Friday, July 13, 2007

The Mt. Zion Methodist Protestant Church of Orlando

by David Parmer
The Origins: Camp Meetings
In a companion article by this author involving the United Brethren Church in Orlando, the history of Methodism in the Oil Creek valley was sketched. The introduction of Methodism to the Orlando area came by way of traveling preachers such as Lorenzo Dow who conducted camp meetings throughout the sparsely settled regions of what is now West Virginia. Camp meetings merely whetted the appetite of rural folk, far from established churches, for spiritual sustenance. The novelty of camp meetings was a good introduction to religion but the religiously-inclined farmers of Oil Creek wanted something more permanent than the summer time camp meetings.

The First Methodist Protestant Religious Service
Doctor I. A. Barnes, who authored a history of the Methodist Protestant Church in West Virginia, reported that “the first religious service under the auspices of the Methodist Protestant Church, in the vicinity of Orlando, was held at the home of Alfred and Christina Posey on Oil Creek.” This service was held sometime prior to 1860 on the eve of the Civil War. Conducting this meeting, according to Doctor Barnes, was Reverend [John] Elam Mitchell,1 the son and grandson of Methodist preachers. Also according to Barnes, those attending this service and becoming charter members were Alfred and Christina Posey, Isaac Riffle and Dorothy (Plyman) Riffle, Alexander and Phoebe Skinner, George F. and Minerva (Hopkins) Posey, and the widow Nancy McPherson. Doctor Barnes, however, erroneously concluded that George F. Posey and his wife Minerva became charter members of the Methodist Society at this time. This undoubtedly was not the case because George F. Posey was only seven years of age at the time of the formation of the society, and certainly he would not have been married. Of course, it is no doubt true that George F. Posey and his wife, Minerva, later become valuable members of the Mt. Zion Methodist Church, but they could not have been among the charter members.

To the left are Alexander and Phoebe (Conrad) Skinner. To the right above are Alfred and Christina (Murphy) Posey. Below to the left are Afred and Christina's son George and his wife Minerva.

Early Church Members
The family of Edward Posey and his wife Catherine (Scott) Skinner Posey and the Isaac Riffle and Elizabeth Wash Riffle family were two of the original families to settle in the lower Oil Creek valley. These two families and their descendants appear among the founders of the Methodist church in Orlando.

Alfred Posey was born in 1819 to Edward Posey and Catherine Scott Skinner Posey on Oil Creek. Alfred Posey was the half-brother of Alexander Skinner, the patriarch of many Skinner descendants in central West Virginia. Alfred Posey was a pious man, as was his wife, the former Christina Murphy Curtis. Alfred and Christina were the parents of eleven children, many of whom lived their lifetimes in the Oil Creek valley in the neighborhood of Orlando. One of their sons was George Jackson Posey who was born in 1853. George became a farmer like his father and tilled the soil for his living in the Posey Run area. George, like his father, was also a pious man.

Alexander Skinner needs little introduction to people familiar with Orlando. He and his wife, Phebe (Conrad) Skinner, raised a family of twelve children in the Orlando area. Except for their son William who migrated west to California, all of their children remained in the Orlando area. Alexander Skinner was born in 1807 and died in 1891. His wife Phebe was born in 1815 and died in 1886. In addition to being charter members of the Methodist Society, Alexander Skinner and his wife Phebe donated the land for the erection of a church and parsonage to further the cause of Methodism in Orlando.

Nancy McPherson, a charter member of the Methodist society, was a widow and resident of lower Oil Creek. She was the mother in law of Lucy (Skinner) McPherson, daughter of Alexander and Phoebe Skinner, and the wife of Thomas McPherson who would later be killed during the Civil War.

Isaac Riffle, another charter member of the Methodist society, was born around 1784. He was the son of Jacob Sr. and Dorothy Riffle. Jacob Riffle Sr. came to America in 1750 and was one of the original settlers of what is now West Virginia, having settled in the Tygart River Valley first around 1770 and then coming to Braxton County around 1810.
The Building of a Church Building
Doctor Barnes does not report further on the history of the Methodist church in Orlando from the time of the formation of the Methodist Society in 1860 until steps were taken to secure a permanent place of worship in 1872. In that year Alexander Skinner, owner of most all of the land in present day Orlando , donated both a parcel of land to the Methodist Church for the purpose of construction of a church building and enough timber to be sawed for the building of the church. The original deed to the present church lot is in the possession of Betty (Skinner) Ratliff of Orlando.

