When the Reverend Raymond Gram and his wife Evelyn came to North Lewisburg in the 1950s to take over the spiritual and social leadership of the congregation which composed the Friends Church, there was little fanfare. They were just another young couple, tasked with the duties associated with their calling in the old church.
They moved into the parsonage on north Sycamore Street, their old blue Ford automobile parked adjacent to the street. They were welcomed into the community by the members of the Society of Friends, and went about their responsibilities with dedication. Raymond supplemented their meager income working as a bus driver for the local school district.
Sundays became somewhat special in that part of the town when the members of the congregation met for services. Word soon went throughout the community that a new, vibrant pastor was manning the pulpit. His melodious, booming voice could be heard as he led the people in song, or as he preached a sermon with fervor. His wife, Evelyn, added to the new spirit within the little church as she told stories from the scriptures, visually creating them with characters and scenery on a large flannel board.
Attendance at the church increased as young people, attracted by the youthful minister and his family, arrived for services. Curtains were strung on wires and pulled into positions to separate the large sanctuary into smaller, more intimate classrooms. A youth program was established, which included Friday night trips to the Y.M.C.A. – in far away Springfield – for swimming sessions. The summer’s treat was Vacation Bible School, with activities, crafts, and treats to welcome each of the young participants.
Few of us knew the history of the old church building, and of the people who contributed to that history. We simply enjoyed attending there – singing the songs, listening with rapt attention to the stories, and participating in the fellowship.
That fellowship stretched into the distant past, long before most of us were even born. The early pioneers who had traveled from Virginia, Pennsylvania - and even as far away as North Carolina - were members of the Society of Friends – Quakers. Their simple rites of worship were held in members’ homes until the first meeting house was erected in 1842.
That old, frame building stood on the same ground which was later occupied by a much larger, brick building, erected in 1879. The old records show that the cost of the building (about $4245) was borne by Joshua Winder, one of the early settlers of the area. He left the money as one of the provisions of his last will and testament.
Hiram Pierce contracted to build the new meeting house. By 1879, it was fulfilling its purpose. Worshippers would travel by foot, horseback, and buggy to attend the regular meetings.
Another pastor even made area history – In 1890, Reverend Hannah Parvis, female minister of the Friends Church, was granted authority to perform marriages by the Judge of the Probate Court for Champaign County. She was the first female pastor in Champaign County to be given such authority.
Services ended in the old building in 1997, after nearly 120 years of use.
From time to time, members of the old congregation died and were buried in the little cemetery which was created on church property. One of the earliest burials was that of Phebe Winder on March 14, 1842. Many others followed over the course of the next forty years or so. The last burial was probably that of Caroline Pim on May 18, 1885. Surnames of those interred in the cemetery, which can still be found among the current residents of North Lewisburg and the area, include Berry, Brown, Cowgill, and Gibson. Some of the town’s streets bear other familiar names such as Townsend and Winder.
Harmon Limes, Jr., (1791-1861), the town’s first marshal, a lawman, is buried in the little cemetery.
Over the years, Linda Limes Ellis, a descendant of Harmon Limes, and a volunteer, has led the effort for preservation of the cemetery. She and her husband have spent hours of effort in cleaning up the burial ground, resetting stones, and recording the inscriptions before they vanish with time and decay. Today, the cemetery grounds are regularly maintained by Bob Davis, Jr., a dedicated village employee.
Through the efforts of many folks in the community, the old church building has been recognized as an Ohio historical site in recent years. A memorial to that effect now stands on the church grounds. The preserved, and updated building is also serving the community as a branch of the Champaign County Public Library.
If you should visit the site some quiet afternoon, just before the sun sets beyond the western horizon, you might be fortunate enough to hear the sound of gospel music, the laughter of children, or the booming voice of one of the many pastors who once pointed the way. Or maybe – just maybe – you will only hear the sound of a gentle breeze as it works its way through the trees near the cemetery. Hush, and be still – you are standing on holy, historic ground.