A BRIEF HISTORY OF PORTAGE PRAIRIE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
Portage Prairie’s heritage began in the 1840s in the rolling hills of western Pennsylvania, with the John Rough family. As far back as 1825 there had been talk of moving west. They had a friend, John Seybert, a bishop with the Evangelical Church. He became a “circuit rider,” making a large circle across Ohio and Indiana, and often stayed with the Roughs when he was in Pennsylvania.
At their request, Seybert looked at different areas on his next circuit. He told the Roughs about Portage Prairie – close to the St. Joseph River, the Sauk Trail with the stage line running every day and the promised Michigan Central Railroad. In 1848 brothers Jacob and David Rough made a quick trip to see the area for themselves.
John died during the winter and his widow, Margaret, 70, decided to move with the family. Fifteen people crossed Ohio in the spring of 1849 with six wagons; it was May 30 when they reached Jacob’s new farm.
They had prayer meetings in a small log schoolhouse and in 1851, Seybert organized a “Class” under the Indiana Conference. The Michigan Conference was organized in 1864. Rev. J.J. Esher was the first minister of the first Evangelical Church in the area.
The schoolhouse was used for services until 1859. David Rough owned land on Orange Road where the present church stands, near the schoolhouse. He sold an acre to the trustees for $25 and a church was built in what is now its cemetery. In 1867 the Portage Prairie Missionary Society was organized and held meetings for 41 years.
By 1887 a new Portage Prairie church was built and dedicated, debt-free. This church had a steeple that towered 100 feet, and the huge bell in the belfry could be heard for miles. This church was built along more modern lines. The ceiling was a high dome and produced good acoustics, and an organ was installed in 1882, over some protest.
Dutch preaching ended in the 1880s. The Women’s Missionary Society was organized in 1887 and reached a membership of 60. The high steeple was taken down in 1920 after it was struck by lightning a few times.
Three musical groups have performed for the church. The first was a small orchestra in about 1896; the second was a boys’ band with 26 members. The third was a large orchestra organized by Albert Housewerth in 1928.
In 1968 the church became the Portage Prairie United Methodist Church. That same year, under Rev. Wilbur Silvernail, a building committee planned an addition.It included an educational unit, large fellowship hall, modern kitchen, library, nursery and several classrooms. Also under his pastorate, a lighted softball diamond was installed.
By Mildred A. Gamble