New York Christian Church
The front page of the church book reads:
"A Record Book of the Christian church of Bethlehem and New York, Wayne County, Iowa. It was organized in the Year of our Lord, in June 1853, by Elder Morgan Parr."
Morgan Parr, ordained in 1852, was the founder of the town of Bethlehem and the pioneer preacher for the Christian Church in Wayne County. The first religious, political and social meetings in Union Township were held in the Parr home. He preached the first sermon in the town of Corydon and helped organize a Christian congregation there about 1857.
Services were held in the Parr home for several years. As Membership grew, both Bethlehem and New York held Sunday School classes at their schoolhouses.
D. M. Clark served as one of the earliest deacons. Clark, his wife Mary, and their family of eight children were staunch supporters of the church. D. M. Clark made it possible for the New York Church to carry on by donating land for a church building. (The land was to revert back to his heirs whenever it ceased to be used for the church). The exact date of construction is unknown, but records show that Elias Scales and Mary Clark were married in the New York Christian Church on July 16, 1871.The original church building burned in 1886.
The church was replaced in 1887 by the main building we have today. Mr. Rudd of Corydon was the carpenter.
Service to the Community
The church was a vital part of the community. In those days there was no question of not going to Sunday School. Whether in wagons, spring wagons, by horseback, or on foot, they went to Sunday School.
On August 8, 1893, the ladies of the church, “pursuant to call,” met and organized the first Ladies’ Aid Society. They served lunches at sales, dinners at the county Fairs, held strawberry suppers, God’s portion sales and bazaars, and helped in many other ways.
In 1927 the church was struck by lightning. “By some act of providence, the men were able to extinguish the fire, although it did quite a little damage.” The building was immediately repaired, but the bell tower was removed. The bell was slid to the ground using planks and mounted on a brick base near the entrance (similar to now). Evidence of the fire remains on one of the front pews which was charred by a falling ember.
At the beginning of the 20th century, New York, Iowa was a thriving village with two churches, a school, two stores, a blacksmith shop, and several homes. By the 1940s the village was nearly a ghost town. The Christian Church, however, continued to thrive for many more years. Sadly, in the 1980s, it became necessary to close the doors. The last regular service was held on January 6, 1985.
Despite its closing, the church was not abandoned. The great-grandson of D. M. Clark, Ernest Blakey and his wife Verna, continued to look after the building. They opened the church for two special occasions—the marriage of their daughter Jill to Jack Griffeth on May 21, 1989, and the marriage of their daughter Joan to Bill Byrns on March 21, 1992.
In 1937 a church member, Mrs. Roy Patterson, wrote: “How proud we were in 1903 to think that for 50 years the New York church had been able to carry on. Now the time has stretched for eighty-four years. It is our hope now that it may not be one of the “abandoned churches,” but that we may say in the words of Samuel Walter Foss, ‘Let me sit by the side of the road and be a friend to man’.”
On May 20, 1998, tragedy struck another Wayne County rural church. The Spring Branch Seceder Presbyterian Church, that had been moved to the Round Barn Site and restored, was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. Soon after that, the New York Christian Church was offered to the site.
Wayne Countians rallied around the effort to move the New York Christian Church for restoration. Numerous volunteers worked to move the furnishings to storage in preparation for the move.
On September 11, 1998, the church began an 18-mile journey to the Historic Round Barn Site.
New York lost its only remaining structure that day. The New York Christian Church made its journey in five short hours. The church was welcomed by the 1912 Round Barn, 1869 Williams School, and a host of old and new friends as it turned into the drive of the International Center for Rural Culture and Art.
The New York Christian Church is serving the community again—an even larger community as it welcomes people from near and far.
The New York Christian Church has stood the test of time. In its new location it serves as a tribute to the pioneers who came to Wayne County and settled a new land, bringing with them strong faith and dedication to God.