The article below was written by Clint Wilson in 1976 and published in a small pamphlet titled “The History of the Whitehouse United Methodist Church.” As a comprehensive and well-researched history of our church, it can hardly be improved upon. It is reproduced here in its entirety.
Mr. Wilson seems to have used as a reference a four-part newspaper article on the history of the church, which was written by George H. Daley in 1907 to commemorate the church’s 40th anniversary. Please Click Here to read that original article.
The present United Methodist Church of Whitehouse was dedicated December 26, 1867, well over a century ago. The cornerstone is in the southeast corner of the foundation. The pastor then was Rev. Martin Herr, of the present Herrs of Stanton and Flemington. Rev. Herr, while pastor of Whitehouse, was also in charge of the Oldwick Methodist Church. He conducted services in the afternoon at Whitehouse, then known as Mechanicsville. Whitehouse acquired the name of Mechanicsville because of so many mechanics living in the area.
The total cost of building the present Methodist Church was $13,000. That includes $2,500 which was paid for the grounds and house used as a parsonage. That house was not the present parsonage but a house no longer standing that stood back from the road. This property was purchased from Dr. Samuel Johnson for the sum mentioned, almost unbelievable at the present time.
The present church was built by John Cole who also built the Oldwick, Readington and North Branch churches. Volunteer workers dug the basement of the church and stones were carted from nearby mountains to make the basement walls.
Some facts about the Board of Trustees at the time of the building of the church are interesting to reveal. Uncle Peter Green was the oldest member of the Board. When his spirits would rise he would exclaim, “Bless the Lord, it can be done!”
Trustee Adam R. Seals was a man of iron constitution with a voice like a lion. He was up and at it early and late when they were digging the basement of the church. He would be down there before the rest and his voice could be heard from one end of the town to the other, “time to get to work!” When stones were carted from the mountains, he would ride over the rocks and stones where none of the rest dared go but he always came out all right.
Trustee J.S. Van Horn was called the war-horse of the Board, for he was elected a Trustee when the church first organized and he helped build the first Methodist church 22 years before. He was a man ready to say “Amen” to a thing that met his approval, but just as quick to say NO if he did not think it was right.
Trustee Joseph Durant was a man of small stature, not very strong and did not possess much of this world’s goods, but he always had something to give the church. He was a man of faith and prayer and was always on hand with a handshake and a smile, his faith and prayer, to bid the work go on.
Trustee Stephen Backer was the backer of the Board, for where his name went, it always brought money. He gave $1,000 to start the project. When they purchased the property to build on and had no money on hand, the parties did not want to take the Trustees’ note so Mr. Backer mortgaged his farm until the debt was all paid.
Trustees William S. Welsh, Peter Ditmar and Peter T. Green were the conservation men of the Board. They always carefully weighed every matter that came before them before they would give their opinion and when they did it was final. They were always willing to put their hands in their pockets and pay until the last dollar was paid.
Three years after the present church was completed in 1870, the Whitehouse Church secured their own pastor and was no longer affiliated with Oldwick. Two years later in 1872, the church was severely damaged by a bad storm from the south. It cost $1,500 to repair the damage.
Now let us change the scene and delve into the early history of Methodism in Whitehouse. There is a record of circuit riders of different denominations coming to Whitehouse from Flemington as early as 1832. These circuit riders were preachers that covered a circuit of towns riding on horseback from service to service. However, it was in 1835 that a permanent schedule of Methodist services began. The first services in Whitehouse were held in a grove of trees in an old schoolhouse located at the site of the present American Legion building. It is interesting to note that the circuit preachers stayed in Flemington at the home Joaquin Hill who became a famous clock maker. Many of his clocks are very valuable today, are still in existence and are in use keeping good time.
Certainly the first Methodist Board of Trustees in Whitehouse should be recorded in history. The first Board of Trustees were Isaiah Large, George Hall, John Hall, William Iliff, and J.S. Van Horn.
The first preacher in Whitehouse was John L. Lenhardt. James Rogers of the New Jersey Conference was a circuit rider who often substituted for him. The first Whitehouse pastor, John Lenhardt, was the first clergyman to lose his life in the Civil War. When his health partially failed, he accepted a position as chaplain in the U.S. Navy. When the wooden warship Cumberland, with other vessels, were lying in Hampton Roads in the Chesapeake Bay, he was on board the Cumberland as its chaplain. In 1862 the Confederate iron-clad Merrimac steamed up to the Cumberland and ordered her to surrender and received in reply a broadside of shot and shell that did the iron-clad vessel no damage. The Merrimac then plunged her battering ram twice through the wooden sides of the Cumberland sending the boat and crew into a watery grave.
