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Early church withstands threats of flooding

April 8, 2013
By Kate York ( , The Marietta Times

In 1840, with no bridge over the Muskingum River connecting Harmar and downtown Marietta, it was so expensive for Harmar residents to take the ferry to church they decided to simply open their own on the west side.

For nearly eight years, the Harmar Congregational Church met in the Harmar town hall before a place of worship was constructed. That site still stands today as the Open Door Baptist Church, having withstood floods, additions, renovations and plenty of time.

"It's the oldest continuously used religious structure in Marietta," said Marietta Councilman and Trolley Tours operator Harley Noland. "It's been through a lot."

Article Photos

LEFT: Photo courtesy of Marietta College Special Collections
The Harmar Congregational Church can be seen underwater during the Flood of 1913. The building survived the flood and is now the oldest continually used religious structure in Marietta.
RIGHT: KATE YORK The Marietta Times
The church is shown as it is today, operating as the Open Door Baptist Church.

During the Flood of 1913, water reached to nearly the ceiling of the church, but the Franklin Street structure isn't one that is damaged during each of the city's high water events.

"They were smart when they built it," said Noland. "It's built up five or six steps. With ordinary flood water it's not in the church. It takes extraordinary water."

Despite homes destroyed around it, the Harmar Congregational Church withstood the extraordinary waters of the 1913 flood and the 1937 flood after it.

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During the flood of 2004, water was around the church but not in it, said Noland.

By the time of the rising river in 1913, the building was already 66 years old and the church 73.

The first minister of the Harmar Congregational Church was the Rev. Joel Harvey Linsley, who was the first president of Marietta College.

Fact Box

About Harmar Congregational Church

Formed in 1840.

The church was built in 1847.

The first minister was the Rev. Joel Harvey Linsley, the first president of Marietta College.

The grounds for the church were donated by the Putnam family.

Members transferred from Marietta Congregational, Warren Presbyterian, Watertown Presbyterian, Belpre Congregational, Sandusky Congregational and Waterford Cumberland Presbyterian churches.

The church is the oldest continually used religious structure in Marietta.

Source: Times research.

Linsley, born in Vermont in 1790, was the son of one of the earliest settlers there. He became a lawyer but was drawn to the ministry and first served as a pastor in Hartford, Conn. in 1824, according to a Marietta College Alumni Memorial published by the Alumni Association.

As a minister, he was part of the Temperance movement of the time, "calling public attention to the evils of strong drink and the necessity that Christian people should discourage it by precept and example," according to the memorial.

Linsley went on to minister several churches in the south before a bronchial difficulty required a change in climate. He accepted the position of president at Marietta College, and served for 11 years until 1846.

During that time, he also served as minister for the first two years of existence of the Harmar Congregational Church, where several sources say he was beloved to the members of the church.

He was aware of the importance of the time, and the transitions happening in Marietta and beyond, according to Linsley's own words.

"And it is no arrogant affirmation, which I make, when I declare my solemn belief, that in no other age, or country, could our lot have been cast, in which by a right or wrong course, we could do more, than we can do in this age, and in this country, to bless or to curse the race of man, through all future time," he said in his inaugural address at Marietta College.

Linsley went on to again serve as a pastor in Connecticut before succumbing to pneumonia in 1868.

By then, the church in Harmar had been served by several other pastors and continued to gain members, though admittance wasn't guaranteed.

An early church Articles of Faith and Covenant for Harmar Congregational Church stated that candidates for admission must be both "examined" at a church meeting and if approved, have a two-week waiting period before full admission was accepted.

Once a church member, there were still strict rules to follow.

A committee of at least three people was formed to "examine any charges of unchristian or disorderly conduct" of any members and then determine appropriate discipline, according to the document.

Founding members of the church included notable local families names such as Bosworth, Burlingame, Fearing, Hadley and Putnam.

It was the Putnam family that donated the grounds for the church building, which was constructed in Greek Revival architectural style.

In 1848, a bell was purchased for the church, with the money coming from concerts performed by a quartet of young men from Marietta College, according to the "History of Marietta and Washington County" as compiled by Martin Andrews.

Several additions were made over the years, first when a lecture room was built in 1868, then a Sunday school room in 1894. In the last decade, there have also been renovations.

The church remained the Harmar Congregational Church until 1968 when it was abandoned by the congregation as it disbanded but left for another religious group to take it over, according to a Marietta Times article.



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