
She wanted the building to be designed just right…like some of the churches she had seen in England. She presented the dynamic pastor Rev. Rudolph Riemann with a stack of postcards each featuring a picture of an English church and asked him which one would be suitable. He intently went through the stack, came upon the one that showed the most wear and tear and selected that one as his choice. She agreed that that one was her choice as well and thus originated the new church.
The cornerstone was placed October 11, 1925 and Mrs. Kumler died in April, 1926 while the new building was still under construction. As a result of her gift of a quarter million dollars, the name of the church was changed from Oxford Presbyterian Church to the Memorial Presbyterian Church of Oxford
1959 -1966 DENOMINATIONAL REORGANIZATION…UNION
In 1959 the national office united the Presbyterian Church in the United States and the United Presbyterian Church in North America. Several attempts were made in the ensuing years to merge the two remaining Presbyterian churches in Oxford…without success.
Finally, in 1966, the sessions of the two churches agreed to combine under a new name of The United Presbyterian Church of Oxford, Ohio…with the understanding that the historical significance of both buildings would be retained in the continued use of the names of the buildings “Memorial” and “Seminary”. The combined congregations now included 1,124 members. The status of 1825 was once again established with Oxford having one college and one Presbyterian church
Today – Our Journey Continues
HONORING OUR PAST…WELCOMING OUR FUTURE
Today we continue to apply the Memorial building as our worship center and the Seminary building is undergoing refurbishing as our base for enhancing our community mission. While honoring our heritage, we look forward with anticipation to an exciting future.
Special Thanks to
for their contributions to this story of our journey
much of which evolved from the book
A History of Presbyterianism in Oxford, Ohio
By Phillip R. Shriver and Edith Foth Puff