There used to be a website about Cooper Township -said website no longer exists as the young lady who administered it took it down a couple of years ago now -but while she operated it and while "The Review" was still being published -the articles I had in "The Review" were posted on that site. Because some folks have lamented they didn't get or didn't save various copies of the publications, I have decided to post the articles I had written on my blog from time to time.
The piece I have chosen to post today pertains to the oldest church in the township. Since this church only holds one service a year and that takes place over the Labor Day Weekend, I thought it would be appropriate to re-publish, in essence, that piece here as we head into Labor Day and all the festivities that go with it.
Jennifer Hill Ertmer
Published in August 2004 – West Branch Review
The story of the Sylvan Grove Church’s Annual Homecoming
Since 1936, people have been returning over Labor Day Weekend to the area and for many, to the church of their roots, in Cooper Township. The tiny Sylvan Grove Church has been holding a “Homecoming Service” for close to 70 years now, give or take a few since this event was placed on hold during World War II.
The land where the first church was built in 1850, making it the very first church in what was to become Cooper Township, was purchased from Edward and David Gratz by two of the Hoover brothers, Samuel and John. According to Janet Rydberg Larson, a great-granddaughter of John Hoover and his wife, Wealthy Johnson Hoover, these brothers then deeded an acre of their land to Morris Township School District and the first church built there was a log building used for both school and church purposes.
Janet’s great-grandmother, Wealthy Johnson Hoover, was apparently a woman who could speak her mind and get things done –her way! Originally, this area was called “Hickory Bottom” but Wealthy didn’t care for that name, believing it was unfitting for such a lovely area. Her choice was Sylvan Grove - truly a much nicer name and one quite befitting for the community.
Although there have been many churches in Cooper Township over the past century and a half, some have been disbanded with the members transferring to another similar parish in the community and a number of those buildings have since been purchased and converted to residential properties. Other churches have met with various misfortunes and were either destroyed often by fire or collapsed from sheer neglect.
The Sylvan Grove Church probably could have found itself meeting with a similar fate as some of these other churches if it weren’t also rich in being connected to so many of the earliest settlers of Cooper Township.
For those unfamiliar with Sylvan Grove, it is can be found by taking State Route 1011 out of Kylertown, towards Karthaus, and follow this for about two miles until you see the historic “elephant” landmark at the home of Don and Carol Roos Yontosh. This elephant was originally placed on the side of the barn built by John Hoover in 1889 owned by Carol’s grandfather, Allen “Benny” Roos, in 1899 and was for many years a directional point. It is now on a small shed on the same side as the Yontosh (formerly Roos) home. Just beyond that on the left is Church Hill Road and the church and cemetery are situated at the top of the hill on Church Hill Road.
Founding fathers of the original little log church were all four of the Hoover brothers (John and Samuel, George and Jerimiah) as well as Robert Daugherty and George Hess. Other early pioneer family names include the following: Sones, Records. Beam, Steinbach, Taylor, Dingey, Evans, Wilhelm and Routch.
The original church was replaced in 1870 with a new building across the road on land John and Wealthy Johnson Hoover deeded to the Trustees of the Methodist-Episcopal Church. The Trustees at that time were Robert Daugherty, George Hess, David Aldrich, Samuel Hoover and John Hoover. This building was then dedicated on June 25, 1871.
In the late 1800’s, churches such as this one were often on what was called a “Circuit”, consisting of a number of small parishes served by a pastor who circulated from one church to the next to hold services. Because the preacher couldn’t hold services in each of his churches every Sunday, a Class Leader would be appointed in each parish to stand in for the preacher.
Originally, this parish was on the Clearfield Circuit but by 1879, it became part of the Grahamton Charge with the Rev. J. Fearon Brown as Pastor and John Hoover serving as Class Leader. Mr. Hoover maintained this position for 35 years.
There were occasional Circuit changes and by 1897, the parish was then on the Wallaceton Charge –along with Centre Hill, Blue Ball, Kylertown, Allport and Wallaceton with The Rev. F. W. Leidy as pastor. In 1908, it became part of the Munson Circuit with The Rev. C. H. Campbell leading the members. The last regular pastor of the church was The Rev. Elmer Ritzman and the church ceased having services after 1918. The building was however, kept open for several years for Sunday School and from time to time, for funerals.
Basically, for 18 years, from 1918 until 1936, the parish was non-functional until a group of former members, led by The Rev. John A. Hoover, a grandson of John and Wealthy Hoover, organized the first Homecoming. Held the Sunday before Labor Day, the event consisted of three services –morning, afternoon and evening –with picnic lunches served in between. However, since 1955 the afternoon service is the only one that is observed.
It is hard to believe a church that has been around for 154 years has only one wedding known to have been performed there. This was the marriage of Eva Marie Hoover and Ray Zaner and was held after the morning service of the 1941 Homecoming with the bride’s father, The Rev. John A. Hoover officiating.
One couple, John and Lee Anne Resinger Walker, did choose to renew their wedding vows there in honor of their 25th wedding anniversary during the 2002 Homecoming. John is a great-great nephew of Guy and Zella Hoover Johnson and the minister was The Rev. John F. Hoover, a great-great grandson of John and Wealthy Hoover and grandson of the Rev. John A. Hoover.
In the cemetery are several graves with no stone markers and included in this number were six children of the Sones family who died within a three-month period during an outbreak of typhoid fever in 1904. Two Veterans of the Civil War are laid to rest in this cemetery –William L. Taylor, a member of the Grand Army of the Republic and Henry Heise, who served in Company K of the 84th Pennsylvania Infantry. Lincoln Johnson, a veteran of Word War II, is among those buried there too. The very first burial in the cemetery was Ai William Beam, infant son of Jesse and Susanna Beam and since the Beam family owned a farm adjoining the church property, their son was buried close to home. The last two burials in this cemetery were Barbara and Harold Roos.
With the original pews, a pump organ and potbelly stove, the interior of the church remains almost exactly as it was in 1900. Choir chairs however, were stolen from the building in 1989.
The Trustees have worked long and hard to keep the building in good repair. Over the last ten years they have put a new roof on the building, plastered a fallen ceiling and replaced the original painted wood of the exterior with new siding over the last ten years. Offerings taken at the annual Homecoming along with a special fund raising appeal in 1997 have made this possible.
The decision though to replace the old wood exterior with new siding was one that meant the church would then be ineligible to be listed on the National Historical Register and was one difficult choice the Trustees had to make.
All the Trustees are descendants either of early church members or married to a descendant – these people made strong decisions to insure the church continue to stand as a tribute to those people who first saw to its creation.
The first Trustees who initiated the first Homecoming Services were: Emmit Hoover, Harry Smeal, Oscar Hoover, Ira Hoover, Ellen Hoover and Zella Johnson.
Past trustees have included Allen B. Roos, Eva Rydberg, James Hoover, Voyle Hoover, Ivie Johnson, Blair Hoover, Vera Johnson and Dorcas Watts. The present trustees are: Chairman, Milton Roy Roos; Secretary-Treasuer, Verdabel Hoover and The Rev. John F. Hoover, Janet Larson, John Walker, Bernice Modzel and Roger Larson.
This year’s Homecoming will be held on Sunday, September 5, 2004 at 2:30 in the afternoon, with The Rev. Joel Zieders, pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Lanse as speaker.
The service, as always, will be non-denominational and the Trustees extend a cordial invitation to the public to attend.
Come out and see this lovely piece of history, visit the cemetery and take in what could probably be called “Wealthy’s Reward” too for all the work done by the Hoover Family descendants in their refusal to let this lovely little church and its history die.