The construction of the Mount Zion Methodist Protestant church building in Orlando commenced shortly after Alexander Skinner gave the land and timber to begin construction. Doctor Barnes reported that “some of the younger men cut and hauled the timber to the mills of Burnsville, and [hauled] the lumber back again” to Orlando for the construction of the church building. Doctor Barnes identified George F. Posey, son of Alfred Posey, among the “younger men” hauling the timber to Burnsville and the sawn lumber back to Orlando.

Confusion Regarding the Year the Church was Built
There appears some lack of agreement regarding the date of the construction of the Mt Zion church building. The records of Braxton County indicate that the deed from Alexander Skinner to the church trustees was made in August 1872. The records of the Methodist Church indicate that the first pastor of the Mt. Zion Methodist Church was J. J. Poynter who served in 1872 and 1873. This would seem to indicate that the church building, a simple architectural structure, was completed soon after Alexander Skinner deeded the real estate to the church trustees. Yet, Doctor Barnes reported that the church building was built in 1882 and that D. C. Weese was the minister at the time. Obviously, Doctor Barnes was mistaken because the Methodist Church records preserved at West Virginia Wesleyan College indicate that D. C. Weese was pastor of the Orlando church in 1878 and 1879, and was preceded by not only J. J. Poynter, the first minister, but also by S. S. Honaker who was the minister in 1874 and by Mark Hersman who was the minister in 1875, 1876, and 1877. Also, of significance in determining the correct date of the construction of the Mt. Zion Methodist, Doctor Barnes indicated that when the church was built, Orlando was part of the “Lumberport” Circuit. “Lumberport” was the former name of Burnsville, however, the town’s name had been formally changed from Lumberport to Burnsville in 1874 by the United States Post Office. That town had been known as Burnsville for a few years prior to the official change of name given by the United States Post Office. Also, according to the Methodist Church ’s own records “Lumberport” no longer appeared as an appointment for ministers as early as 1872. The inconsistency of Doctor Barnes’ beliefs as to the date of building of the Mt. Zion Methodist Protestant Church was noted in correspondence between this author and Patricia Prout Tolliver, custodian of the records of the Methodist Church in West Virginia at West Virginia Wesleyan College . Therefore, after a weighing of the evidence, it would appear that the Mt. Zion Methodist Protestant Church in Orlando was built around 1872 rather than 1882 as suggested by Doctor Barnes.

The Building of a Parsonage
After the Orlando church was made a part of the Burnsville Circuit and since the Burnsville Methodist congregation was somewhat larger of the two, the minister assigned to the circuit lived in the Methodist parsonage in Burnsville. Early in the history of the Orlando Methodist Church , a parsonage in Orlando was available for the minister. In 1884, Alexander Skinner donated a parcel of ground for a parsonage which was adjacent to the original parcel he had donated in 1872 for the church building. According to Betty Skinner Ratliff, there were actually two Methodist parsonages. The original Methodist parsonage was built on the site of a granary which was located on the real estate owned by her parents, Cecil and Kathryn(Riffle) Skinner during the mid 20th century. Betty recalls that her parents told her that the original parsonage was either torn down or burned down in the late 1800s or early 1900s. Then the two story house in which she grew up was built by the church and served as the parsonage until the church deemed it was not needed. It was then sold by the church to the Matthews family who later sold it to Cecil and Kathryn Skinner.

The United Brethren Church Split from the Methodist Church
As set forth in an article concerning the United Brethren Church, published earlier on this website, the original Mt. Zion Methodist Protestant church included many members who, in 1910, decided to separate from the Mt. Zion church because of doctrinal differences. The departing members decided to form their own church under the auspices of the United Brethren church. This schism roughly divided the Orlando Methodist camp in half. The newly formed United Brethren church purchased a lot on the hill above and east of the Mt. Zion church building near the Orlando school and the seceding members erected their own church building known as the United Brethren Church. The new United Brethren Church building was dedicated in 1920.

