SETTLEMENT OF THE THREE RIVERS
In the late forties, "to the westward ---- in the beautiful region of the Three Rivers in Warren County members of this sect, Friends, were chopping and hewing the logs which were to be used in the erection of peaceful Friends Homes. Thus Louis Jones in "The Quakers of Iowa" tells of the beginning of the Middle River Community.
MIDDLE RIVER . . . . OUTPOST OF CIVILIZATION
Excerpts from a book by Louis T. Jones tells of an interesting Pioneer Friend Journey.
In the winter of 1850, a couple of English Friends ministers - Robert Lindsey and Benjamin Seebohm, after visiting Friends in the east ---- headed west in a two-horse carriage. Their destination was the Salem Friends Meeting in Southeast Iowa.
On February 1, 1851, with the temperature 10 degrees below zero the two ministers with two other Friends headed for the settlement of "Friends of the Three Rivers". Lindsey wrote that they had reached the "most distant and most westerly meeting of Friends on the Continent, being more than 1,500 miles west of New York ---- we may indeed be said to be almost arrived at the bounds of civilized life. "
The wind blew cold and the temperature dropped to 20 degrees below zero but with a group from the Middle River Settlement they drove 8 miles to Lower River where they held a meeting in a schoolhouse where it was so cold it was hard to "sit the meeting". That night, in a new one-room log cabin 12 individuals were lodged and were warm and comfortable. The two English Friends spoke kindly of the genuine hospitality they received under this humble roof.
MIDDLE RIVER MEETING ORGANIZED
The first Middle River Meeting of Friends was organized in 1851 by the Pleasant Plain Quarterly Meeting which was then under Indiana Yearly Meeting.
FRIENDS BUILD MEETING HOUSE
The first Middle River Meeting House was built in 1853 on a plot of land given by Solomon Wright. The number in the meeting at this time was about 50.
The meeting house itself was probably a very crude structure - small with a lean-to porch; seats were rough boards supported at each end by blocks of wood.
THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD
At least two Friends families assisted in concealing runaway slaves by giving them food and shelter and perhaps transportation further south. Built against a side hill the big stone basement of the barn belonging to Jonathan White was a strategic hiding place in the heart of a Friends Community; also the Elias Newlin home a couple of miles south of the church was a station on the underground. No actual admission of these stations was made but it was general knowledge that they were used.
MIDDLE RIVER PREPARATIVE MEETING
Minutes of this Preparative Meeting are preserved from the 4th month 25th day, 1866.
Many references are made to the housekeeper, a man from the meeting who was appointed each year and received from 6 to 12 dollars for caring for the meeting house for one year.
The Queries were awarded by each family in writing and were reported to the South River Monthly Meeting of which Middle River Preparative Meeting was a part.
Funds for the support of the local meeting and the apportionment for Quarterly and Yearly Meetings were assigned for certain members to pay. Other members were probably able to contribute nothing.
MEETING SUFFERS SETBACK
As early as 1866, the subject of a new church was discussed but sufficient funds were not available. In 1876 and until 1880, the meetings were held in the Union Schoolhouse nearby. At that time, preparative was directed to hold its meetings in its own meeting house.
One of our late members - Austin Gardner - who has attended church in the first meeting house, as a boy, reported that the porch was near to falling down that members had difficulty entering the building. Perhaps this accounted for the lack of attendance and falling away of membership. During the last months of 1884 and the first of 1885, only the clerk Samuel James attended the business meetings and the Preparative was practically laid down.
The faithful clerk writes on 5th month 20th day 1885: "All alone today, yet not alone for the Lord is with me. Praise be to His name."
MIDDLE RIVER BUILDS NEW CHURCH
Minutes of the meeting are not on record from 1885 to 1903, but the 2nd meeting house was built at the present site possibly around 1890. This was a larger building about 20 by 28. By 1890 the Quarterly Meeting was no longer called South River, but Ackworth and there were 9 meetings in all in the Quarterly Meeting.
MONTHLY MEETING ESTABLISHED
After having been a preparative meeting for over 50 years on the 8th month 11 day of 1903 the church extension committee and the Home Missions Committee of the Ackworth Quarterly Meeting met with the people of Middle River for the purpose of establishing a monthly meeting. The membership was 45.
FRIENDS PURCHASE ORGAN
In 1907, an organ was purchased for the Middle River Friends Church. The Monthly Meeting also agreed to purchase a dozen hymn books.
Mrs. Lily Hartman, a talented musician and faithful member, was appointed to play the organ; Miss Lola Prall acted as her assistant.
MIDDLE RIVER BUILDS PARSONAGE
Except for traveling evangelists, no pastor had resided in the community except Grace Elliott and her husband and daughter who had lived in a home across from the Union Schoolhouse which the church rented for $10.00 per year.
In 1906, she and her family were released from this meeting to work elsewhere.
In September 1906, a building committee was chosen to make plans for building a three room parsonage. The cost was not to exceed $300.00.
The parsonage was built at an actual cost of $404.00. Isaac and Hannah Cook came a year later as pastors and were the first family to live in the new parsonage.
E. LOFT NEW PASTOR
Edwin and Mary Loft and their daughter Miss Anna Loft moved to the parsonage early in 1910.
Edwin Loft was an Englishman having come to Iowa Yearly Meeting from Canada - a very devout, dignified and energetic minister of the gospel. The meeting prospered under his ministry.
Some improvement in the meeting house were needed. Consideration had been given to the idea of buying another building or enlarging the present church. Soon after the arrival of Edwin Loft an increase of membership and enthusiasm made it possible to plan for a new meeting house. This was built and dedicated the following year - October 15, 1911.
FRIENDS DEDICATE NEW CHURCH BUILDING
"A neat and commodious church has been built at Middle River at a cost of about 25 hundred dollars".
A morning was not an ideal one for such an occasion as clouds were hanging low and the sound of thunder was often heard. In spite of the day, there was a good congregation. Rev Jasper Hadley from Marshalltown gave the morning message. The ladies were present with well-filled baskets to laden the tables which the men had prepared.
The afternoon was given over to the raising of the needed funds of $600.00, most of which was raised. Because of rain, many were hindered from coming to the evening service, but with a deep and impressive prayer by Jasper Hadley, the church was dedicated to God.
"We fail to find words to express our thankfulness to our Heavenly Father for the new building. He has pleased to grant to this place."
FIRE DESTROYS PARSONAGE
On the night of September 16, 1932, the parsonage burned, leaving the pastors family of 8 without a home. A new one was built immediately with the men of the church gathering to do the building and the women serving meals in the church basement.
THROUGH THE YEARS
In spite of many changes in our rural community and much progress and many adversities, more than 150 years have passed our little meeting.
Just recently, our Sunday School has reached the 100 mark, and there have been a substantial increase in church attendance.
MIDDLE RIVER EXPANDS
In 1989, our historic building was too small to allow us to do God's work appropriately. A new addition was added to the building. This new section contained 3 classrooms, pastor's office, a new kitchen, social hall, bathrooms, and air conditioning.
MIDDLE RIVER BUILDS AGAIN
In 1999, because of our growth and the condition of our facility, the congregation decided to build a new facility that would hold approximately 250 people. We started by trying to enlarge our current building. However, God had other plans. All options to enlarge our building failed.
Then, a member of the congregation donated 2.5 acres on a paved highway for us to build a new home for God. Therefore, plans were made to move from our historic location.
The ground opening was held on October 8, 2000. We moved in August 4, 2002. In this move, we left behind our parsonage and historic building.
God has richly blessed us through the years - may we - in the greater degree honor Him with the first fruits of our time, talent and money.