In 1814 a Rev. Robertson held meetings during the nice weather in a grove of trees in the center of town. There were conversions of prominent citizens who became pillars of the first church. During inclement weather, services were either held in the school or the home or the home of Henry Mendham who was the local schoolmaster. Cramped for room, Thomas Applegate suggested that services be held in his larger blacksmith and wheelwright shop until a church could be built. For about a year services were held in Applegate’s shop which is the present building still standing in back of the East Whitehouse Firehouse.
The first Methodist Church was built in 1845 on the site of the present Methodist cemetery on Old Highway 28. A Dr. Scott furnished the society with land enough for a church and a cemetery and money was raised by subscriptions. William B. Dittman, a carpenter, superintended the building, giving from his own forest the material for the frame. The cost of the first church was $1,600.
The first Methodist Church was a low story-and-a-half structure with the central entrance flanked on either side with windows. The downstairs plan consisted of a hallway going to the back of the building with an open stairway. There were two rooms on either side of the hallway. The church did not have a steeple.
Records show that for over twenty years the first Whitehouse church was used, but as time went on it was obviously too small and a decision was made to build a larger and finer church. When the present church was built, there is no clear record of what happened to the old church. An old record states that it was sold and moved to the site of a funeral home. There is another unfounded rumor that it burned down. It is the writer’s conclusion that one of the very old buildings in back of Hauck’s Funeral Home could be the original building. It is too bad that no one was concerned about keeping a record of its history.
Getting back to the history of the present Methodist Church, when the church was repaired after the destructive storm in 1872, the debt of the church was of great concern to the parish. At this time a Mary A. Welsh bequeathed the church $1,000 and a large fair netted $527 which helped better the situation. Over a century ago those figures were enormous sums. In 1884, after the debt eased, a wooden ceiling was put in the church and improvements were made in the basement.
In 1886, the Trustees were Stephen Backer, J.S. Van Horn, A.R. Seals, Rev. Martin Herr and William D. Eversole. George H. Dally was Superintendent of the Sunday School and he served in that capacity for well over 30 years.
In 1896, the present beautiful parsonage was built. For a long time the parsonage was regarded as a monument of the generosity of Robert L. Prime who dies April 10, 1891. Robert Prime was a staunch friend of the church and left the church $2,000 payable at the death of his widow. The parsonage was built on the strength of that bequeath. The Building Committee of the parsonage was as follows: George Dally, W.W. Pursell, Dr. Peter T. Green, W.D. Eversole and A.H. Seals. The Ladies Aid Society, by membership dues, by subscription, by entertainments and festivals, supplies the funds for the furnishing and painting of the parsonage.
A conflict in the present name of Whitehouse and the early name of Mechanicsville was involved in the early history of the Methodist parsonage. At the death of Mr. Prime, when the legacy was due the church, when the executor, Peter T. Green, tried to settle the estate, the church organization certificate was needed and could not be found. So they had to organize as the Whitehouse Church. Lawyers found that the legacy had been left to the Mechanicsville Church and declared the money not forthcoming. When Peter T. Green threatened a fight that would be costly they settled the estate.
In 1901 a considerable amount was spent on the church painting, redecorating and putting in steam heat. Therefore, it was 1907 before the church was entirely out of debt. Mr. & Mrs. Peter T. Green were financial wizards who had a knack for solving financial problems.
In 1901, the last day of August of that year, Pastor Charles E. Walton held a service of jubilation and thanksgiving to celebrate the renovation of the church. For a long time services had been held in the basement. The work consisted of constructing the ceiling into arches, steel re-enforcements, new carpeting, cushioning the pews, and paining the church – all at a cost of $1,533.
Mrs. Alice Dilley, one of the present longest members of the church, remembers when the church was lighted with kerosene lamps. Electric lights were first installed in the church in 1921 and new lights replaced the original electric lights in 1962. The new lights were a memorial gift by Robert Saums in memory of Mr. & Mrs. George Seals.
A highlight in the history of the church was the purchase of a pipe organ in 1925 for $3,300 from Louis F. Mohr & Company of New York City. On a very hot June 7th, Holy Communion morning service, Miss Elizabeth Fassitt, the organist, daughter of the pastor, played the new organ for the first service. In the afternoon a well-known organist from Flemington, Norman Landis, gave an organ recital before a filled church. A third service that day was a patriotic service held in the evening and attended by over 200 people.
