AN OUTLINE OF THE HISTORY
ZION HILL (PARADISE) METHODIST CHURCH
Zion Hill is the homeof the oldest religious congregation in this section of the country. Since the history of Zion Hill and thesettlement of the Paradise vicinity are so closely related, a brief outline ofthe settlement of this area is included.
Coles County is believed to have been thefirst settled, about 1824, in what is now Hutton Township. The first settlers in the Wabash Point area,Daniel Drake and James Nash, came in 1825 or early 1826. The Drake cabin was on the banks of theLittle Wabash about a mile south of the site of the village of Paradise.
In the fall of 1826, Mr. Charles Sawyer cameand settled in what is now Mattoon Township. The first permanent settlers in Paradise township were three Hartbrothers, Miles H. (known as “Old Jolly”), Moses and Thomas, Jr., who also camein the fall of 1826, followed in short time by their parents, “Uncle Tommy”Hart and his wife, and two other brothers, Silas and Jonathon. The Hart families built cabins about a milewest of where the Dry Grove Church was later to be built. In 1827, ’28, ’29, and ’30 many pioneerfamilies came here from Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, many of them settlingin the Dry Grove area. Among theseearly settlers were the following families:
Alexander, Apperson, Boles, Bryant, Champion,Cole, Coleman, Cunningham, Curry, Gannaway, Graham, Hanson, Radley, Slover,Tremble, Turner, Yocum, Young. Gravesof many of these pioneer settlers are to be found in the Dry Grove Cemeterytoday.
For a long time the entire area, includingDry Grove and Paradise settlement, was known as the Wabash Pointsettlement. Wabash Point and MuddyPoint were the two most populous and important settlements in Coles County inthose early days.
The word “point” was commonly used asdenoting a tract of timber bordering on a small stream and usually coming to apoint near its source. The term “WabashPoint” to the early pioneer meant the place where the timber along the LittleWabash pointed out into the prairie. Inits early state Paradise Township was comprised of three fourths woodland andone fourth prairie. Dry Grove was atract of timber several hundred acres in extent and where it got its name isnot known.
Coles County was divided from Clark County in1830 and at that time was divided into three sections—Charleston, Woodbury andParadise. At that time Paradiseincluded not only its present limits but also all territory now in Mattoon,Pleasant Grove and a portion of North Okaw Townships, as well as a large partof the present Cumbersland County.
The village of Paradise was not laid outuntil the year 1837. In 1828 JosephSmart had settled temporarily near what is now Paradise but did not remainthere long. A post office called paradise had been established in1830, the first in Coles County, which was, for a time, kept in the home ofGeorge M. Hanson, the first postmaster, then at Slover’s store and at otherplaces before the village was founded. George M. Hanson, a preacher, also was influential in the creation ofthe new county of Coles, was a member of the first Board of CountyCommissioners and later served as a representative and senator in the StateLegislature.
In 1836 a village to be called Paradise waslaid out on the Old State Road by Mr. Charles Sawyer but nothing further cameof it. In 1837, in order to procure asteam mill on the Little Wabash, Thomas Brinnegar and David Moore deeded 40acres of land to Miles W. Hart (not the first settler, Miles H.) and LemmeGoar, who erected the mill. This wasthe first of its kind in this part of the country. The boiler, engine and burr stones for it were brought by wagonfrom Cincinnati. It burned down butthrough donations from the citizens of the community was rebuilt and operatedfor 8 or 10 years then was moved to Charleston.
But on a portion of the 40 acre tractmentioned above, adjacent to the mill site, the town of Paradise was surveyedby Joseph Fowler, with the original plot containing 54 lots, 42 of which werelocated south of Main Street, as it was called at the time—now thehighway. There were two east-weststreets, the foregoing Main Street, and another south of it called MillStreet. There were two north-southstreets, the one to the west called Water Street, the other one MeridianStreet. A public sale of lots was held,with $500-$600 being realized.
There are two recorded versions of how thevillage acquired its name but the one most frequently mentioned is thatParadise was the name of the home town of George M. Hanson, who came fromParadise, Virginia (now West Virginia).
