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Neighbors Growing Together | Oct 19, 2017

Salem Friends Church will celebrate its 175th anniversary

Oct 04, 2013

SALEM — Salem Friends Church is making preparations to celebrate its 175th anniversary on Oct. 12-13.

The church was founded on Oct. 8, 1838, and the congregations is hosting a celebration on Oct. 12 beginning with a hayride at 2 p.m., followed by a chili cook-off and bonfire at 4 p.m. Hot dogs, marshmallows and drinks will be provided. Those attending also have the opportunity to have their picture taken in old Quaker dress with white or black women’s bonnets and men’s Quaker hats. There will also be crafts for children.

On Sunday, Oct. 13 the worship will begin at 10:30 p.m., followed by a potluck at noon with cake and ice cream.

The public is invited to join in their celebration.

The following is a history of the church, written by Jean Leeper and edited for The News by Trisha Phelps.

During the summer of 1835, Aaron Street Sr. and his daughter arrived on horseback from the Ft. Madison ferry. Aaron Street is quoted as saying, “Now have mine eyes beheld a country teeming with every good thing. Hither will I come with my flocks and my herds, with my children and my children’s children and our city shall be called Salem, for thus was the city of our fathers, even near unto the sea coast.”

Street soon met up with Isaac Pidgeon, who also had just arrived, and they decided together to form a Quaker community. Aaron Street Sr. and Jr. and Isaac Pidgeon laid out Salem, with the help of Peter Boyer. Due to the lack of a surveyor’s chain, they used a grape vine for a measuring rod, cutting notches in it for the desired widths of the streets and alleys.

About the middle of the eighth month 1837, a conference of Friends was held at the house of Isaac Pidgeon concerning holding religious meetings. The first meeting held was in the home of Henry W. Joy, in the fall of 1837. Salem Monthly Meeting of Friends was first opened and held in Salem, Henry County, Iowa Territory on the 8th day of the 10th month of 1838. It was the first Monthly Meeting of the Society of Friends west of the Mississippi.

As most Quakers were Abolitionists they established stations where runaway slaves were to be secreted until the “Underground Railroad” could forward them to Canada. One such station is the Lewelling stone house, one block south, of this building. It is open for tours on Sunday afternoons and by appointments.

As the Quakers moved across the United States they did three things: built a place to worship, started a school and developed a burying ground. They did all three soon after they arrived in Salem. In May 1839 they began building a hewed log meetinghouse with two rooms each 22 feet square, at the cost of $340. In 1846 they outgrew that building and they erected a brick, 35 x 70 foot meetinghouse with two stories, for a cost of $3,000. The top floor was their school. In 1874 this building was turned over to Whittier College and a frame structure, 46 x 56 feet and one story high was completed at a cost of $2,500 dollars. In 1912 the wood portion of our present church was build, after the older church had burned on February 5, 1912. The brick addition was added in 1979.

The first meeting set off from Salem was Cedar Creek, in January 1841. Others soon followed. As you ride north out of Salem and you have traveled about three miles; look left (west) down a dirt road and you will see Cedar Creek Meetinghouse. Salem started Grace Community Friends in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, which became a monthly meeting in August 2006.

As many confuse Quakers (Society of Friends) with Shakers and Amish let me assure you they are not the same. The history of Friends goes back more than three centuries to the mid 1600s, to the founder of the Society of Friends, George Fox of England. From his words, “I found Peace when I heard a voice which said, There is one even Christ Jesus that can speak to thy condition. When I heard it my heart did leap for joy.”

“We believe in God the creator of all things and in Jesus Christ His beloved; and only begotten Son in whom we have redemption through the blood, even the forgiveness of sins, for which that he was crucified for us, rose the third day, and he ascended into heaven, and now sitteth at the right hand of God.”

By 1839 the number of Quakers arriving in Salem was growing so fast they decided to build a log meetinghouse. It was 22’ by 44’ and was divided in the middle by either a curtain or a wall portion that moved. Men sat on one side and women and children on the other. You did not have a pastor then but several men sat on a raised bench at the front (sat head) for the men’s meeting and several women sat on a raised bench on the women’s side, for the women’s meeting. These men and women lead the meeting. Anyone who felt lead to share a scripture, song or what they felt lead by God to share, could do so. The purpose of the service was to seek the will of God in their lives or to be directed/lead by the Holy Spirit in the choices they made for the meeting or themselves. At the end of the meeting, which could be an hour or two, someone sitting head, on each side, stood up and reached out and shook the hand of the person next to him. That person shook his neighbors hand and so it went around the room(s). I believe that because the Quaker’s felt that all people were equal in the eyes of God they allowed their women to hold their own services and lead their own business meetings. Would they be equal if sitting under the men? Some of our first paid pastors, in the late 1880s and early 1900s, were women, who became leaders over both men and women and the Quakers men and women no longer worshipped separately nor conducted separate business meetings.

By 1846 they needed a new meetinghouse so they built this two story brick building, 35’ x 70’. This is the first picture of the new brick building built in 1846. The meetinghouse was on the first floor and by 1868 the top floor had become Whittier College. In 1874 the college took over the whole building and a new meetinghouse was built.


It burned February 25, 1912; the janitor was lighting the church for the evening session of the Quarterly Meeting when the lights went out and upon striking a match to relight the generator which controlled the gasoline lighting system, it caught fire and the building was destroyed.

The building that they worship in today was completed in late 1912 and dedicated in early 1913 and it was moved from down by the cemetery to the present location. In 1927 they added the basement and in 1960 they added the pastor study and classroom on the south side and bathrooms in basement.

Twice, unhappy members have left the Salem meeting/church and started their own meeting/church. Neither of them lasted long.

The first was over slavery. From 1843 to 1847 there were about 50 members who left the Salem Monthly Meeting and joined in the formation of the Salem Anti-Slavery Monthly Meeting. This was a group who were the most active participants in the Underground Railroad in Salem. Salem Anti-Slavery Monthly Meeting was part of Indiana Anti-Slavery Yearly Meeting and by 1857 the Indiana Anti-Slavery Yearly Meeting was reuniting with Indiana Yearly Meeting. The Anti-Slavery Burying Ground in Salem united with the Salem Monthly Meeting Burial Ground in 1863. This meetinghouse/church was located just two blocks east of the Lewelling Quaker Museum on School Street. Trustees of Indiana Yearly Meeting of Anti-Slavery Friends sold the property to John Pickering in 1867. It had been used, by the Wesleyan Methodist Church, for several years before this sale.

That second was the Salem Monthly Meeting of Conservative Friends, which was established May 4,1879. The Salem Monthly Meeting/church was moving away from un-programmed worship to having a pastor. About twenty older members wanted to keep the old way of worship and thus left the established meeting/church. On May 1, 1892, the Salem Conservative meeting was discontinued and its membership was transferred to West Branch Monthly Meeting.  Salem meeting was joined to West Branch until 1896 when it was laid down. Trustees of Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends (Conservative), from the County of Dallas, Marshall and Cedar, sold on June 14, 1901, for $400 the meetinghouse/church building to Mattie McDonald (Lot #6 in Block #10). That would be on East Cherry Street today between North Monroe Street and South Lincoln Street. This building was converted to a house and then torn down in 1940 and moved to a farm.

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