An interesting service was held on Palm Sunday, 1927, when the notes were burned paying for the organ. The service was visited by a celebrity of that day, Marion Talley, the opera star. Someone had contacted her about the organ debt of the country church and she generously paid the remaining debt. When her limousine pulled up in front of the church on this Palm Sunday morning, Miss Tally did not reveal her name, but she was recognized and her visit was publicized in local papers. It interesting to note that the pipe organ was used for 46 years, until 1971 when it was replaced by a modern electric organ.
In 1927 the church was redecorated. This came about because of a conversation in Reed’s Store, a store that used to be where the present Post Office is now located. Pastor Rev. Howard TenEyck and Alvah L. Honeyman agreed to pay one-third of the cost of the renovation, up to $1,500. As a result of this offer, a contract was awarded and the job was done. The next record of redecoration is 25 years later in 1952.
Only a few people can remember the sheds in back of the church which originally cost $400. Here old Dobbins was tied hitched to a buggy or surrey while families of another generation came to the Mechanicsville church to worship. Gradually these sheds were torn down. The East Whitehouse Fire Company had its beginning in these sheds, using them for a shelter for their first piece of equipment. They also used the church bell for a fire alarm.
Next let us look into some facts, figures, and events of the thirties and forties of this century concerning our church and we will realize how times have changed and how much inflation has secured a stranglehold.
In 1934 the church purchased three tons of coal for $38.25. On January 7, 1936, Uncle Pete and Louise were allowed to give a concert at 8 p.m. and the admission was 25₵. Ice cream and cake were on sale afterwards and a profit of $10.25 was made. In November of 1935 an oyster supper was held making a profit of $17.15. Another oyster supper in March of 1936 made a profit of $22.19. Also in 1936 a June food sale netted $21.22. In August of the same year the annual Harvest Home netted $139.89. The budget in 1940, including World Service, was $1,450. Ten years later, in 1950, the budget was $4,189.
In 1961 our church had 190 members. The following year the outdoor bulletin board was erected. The material and labor were donated by Kenneth VanFleet.
Next let us look back over a dozen years ago and review some of the Christian work accomplished by the Women’s Society of Christian Service. A report is typical of the work of the ladies over the years. They held a Mother and Daughter Banquet, a cafeteria supper and two fish and chip suppers. In October they held the annual turkey dinner. They send cards to the sick and the aged and visited the church home for the aged. A family picnic was held and Mrs. Buchholz conducted a merchandise club. All day sewing bees were held to make gifts for the Christmas Bazaar. New kitchen supplies were purchased; Christmas gifts were made for the pastor and his wife. Gifts were made to foreign missions and to the Navajo Indian mission. When there was a furnace explosion that year the ladies cleaned and replaced soiled curtains. New shades were purchased for the parsonage. The ladies did all this on a budget of $960.
Certainly the Church School should be mentioned in our proud history because of the countless benefits derived by the youth. This history in detail would be too long and too dull if all the facts and figures were written about each year. So as to give us an idea of the Church School of yesterday, I picked from a random repot in 1964. The Church School then had an enrollment of 135 pupils with an average attendance of 88. There were twelve teachers with six helpers. Several of these teachers had taken a teacher’s training course. New literature was introduced that year and a June Promotion Program and a Christmas Program were held. A Rally Day was held in September.
The year 1966 should be remembered because of so many accomplishments. The late Clarence Honeyman, a very active church member for many years, reported the completion of the following improvement programs; restoning the church and parsonage driveway, repairing the rear church entryway, painting the church with two coats and repairing the church windows.
After the building of the present church in 1867, the most important historic accomplishment was the building of the Christian Education Building. Following the morning worship on September 22, 1968, the ground was broken. The Christian Education Building was completed, furnished and dedicated in 1969. Dr. Allan Burns, who was a Christian leader during his ten years in Whitehouse, was Building Chairman. The Conference Board of Missions granted $3,500 toward the construction cost and furnished a $10,000 loan with low interest. The low construction bid was for $85,895 by the Herman Grefe Company. After completion, the Church School utilized the building each Sunday morning from nursery through youth. Preschoolers from the area are now using the building during the week. During 1972-1973 the Readington Township Board of Education rented the building for the overflow of township pupils.
1969 will be remembered as the year of the completion of the new Christian Education Building. This year should be remembered for another reason in connection with the church history. The Board of Trustees changed the name of the church as the church was legally incorporated. The name became the United Methodist Church of Whitehouse, instead of the Whitehouse Methodist Episcopal Church.