The village was located on thePalestine-Shelbyville Road. It was alsonear the line of what was the old stage route from Terre Haute to St. Louis andfor a time it was one of the most thriving villages between those twocities. At one time it had hundreds ofcitizens, four good stores, and various other businesses of differentkinds. In the very early days mail cameto the Paradise post office by horseback and stagecoach, but after the buildingof the Illinois Central Railroad and the establishment of the Etna post office,the Paradise post office became a star route out of Etna and continued thusuntil 1902 when it was closed. Theearliest houses in Paradise were of mud.
These early settlers were people of deepreligious convictions and the typical faith of the frontier was Methodist. The Methodist Church had developed a planespecially suitable to frontier conditions and historians say that this playeda large part in Illinois’ pioneer history, through the influence of the circuitriders in the settlements they visited, where they exercised a powerfulinfluence in maintaining law and order. The Methodist system of church organization was well-ordered and efficientand the introduction of such a system in a more or less disorganized communityhad a far-reaching influence upon the widely scattered settlements of the earlypioneers.
Methodism is believed to have been introducedinto Illinois near the last decade of the 1700’s. In 1800 the population of Illinois was roughly estimated at 2500,largely French. By 1809 there weresettlements on Shoal Creek as far up as where Greenville now stands and theShoal Creek Circuit was formed in 1818. In 1827, Thomas Randle, traveling the Shoal Creek Circuit, formed aclass in Shelbyville.
The earliest groups of Methodists were calledClasses and when a circuit of several classes was formed it was known as aSociety. Many small societies scatteredover a large territory would be included in one large circuit and this madepossible the continued existence of small societies. Every circuit had its minister, or was combined with anothercircuit, and all societies were looked after. The circuit riders journeyed into the community occasionally. Several of the early settlers were localpreachers, exhorters, or class leader. The classes usually chose a leader from their group, and they usuallymet once a week. If there was a localpreacher in the group they conducted the meeting, otherwise the class leadersdid so.
On October 22, 1828, from Vandalia, Illinois,Samuel H. Thompson, formerly the presiding elder of the Shoal Creek Circuit,wrote a letter to Miles H. Hart. (Theoriginal of this letter is in the Library at Springfield.) In it he referred to a discussion he had hadwith Mr. Hart in August of that year about the large number of Methodists inWabash Pint and eastward. He statedthat he had discussed the matter with Peter Cartwright, then the PresidingElder of Shoal Creek Circuit, and that he and his newly-appointed assistant,William Deneen (grandfather of the late Governor and U. S. Senator Deneen)would arrive at the Hart home on October 30th and he asked thatpreaching places be arranged.
This visit marked the establishment of theWabash Point Society, a part of which was, years later, to become the Zion HillMethodist Church. Wabash Point became aregular point of call on the Shelbyville Circuit (Charleston was the east endof the circuit) and it is listed as a preaching appointment on the Shoal CreekCircuit in 1828, with S. H. Thompson and Wm. L. Denneen as co-pastors.
The Shoal Creek had become very large and in1829 it was divided and the northeastern part of it became the ShelbyvilleCircuit. In 1831, Barton Randle, thepreacher for the Shelbyville Circuit, closed his year with a camp meeting atWabash Point, at which he reported much good was done.
In 1833 the Shelbyville Circuit had a mileageof 150 miles and 423 members. Thecircuit rider’s report and circuit plan for that year listed the followingclasses at Wabash Point:
Geo. M. Hanson atwhat is now Magnet 15 members
Miles H. Hart between Paradise and Dry Grove 24 members
Fuller’s east of Hart Home 29 members
Sawyer’s 20 members
Wm. Williams vicinity of Lerna not given
Elisha Linder near Wabash School not given
During these first years meetings were heldin the woods in warm weather and in the winter services were held in the homesof class members. Homes frequentlymentioned as meeting places were those of Dr. John Apperson ( the firstpracticing physician in Coles Couty), Deniel Bryant, Clemme Goar, Geo. M.Hanson, William Gannaway, Miles H. Hart, Hiram Tremble, and others. Two of these pioneer leaders, Clemme Goarand Miles H. Hart, were two of the first trustees of the Mattoon MethodistChurch when it was established in 1855.