Church Rivalry
The Mt Zion M.P. Church and the United Brethren Church were the primary Protestant churches in Orlando from around 1910 until the late 1960s and both vied for membership of the same Orlando families.
P. N. Blake, known as Uncle Zeke to his readers of the Buzzardtown News in the Braxton Democrat, Braxton Central and Weston Independent newspapers, was a staunch United Brethren member, as well as trustee of the church, and in every weekly newspaper column gave a report on church attendance and church happenings at the United Brethren Church. Only rarely did Uncle Zeke mention the church of his Methodist friends, except when the two churches conducted a rare joint revival meeting. Each church seemed to keep a watchful eye on the other and noted any dissension in the other church. Such periods of church dissidence were opportunities for the competing church to gain a few new members who defected from the quarreling church. A review of the Buzzardtown News column written by United Brethren Uncle Zeke and the Orlando news column written by Methodist Jessie (Riffle) Bragg indicate subtle suggestions to attend the church of the writer because the membership “was peaceful” or “without strife.”

For a brief period in the late 1960s, this inter-church rivalry seemed to have ended with the nation-wide merger of the Methodist and United Brethren churches. The two Orlando churches in the spirit of fellowship decided to abandon their original church homes and buy the former St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church building for their newly merged church. However, doctrinal differences or personal animosities still seemed to be too sharp for a fellowship between the local congregations of the two churches. The national merger of the two churches made no difference to the local congregations who split again into separate churches. Many of the former United Brethren members formed an independent church, led by former United Brethren minister, Reverend W.H. Hoover, and left the Methodist fold. The newly purchased former home of St. Michael’s was again abandoned by the Mt. Zion members who returned to their original church home. For a fuller discussion of this topic, see the story of the Orlando United Brethren church on this website.

Church Attendance in Orlando
Again, the lack of records from the Mt Zion Methodist Church renders accurate figures regarding church attendance impossible to determine. An anecdotal source of some figures does however come to us by way of the writings of P. N. Blake, known as Uncle Zeke, to his Buzzardtown News column readers. Uncle Zeke wrote his newspaper column from around 1920 until around 1936. Blake, who was a trustee of the Orlando United Brethren Church, was a close follower of church attendance in Orlando. Although he was a United Brethren, and was primarily concerned with attendance at that church, from time to time Blake mentioned attendance figures at the Mt Zion church. A perusal of Blake’s columns seems to indicate that the Methodists enjoyed a slight edge over the United Brethren in average attendance. In June 1931, average attendance at the United Brethren Church was around ninety (95). On July 2, 1931, attendance at the United Brethren Church was one hundred fifteen (115). Presumably, attendance at the Methodist church was higher. So, between the two churches in Orlando in 1931, average monthly attendance would have hovered around two hundred (200) attendees each Sunday. This period was the high water mark of church attendance in Orlando. Church attendance at both the Methodist and United Brethren churches began dwindling after that time and today, even after the 1969 merger of the Methodist and the United Brethren churches, attendance at the Mt Zion United Methodist Church is around fourteen (14) each Sunday according to Mina (Strader) Luzader.

To the right is little Patsy Morrison (now Pat Reckart) who was counted among those attending the Methodist church in the 1940s.

Below to the left is Edith (Skinner) Stutler, mentioned as a president of the Ladies Aid. She was also Patsey's Sunday School teacher.
The Methodist Ladies Aid Society
The Mt Zion Methodist Protestant Church sponsored the Methodist Ladies Aid Society. Like their counterparts at the United Brethren church, the Methodist Ladies Aid Society seemed to be a strong and well directed organization. The Braxton Democrat in July 1959 reported that the Methodist Ladies Aid Society met at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Griffith for a covered dish dinner. The meeting was conducted by the President Mrs. Edith Stutler. After an opening song, a scripture reading by Kathryn Skinner, a prayer by Reverend Neil Dent, Jr. a reading by Maude Freeman, a talk was given by Reverend Dent. During this meeting the ladies approved purchases for the Methodist parsonage. In 1959, the Ladies Aid Society had a very active membership. At this meeting those present were Mr. and Mrs. G. H. Allman, Edith Stutler, Maude Freeman, Georgia Hamilton, Genevieve Heater, Wanetta Belknap, Mae Strader, Linda Skinner, Glenna Cummings, Laynette Skinner, Beverly Jo Riffle, Davie Robertson, Brenda Jo Riffle, Betty Skinner, Mr. and Mrs. Hubert Carpenter and daughter Inez, Larry Griffith, Kathryn Skinner, Mary Lee Persinger and children Jerry and Donna, Billy Joe Riffle, Marianna Riffle, Ellen Lawson, Ann Heater, Benjamin J. Riffle, Reverend and Mrs. Neil Dent Jr. and son Tommy, and the hostess Mrs. Erma Griffith.