In 1972 Praise Unlimited was formed, a group of talented, singing youth who shared God’s love through fellowship and song. Trips to Aldersgate, Lay Celebrations, annual auctions, bazaars, assisting the nearby Fairmount Church have been major projects in the recent history of the church. The painting of the interior and exterior of the church in a short time period made clear what can be accomplished by a congregation working and praying together.
It is interesting to look back and note that congregations have been aware of their history. December 27, 1927, the congregation held the 60th anniversary celebration that went on for five successive nights.
The 75th anniversary was celebrated on October 25, 1942, as Rev. Norman C. Yetman spoke on the “Mortal Storm and Steadfast Child.” At the evening service, delegations came from the Oldwick Methodist and Lutheran Churches and from North Branch and Readington Reformed Churches.
The 90th anniversary was celebrated on December 29, 1957. After the service there was a reception and cake cutting ceremony.
Many of the present congregation remember the centennial celebration which was held on October 8, 1967, when William W. Poynter was pastor. The sermon was delivered by Bishop Prince A. Taylor, Jr. and was entitled “Looking Forward.”
Certainly the history of the Whitehouse Methodist Church would not be complete without a list of pastors from the beginning. Below is such a list acquired from research with comments about some who have left historic remembrances.
Rev. John Lenhardt, previously mentioned, from Pennsylvania, in 1835, 1936 and 1837 was the first Methodist minister in this vicinity. He rode by horseback from Flemington. His first services were outdoor services in a grove of trees in the center of town and there is a record of services being held in a school. Rev. James. O. Rogers of Freehold labored with Rev. Lenhardt and often came to Whitehouse in his place.
Rev. Wesley Robertson of New Providence, New Jersey was a pastor before the Methodists had a definite site for meetings. While a part of the Clinton circuit, Rev. Robertson preached in the old schoolhouse on the ridge where Henry Mendham was the schoolmaster. Later when Rev. Robertson was in charge of the New Germantown, or Oldwick church, he continued to preach in Whitehouse.
Rev. Abraham Owen was pastor in 1845 and 1846 when the first Methodist Church was built. The time limit then for a pastor was two years. In 1847 Isaac Cross, in 1848-1849 E. Saunders, in 1850 Ralph Stover Arndt of nearby Asbury and in 1851 Benjamin Kelly served successively.
One old record shows a Rev. McCurdy served in 1852 and another record shows Rev. H.M. Brown was pastor. It is possible that both served during the year. Rev. Fletcher Lummis, who served 39 years in the ministry, was pastor in 1853 and 1854.
Rev. D. McCurdy was pastor in 1855 and Rev. Jacob P. Dailey pastor the two following years. Rev. Jonathon B. Howard served as pastor in 1858 and 1859. He was a good preacher, a good carpenter, a physical athlete who did his own police work when there was disorder in the congregation. During his stay around 100 persons united with the church.
Reverend James S. Coit served in 1860 – 1861, Rev. Isaac Thomas in 1862 – 1862, and Rev. Alexander Carig was pastor in 1864 – 65. It is interesting to note the pastor’s salary at this time was $350 yearly, being in charge of two churches.
Rev. W.W. Vorhees was pastor in 1866. He should be remembered as an outstanding pastor because during his year in Whitehouse 105 persons united with the church. He was an earnest preacher, a faithful pastor and a skillful financier. Remember, he was the last to conduct services in the old church by the cemetery. The old church was obviously too small for the growing membership. Mainly because of Rev. Vorhees, plans were laid for an attractive church in a better location, our present church.
It was previously mentioned that the next pastor in 1867 was Rev. Martin Herr who was the pastor when the present church was built. He was from Lancaster Pa. and was in the ministry for 51 years. He made his home in Whitehouse and spent his last days there. He acquired a considerable reputation as a church financier.
In 1870 Rev. Samuel P. Lacey became the first full-time pastor of the church, as the Whitehouse and Oldwick churches were separated. Rev. Lacey had been born in England, received his education in Canada where he preached before coming to Whitehouse.
Rev. William C. Nelson of Elizabeth became pastor in 1873 and served two years. A pastor was now allowed to serve three years. In 1876 Rev. Albert VanDeusen was appointed and remained three years. Rev. John Kingbury of Springfield, New York was pastor for the years of 1879 and 1880.