In 1837 the first West Paradise Schoolbuilding was erected and it is recorded as having served thereafter as a placefor class meetings also.
In the early part of the 1830’s, as thenumber of settlers increased, they began to have camp meetings in the summer orearly fall, to which people came form miles around, bringing their families andcamping out as long as the meeting lasted. Circuit riders, when passing through the community, would stop for a fewdays at such meetings. Camp meetingshad originated about 1800 in Kentucky and Tennessee.
The earliest place established for worship inParadise Township was in a woods midway between the present Camp GroundCemetery and the Dry Grove Church site. It consisted of a heavy wooden pulpit (built by Local Preacher HiramTremble), which in early pioneer days were made high above the congregation,under a clapboard roof and surrounded by wooden tents. This served as a summer meeting place from1831 to 1833.
A few years later a wooden tabernacle wasbuilt about one and one-half miles northwest of the first building. It was about 50 feet square, with a loghouse adjoining. Here also wooden tentswere built. Until 1855, thousands camehere annually from spring until fall. Just across the ravine on the west side of the river was the site of asecond camp ground which for several weeks each year, for many years, was atented city where services were held under the auspices of the MethodistChurch.
In the course of these meeting some deathsoccurred and a few graves were placed in an adjoining plot of ground known as“God’s Acre.” This is now known as theOld Camp Ground Cemetery.
The services at these early meetings lastedtwo to three hours, depending on the preacher. They did not have any song books so a leader would read two lines of ahymn in solemn, monotonous tones, and lead the congregation in singing twolines, then read and sing two more lines, until the hymn was finished. They sang all verses, no matter how manythere were.
In 1846 the Wabash Point Society was on theCharleston Circuit and Rev. J. C. Rucker, the preacher, referred to it as a“good Society of about 60 members, among the leaders being Hiram Tremble, alocal preacher, Dr. Apperson, Geo. M. Hanson and Miles H. Hart.” He continued that “Methodism was strong at WabashPoint in militant spirituality and knowledge of Methodist theology.” At that time the Charleston Circuitmembership was shown as 287, with 10 local preachers and 7 Sunday Schools.
Eventually, because the settlers were sowidely separated, the original Society at Wabash Point divided into threecongregations and each organized churches in their own neighborhood. One of these became the Paradise MethodistSociety, later to be Zion Hill, and another became the Muddy Point Church.
The Methodists began organizing churchesabout 1850-1852. A Baptist Church wasbuilt in the Paradise vicinity about 1840 a short distance northwest of thepresent Zion Hill Church, Samuel Pullen being the first minister. The first Methodist Church was built inParadise in 1853. It was located acrossthe road south and slightly east of the present home of Wesley Easter. It was constructed from bricks which weremade on land adjoining the church site.
A parsonage was builtin Paradise at the same time. In 1874, when the Wabash Church and parsonagewere built, preachers went there to live and the parsonage in Paradise was soldfor use as a residence. It is presentlythe home of Mr. and Mrs. Wm. Matthews.
It is not known just when the Sunday Schoolwas organized. But there is inexistence a Secretary’s Book of Paradise Sabbath School (as it was known atthat time) dating back to 1855. Fromthat book we give the following typical report dated April 4, 1858. W. Adams was the secretary at the time.
“This morning the Paradise Sabbath School metfor the first time in the year 1858. The school was opened with prayer by Bro. Wm. Gannaway. Closed with prayer by Bro. Richard B. Tate.
This being a beautiful day, quite acongregation of children and parentswere present. The children all behavedwell and manifested a great desire to learn and a willingness to betaught. We hope the number of scholarsmay rapidly increase in order that the precious youth of our country may becomewise in that wisdom, the beginning of which is the fear of the Lord.
Parents, encourage your children by takingthem by the hand and leading them to the Sabbath School.”
In 1869, W. F. Lowe, the preacher at thetime, assisted by Peter Wallace the Presiding Elder, started a movement tobuild a new church on the hill west of the village. The old church was torn down, the mortar scraped off the brick,and the bricks carried to the new site and used in the present building. The cost of the new building was $3,000.00.