From a reading of the Methodist Ladies Aid meeting in July 1959 it is clear that there was a strong, vibrant, dedicated social club to supplement the activities of the Mt. Zion Church. This continued at least well into the 1960s.

Vacation Bible School
When Reverend Arden Dean was the pastor of the Mt. Zion Church from 1962 to 1968, the preacher’s wife, Dora Dean, was quite active in church activities. Jeanetta Ramsey (later Mrs. Danny Mick) who was then sixteen years of age and living on upper Oil Creek was asked by Dora Dean if she would be the teacher of the Vacation Bible School at Mt. Zion Methodist Church. Jeanetta recalls that, although agreeable to take on the responsibility, she was somewhat apprehensive. Despite a total lack of experience in dealing with younger children in such a setting, Jeanetta fondly spoke of teaching Bible lessons and doing arts and crafts and singing with her little charges. Jeanetta now recalls thoroughly enjoying the experience and was glad to have been able to participate in the Vacation Bible School.

On the front row from the left: The first girl is a Mills girl, first name unknown. The maiden name of Mrs. Gaver Allman ( Michie), was Mills and she was probably Mrs. Allman's niece. The father of this girl was W. H. Mills who worked at the depot in Orlando in the late 1920s and by 1931 he was living and working in Richwood at the depot at that place. The second girl is Exie Conrad. She was the daughter the "maple sugar candy lady," Mandy Conrad. The well dressed young man is Douglas Andrews, a visitor from Canada. The girl to his left is Anna Anderson, also from Canada. The fifth and sixth person on the front row are unknown. On the back row are "Woody" Wooddell, son of John Wooddell. The teacher is Mildred "Jackie" Allman, wife of Forrest Allman, son of Gaver and Michie Allman. He was the depot man at Parsons, in Tucker County for many years. Jackie died last year in Elkins at age 98. The girl to her left is unknown. The next boy is Leeman Keller, son on Preacher Keller of the UB Church. The fith and sixth persons in the back row are unknown.

The Most Prayerful Methodist
Jeanetta (Ramsey) Mick is the widow of Danny Mick who was lay minister of the Mt. Zion Methodist Church from 1990 to 1994. Jeanetta recalls that Herbie Fisher, a church
member who lived on Clover Fork, was quite a pious member, and a strong believer in prayer. Jeanetta relates that she and her husband Danny lived near Bennett Siding on upper Oil Creek. She recalls being approached one time by Herbie Fisher who told her that he prayed constantly for her husband, and that sometimes he felt the need of prayer so strongly that he would drive to their home and park in their driveway late at night and pray that God would protect Danny. Jeanetta was thankful for Herbie’s concern for her husband. Sometime after Herbie’s death, members of his family found that Herbie had a natural altar in a rock formation on the hill behind his home on Clover Fork where he went to pray and meditate. And, judging from the well worn area around this altar Herbie had used the altar long and often, praying for himself, his friends and neighbors, seeking solace with the Lord.

The Preacher Lost His Shirt
Reverend Forrest R. Armentrout was the pastor at the Orlando Mt. Zion Methodist Church from 1953 to 1958. Preacher Armentrout was a native of Webster County and had earlier served congregations in Webster County prior to his service to the Orlando parish and other church communites in West Virginia. Preachers in Methodist service were never known for becoming rich. In fact, most Methodist ministers were “poor as church mice” and much in need of monetary sustenance. In other words, they could have been paid better for their service.

To the right is the Rev. Armentraut.
Early in his ministerial career in Webster County, Preacher Armentrout was so poor that he had just one shirt to his name. This shirt was his everyday shirt, his church-going shirt and his only shirt. One day, Preacher Armentrout was burning brush to clear off a space for a garden so that he could feed his growing family. Since it was a warm day, he had removed his shirt and carefully placed it where it wouldn’t get dirty or spoiled. The day became windy after Preacher Armentrout lit the fire to the brush and before he realized it, the fire was out of control. The fire, in addition to burning the brush, nearly completely consumed Preacher Armentrout’s only shirt, except for the collar and a strip down the front of the shirt.