After an absence of 21 years, William Wesley Voorhees was again appointed pastor of the church in 1887. He had been here with this flock of the Lord’s people when the church edifice was planned. Under his leadership, by planning and sacrificing, the church debt disappeared. The community was filled with sadness when he died from an attack of the grippe while on vacation. Rev. Joseph L. Layes of Barnegat filled out his year and was appointed in charge the next year.
In 1892 Rev. George F. Apgar was appointed, remaining 5 years, fulfilling a two year remainder and another full term. In 1897 Rev. E.E. Roberson of Frenchtown filled a term as pastor. In 1901 Rev. Charles E. Walton of Lumberville, Pennsylvania served for one year and Rev. Sylvanus D. Harris filled the rest of the term.
Rev. Sylvanus D. Decker of Linoleumville, Staten Island, certainly made history in Whitehouse. He was a very eloquent preacher that served from 1904 to 1910, longer than any previous pastor, as two-three terms were allowed. For 34 years he was a pastor in Hunterdon County and in that period of time over 3,000 souls were converted by his preaching.
Rev. William M. Johnston of Chester, Pennsylvania served as pastor in 1910 and part of 1911. Rev. James Jamieson served through 1912. Rev. William Benson was pastor until 1919. Rev. L.J. Gordon served only a short time in 1919 and Rev. H.K. Carroll stayed until 1921. Rev. Lewis G. Gunn was pastor through 1924 and William H. Fassitt stayed until 1930 when Rev. S.N. Thomas was in charge until 1933.
The writer of this history was pleasantly surprised to find on the list of Whitehouse pastors one he had previously been acquainted with. He was Rev. William G. Bowering who came to Whitehouse in 1933 and served until 1936. Rev. Bowering was a tall, athletic Canadian who often went skating with the writer when he was pastor of the Methodist Church in Sergeantsville. The village skating pond was about a mile away and Rev. Bowering would always go by bicycle to skate. He also used his bike to pedal to the three churches he was in charge of in neighboring towns.
What a graceful skater Rev. Bowering was! He skated backwards in long, graceful strides better than the rest of us skated forwards. He usually skated backwards, and one day he forgot about the thin ice where the spring water enters the pond. Suddenly, everyone’s attention was called to Rev. Bowering sitting in the icy water up to his neck where the thin ice had broken. The writer had gone to stake by car and offered to hurry him home. He insisted that he must skate on and exercise to keep from catching cold. He skated on for several moments and then rode his bicycle home. That incident of over forty years ago has often been remembered.
Rev. A.L. Peterson was pastor until 1939. In 1939 Rev. Normal C. Yetman became pastor and he gets a longevity record never yet broken, serving the Whitehouse community until 1954 [15 years]. Rev. Raymond W. Ricketts was pastor until 1957 and then Rev. Robert E. Grant served for only a short time until 1958. In 1958 Rev. Arthur L. DeWire became pastor and stayed until 1962. Rev. Norman Smith followed and stayed only about a year.
Many of the present congregation remember and have spoken fondly of Rev. William Wallace Poynter who came to Whitehouse in 1963 and stayed until 1971 until our present pastor Rev. Edward Maddox came.
It is our prayer that our present pastor will have a long and fruitful stay with us. We pray that as fellow Christians all of us may work together with him under his leadership and that we may accomplish things that will become another page in the proud history of the Whitehouse United Methodist Church.
Clint Wilson’s “History of the Whitehouse United Methodist Church” ends here. But time marches on. Following is a summary of our history since 1976.
Picking up where Mr. Wilson left off with the chronology of pastors, Rev. Maddox remained pastor until 1976. The Rev. David Harwood was pastor from 1977 – 1985, followed by the Rev. Dr. Lee Van Rensburg from 1985 – 1992. Rev. David C. Pierson served from 1992 – 1995, and the Rev. Dr. Carter A. Smith from 1995 – 1999.
In 1999 Pastor Shawn Callender Hogan became the first female pastor at Whitehouse United Methodist Church. Pastor Hogan remained until 2008 and went on to serve as pastor at the United Methodist Church in Summit, NJ. In 2008 our current pastor arrived, the Rev. Dr. David K. Ravinder.
A number of church improvement projects were initiated in recent years. In 2001 the church implemented “Project Welcome,” which involved the installation of two elevators to make all levels of the church building wheelchair accessible; installing new bathrooms; and the building of a new kitchen.
In 2007 the paneling in the Fellowship Room was removed and the room repainted. In 2012 the Parsonage was repainted. In 2014 the church itself will be repainted.