Following is a copy of the minute of ameeting of the Society prior to the erection of the new church:
“TO ALL WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: At a meeting of the Society known as theMethodist E. Church held in Paradise in the County of Coles and State ofIllinois on the 31st day of May A.D. 1869 for the purpose ofelecting the trustees of the said Church, Richard Champion, Miles W. Hart,Michael Rominger, Calvin Mayhew, John H. Wood, Adam W. Hart, and Joseph B. Hartwas duly elected trustees of said Church for the term of three years. This election is held prior to the erectionof a new house of worship (or Church) which said Church is named Zion HillChurch. James Sawyer, Chairman; A. Y.Hart, Jr., Secretary.”
There is a tradition that the name “ZionHill” came through the singing of the hymn, “Were Marching to Zion” by thecongregation on their way to the new church. However, the foregoing minutes give evidence that the church was namedprior to its erection. Notes of thelate J. H. Deckard (who became a member in 1867) state that the name wasselected by Adam W. Hart.
In the early days there were two amencorners. The pulpit was in the center,on a platform. There were rows of seatson either side, with two aisles, and two tiers of seats down the center, with apartition between. The men sat on oneside of the church, the women on the other side. During early days, tallow candles served as lights, then walllamps took their place. Originally,there was a vestibule which was removed about 1900. At one time there was a balcony, believed to have been added notlong after the church was built. Theroof was raised, presumably at the time the balcony was put in. The church was remodeled in 1882-3 butwhether the balcony was removed at that time is not known, however it did notremain long. The church was papered forthe first time about 1901, the work being done by Ed Chamberlin and JoeWilliams. This was the first project ofthe newly-organized Ladies’ Aid Society. Prior to that time the walls were whitecoat plaster.
For many years there was a stile in from ofthe church. There were no trees exceptnative trees for many year.
In the early 1900’s a basement was put in, afurnace was installed, a new floor laid and new seats put in. In 1931 a new roof was put on and a fewyears later, electricity installed. Anew oil furnace was acquired in 1952. This year the interior of the church and the basement have beencompletely redecorated.
Camp meeting were held in the grove by thechurch in the early 1870’s. After thebuilding of the Wabash Church in 1874, annual camp meetings were held at theWabash grove.
Various methods have been used through theyears to raise funds for special purposes. One, about 1885, was what was called a “Jug Breaking.” To raise funds to purchase an organ, littlebrown pottery jugs, four inches high, were given to the children who wentaround and got the jugs filled with coins. When the jugs were broken there was a large laundry basket ofcoins. Prizes were given to the childrenhaving the largest collections. Therewas a large Sunday School at that time.
At about this same time, there were heldannual picnics with the other churches of the Circuit, at the Wabash Grove,with prizes given to the Sunday School with the largest attendance and the bestsinging. Prizes won by Zion Hill atthese event were for years displayed.
The picture of John Wesley which presentlyhangs on the church wall was painted by E. Cavins, an instructor at IllinoisWesleyan College, formerly a resident of this vicinity.
When the first organ was purchased for thechurch there was a division of opinion among the members, some of them notwishing to have any kind of instrument in the church. The first organist was Miss Alvaretta Tremble.
In the year 1910 on of the Mattoon varietystores held a contest, with a piano as the prize. Each purchaser of goods was allowed votes in proportion to theirpurchase, which votes could be cast for anyone they wished. Several organizations worked for thisprize. Many of the Zion Hill membersworked diligently, speaking to the people as they left the store and asking fortheir votes if they had no other preference. Zion Hill won and in this way a fine piano was obtained for the church,which has given excellent service during the past 45 years.
The Ladies Aid Society, now known as theWomen’s Society of Christian Service, was organized in August, 1901, with Mrs.Robert Mayhew taking a leading part in this organization, assisted by the Rev.C. W. Casely. Always an enthusiasticorganization, they observed their 50th Anniversary on August 21,1951 with appropriate program.
