Thursday, May 29, 2008

Annual Meeting - Pentecost 1882

The Brethren gathered for Annual Meeting on Pentecost (May 28), 1882, in Northern Indiana on the John Arnold farm in Elkhart County. The 35-acre site was located a short distance east of the present intersection of U.S. 6 and Ind. 15. The Big Four railroad ran north and south past the site, and the B&O railroad ran east and west a short distance to the south. Both railroads made special arrangements to transport passengers directly to the conference grounds. There was even a temporary U.S. Post Office built at the site.

The Solomon's Creek (now Bethany) was in charge of arrangements. J.W. Rowdabaugh was 12 years old when the 1882 conference was held. He wrote about his memories in 1951 when he was 81 years old.

A large tent was erected with a seating capacity of 5,000 inside and seats all around outside. A dining hall had a seating capacity of 1,500 at one time. There was also a large lunch room. A double furnace was installed for cooking 41 head of corn fed beeves. The cooking continued day and night by Solomon Rowdabaugh and Cyrus Lantz as head cooks.

A baggage room and ticket office were in the depot built by the Big Four. They also put in telegraph service and a switch. The B&O built one-and-a-half miles of new track from their main line so they could land their passengers on the meeting ground. The two railroads hauled passengers to the surrounding towns for night lodging, bringing them back to the meeting grounds in the morning.

The church building (Solomon's Creek) and the houses and barns for miles around were also used for sleeping quarters. The Big Four did not have enough passenger coaches so they used a box car.... One field was used for horses and wagons, as many people came for many miles and stayed for the entire nine-day series of services. Horse feed was furnished by the local Brethren free.

Supplying food for a gathering of thousands was a major undertaking. Meal tickets cost 15 cents each, and some of the food listed included 41 "beeves," 2,000 pies and 13 gallons of apple butter. Special arrangements were made for fresh bread each day. Quoting Rowdabaugh again, The bread was baked in Chicago and shipped by the car load to Milford junction on the B&O railroad. The cases were lined with muslin. D.W. Weybright and Elmer Troup muslin-lined a sideboard wagon box and hauled the unwrapped and unsliced bread to the meeting ground. They said the bread was still warm when they opened the car. They also testified to me that the bread with butter was good eating.

Later accounts of the 1882 conference have placed the attendance as high as 10,000, but an accurate estimate is nearly impossible. Rowdabaugh himself wrote, No one ever knew the exact total of attendance at this conference ... Judging from the amount of food used, it is evident that this meeting was one among the largest in attendance of any Brethren conference.

Part 2 regarding the business of the 1882 meeting follows tomorrow.

Source: Planting the Faith in a New Land: Church of the Brethren in Indiana