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Church In East Canton One Of Oldest In County Still Conducting Services
From: The Daily Review, Towanda, Pa., Saturday, March 29, 1975
By: Lillian Ackley

The East Canton United Methodist Church is one of the oldest churches in Bradford County still conducting regular services. According to Miss Clara Smiley of E. Canton, a retired history teacher, it is the oldest church in the county to continue in the same denomination since it was founded.

Miss Smiley has conducted extensive research and has compiled a history of early Methodism in Bradford County, in which the E. Canton church played a prominent role. This article is based on information provided by Miss Smiley, the Rev. Owen Barrett of Troy, a former pastor and historian; and John Brackman, a lifetime trustee of the church.

The actual beginning of the East Canton Methodist Church came about in 1817, when 13 people met in the cabin home of Solomon Brown, located on the south side of Cemetery Hill, facing the road which then followed the creek. The first members were Solomon and Lusanna Brown, Levi and Lurinda Landon, David and Anise Brown Lindley, Cynthia Lindley, Elias and Amanda Brown Wright, David and Priscilla Andrews, and Thomas and Nancy Miles.

It is said that other Methodists came from as far away as Wellsboro for occasional meetings, which sometimes lasted for two days, and spent the night sleeping on the floor, "one to a wide board."

Until the erection of the church edifice, services were held at various places, sometimes in houses or barns, but principally in the old school house on the Beardslee farm near the cemetery. The services were conducted by the circuit riding ministers who made occasional visits to the area. Administration of the sacraments and performance of marriages awaited the arrival of the circuit preacher.

The Rev. Elisha Cole, who lived near Monroeton and was one of the most important individuals in the establishment of Methodism in the county, was one of the circuit riders who visited the E. Canton Church.

In 1832, 15 years after the founding of their organization, the group decided to erect a church building. The land was purchased from Abraham Foster, whose farm included the present Liston Wright and former George Bulkley farms as well as land north of Towanda Creek. The purchase price of the church and parsonage properties was $50.

When the church was first built, the sanctuary had two rear doors toward the south, probably with a high pulpit between them and a balcony across the north side facing the pulpit. At some time later, the pulpit was moved to the north and a balcony was built across the south end and sides of the sanctuary. Dates of the remodeling are not available, but eventually this balcony became the present upstairs Sunday School room, and a partition was installed to make a hall. Double doors took the place of two single doors at each end of the south wall.

In 1889, major changes took place when the windows were changed to their present pointed form and a matching Gothic arch pulpit alcove was added. This renovation included the installation of a beautiful ceiling of beautifully inlaid wood.

A tall spire, once a striking part of the building, was taken down for safety reasons.

It is believed that in the early days, the church was heated by two wood-burning stoves, one on each side of the sanctuary. Some believe that the stoves were replaced by a furnace about 1889, when major renovations took place. However, the Rev. Owen Barrett, who began his first period as pastor of the church in 1921, said that a basement had been dug and a coal furnace installed not long before his arrival.

It is known that the furnace smoked badly, and a great deal of consternation was caused when parishioners would arrive to find their church blue with smoke. A new furnace, and perhaps a third, was eventually installed, each of the two or three being wood-burning or coal-burning. The succession of changes may have taken place before the Rev. Barrett came to the church.

Some years later, the furnace was converted to oil. However, heating problems still existed until, during the major building program in 1961-1962, when a new "three level" furnace providing hot water heat was installed.

The Rev. Barrett returned to the church in 1950, to find that not many changes had been made to the physical plant. During his second term of service there, a series of alterations which would add to the beauty and comfort of the church were begun.

Between 1955 and 1962, parking spaces for cars were arranged, and a new driveway was laid out around the church on land contributed by Mr. and Mrs. Floyd Harkness. A lavatory, gift of the Sunrise Class, was installed in the basement. The hall was renovated and redecorated, and an attractive front entrance was built. The sanctuary was redecorated, landscaping added to the beauty and dignity of the church setting.

The last major improvement was a much needed education building which was completed and first used in January 1962. This new building provides five classrooms, a hallway and lavatory.

A lower pulpit, divided chancel, modern lighting, electric organ and wide oak pews have only added to the simple dignity and beauty of the sanctuary.

In 1972, the sanctuary was redecorated and carpeted, and in 1973 a new kitchen was installed.

In June 1962, the church which had been affiliated with the Syracuse, N.Y., area, was transferred to the Central Pennsylvania Conference of the Pittsburgh area.

According to a most unusual provision of the charter granted to the East Canton Methodist Church by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, three trustees serve for life unless they resign their office. In case of the death of one of the permanent trustees, a successor is chosen by the pastor and two remaining trustees. The present trustees elected under the provision of the charter are Henry Stone, John Brackman, and Davis VanDyke.

As the church grew and duties of the office of trustee increased, it was felt that the church should have a larger board of trustees. Three others were elected by a quarterly conference in 1962. Presently serving under this provision are Dean Bedford, John Brackman and Arthur Harkness.

Miss Smiley noted that the church has approximately 200 members from 75 area families. The most active organization in the church is the Sunrise Class, which she described as "perfectly marvelous young people who certainly put their Christianity into action."

Other active groups are the United Methodist Women and the United Methodist Youth Group.

The church is continuing to thrive and meet all of its objectives under the leadership of its present pastor, the Rev. Dennis Reedy.

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Bradford County PA
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Published On Tri-Counties Site On 11 December 2008
By Joyce M. Tice
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