A week’s celebration , for the 106thanniversary of the founding of the church, was held August 13-19, 1934, withdaily services conducted by visiting ministers and singers. Rev. Robert Evans was the minister at thattime. Trustees at that time were;George Alexander, Ernest Chamberlin, J. H. Deckard, John Dieffenbaugh, ZackFox, John Hart and Frank Payton.
In its early days, the Paradise Church was onthe Paradise Circuit, other churches being Muddy Point and Kickapoo Point. The Paradise Circuit ended about 1865. For years it was on what was known as theFive-Point Circuit, with Wabash, Dry Grove, Etna and Gays. About 1901 this was made a three-pointcircuit, with Dry Grove and Etna. Undoubtedly many people will remember the annual Four of July picnicswhich these three churches held in Baker’s Grove, between Zion Hill and DryGrove. Zion Hill was again put on thecircuit with Gays in 1922, and on with the Lerna Church in 1933. In 1934 the five churches on the charge wereZion Hill, Lerna, Trilla, Farmington and Mt. Tabor; at present, Zion Hill,Lerna, Farmington.
In 1876, Mr. and Mrs. Ambrose Hart sold oneacre of land to the Wabash Masonic Lodge at Etna, to be used for the Zion HillCemetery. In 1892, the lodge conveyedthe Cemetery to the Trustees of Zion Hill Church. Additional land has been acquired from time to time. In 1906, the cemetery was incorporated asthe Zion Hill Cemetery Association, at which time the trustees were: J. Z.Butler, D. W. Chamberlin, J. H. Deckard, A. W. Hart, D. A. Michael and R. T. Mayhew.
August 28, 1955
Following are the preachers who have servedParadise—Zion Hill Church since the first church building was erected in 1853.
1853 D. P. Light
1854/5 AllenBuckner (a presiding elder living in Paradise) and assistant, Bradley
Hungerford. Mr. Buckner was a Colonel in the Civil War.
1856/8 W.R. Howard (The late J. H. Deckard recorded this preacher and the year
ashis first recollection of camp meeting preaching.)
1859 StephenHuckstep (Captian in Civil War, killed in 1862.)
1860 WilliamC. Blundell
1861/2 JoshuaC. Baker
1863/4 BenjaminF. Lodge
1865/6 IsaiahS. Aldrich. Last preacher of ParadiseCircuit.
1867/8 DanielE. May
1869 W.F. Lowe. With the assistant of PeterWallace, Presiding Elder, he
startedthe movement to build new church west of the village.
1870 WilliamRutger and Richard B. Tate
1871 J.H. Holloway. Held camp meeting in thegrove around the church.
1872 P.F. Thornburg. Held camp meeting in thegrove around the church.
1874 WilliamMitchell. Built Wabash Church.
1875 G.R. S. McElfresh
1876 UriahWarrington. Held a camp meeting atWabash Grove.
1877/8 GeorgeS. Miller
1879/81 WilliamM. Poe. Held a camp meeting at WabashGrove.
1882/4 MitchellH. Ewers. Remodeled Zion Hill Church.
1885 EzraJ. Dunham
1886 J.Wesley Miller
1887 Thos.L. Hancock. Built the Etna Church.
1888/90 Thos.H. Fierce
1891 H.H. Goad
1892/3 JacobE. Scheer
1894 AlbertG. Blunk
1895 D.V. Gowdy
1896 J.W. Hill
1897 J.P. Morton
1900 CharlesL. Caseley
1901/2 GeorgeL. Burton. Built second Etna Church andParsonage.
1903/4 E.L. Darley
1905 C.L. York
1906/7 J.L. Bell. 1 ½ years.
1907 WalterEwing. ½ years.
1908/9 HarryE. Crane
1910 DavidT. Black
1911 GeorgeE. Pennell. ½ years.
1912 JamesE. Reynolds
1913/4 SamuelF. Balch
1915/6 AlvinR. Wassell
1917 CharlesW. Haney
1918 W.D. Russell
1919 CharlesE. Hogue
1920 RupertA. Illk
1921 L.James Kindig
1922 W.A. Schell
1923/4 W.H. Stephens
1925 FrankH Byrne
1926/7 M.Louis Cooper
1928 J.T. Hendrix
1939/42 R.N. Montague
1953/ JamesE. Reynolds