To make matters worse, that very day Preacher Armentrout received a call to preach the funeral service of a deceased church member the same evening. With no money to buy a new shirt, Preacher Armentrout turned to his wife Bessie for help. Bessie was handy with a needle and thread. She carefully sewed the charred edges of the shirt to her husband’s suit vest. Except for lacking the entire back of the shirt and two shirt sleeves, it all looked normal. If anybody at the funeral noticed the peculiarity of the preacher’s attire, they remained silent about it. Preacher Armentrout, otherwise, carried off the funeral uneventfully, thanks to the skill and care of his dear wife Bessie. And, thankfully, the preacher didn’t have to remove his suit jacket in his service to the Lord.

Original Lumber from “Lumberport”
In the mid 1800s, central West Virginia was filled with original growth forests. Huge oaks, poplars, maples, pines, chestnuts and other trees filled the landscape. As set forth above, Alexander Skinner, in addition to donating land for the construction of a church building, donated enough lumber to build it. After the trees which were selected to be used for the construction of the church were felled and cut into manageable logs, the logs were hauled to the sawmill at “Lumberport.”. Captain John Burns, who had been a Union officer during the Civil War, commenced a sawmilling operation near the mouth of Oil Creek and Salt Lick Creek to take advantage of the bountiful forest in the area. The town of “Lumberport” would in 1874 formally change its name to Burnsville in honor of the pioneering lumber man John Burns. Utilizing the new technology of band sawmilling, the Burns Lumber Company could quickly turn a large log into sawn lumber. Shown with this article is a photo of one of the original boards sawn by the Burns Lumber Company from the logs donated by Alexander Skinner and used in the original construction of the Orlando Mt Zion Methodist Church.
To the right: an original milled board removed during re-modeling in the church building in the 1990s.

Mary Emma Skinner's Thesis
In 1985, Mary Emma Skinner, wife of Minter Skinner, wrote a history of the Orlando Mt Zion Methodist Church. This thesis is of record at West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon. Mrs. Skinner’s history contains some interesting facts about the Mt. Zion Church set forth below:
1. In 1946-1947, the Sunday School teachers at Mt. Zion were Worthy Hurst, P. J. Bragg, June Skinner, Maysell Bennett, and Edith Stutler.
2. In August 1949, the electric bill was $1.00.
3. In 1951, the average Sunday School attendance was 35.
4. In 1961, the average Sunday School attendance was 27.
5. In 1969, the average Sunday School attendance was 25.
6. On April 23, 1968 , the merger of the Evangelical United Brethren, the United Brethren, and the Methodist churches was declared.
7. The Orlando United Methodist Church paid $1500 for the former St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church building to be used as the new sanctuary for the merged churches to be known as the United Methodist Church.
8. The United Methodist Church expended $1340 to sand the floors of the former United Brethren parsonage, to purchase a new kitchen rug and to install a new floor furnace.
9. The United Methodist Church moved into their new church building on June 22, 1969 but on December 28, 1969, part of the congregation moved back to the former United Brethren Church building along with their minister Reverend W. H. Hoover.
10. Around 1985 the former United Brethren parsonage was sold and a trailer was purchased and located about two miles up Oil Creek for the new parsonage.
11. In March 1985, Mrs. Skinner attended Sunday School and the attendance was 21.

To the left: Reverend Bill Griffin assisted by Reverend Ronzel Roberts baptising Peggy Gay and Diana Ramsey in the 1970s. (Diana is sister of Jeanetta Mick who is the wife of Danny Mick, later himself the pastor at Mt. Zion.

The Church Bureaucracy Today
Today, the Orlando Mt. Zion Church is part of the Orlando Circuit, which consists of the Oil Creek Methodist Church located on Oil Creek above Orlando at the mouth of Red Lick, the Clover Fork Methodist Church and the Orlando Mt Zion Methodist Church. The three churches maintain a Fellowship Hall near the Oil Creek Methodist Church at Red Lick.
The minister of the Orlando Mt Zion Methodist Church is Reverend Bob Mitchell who lives on Oil Creek, above Orlando. Mrs. Mina (Strader) Luzader of Road Run and Mrs. Doshia Wymer of Three Lick are church officers and tend to the general business of the church.

To the right is the Rev. Bob Mitchell.
With a history of over one hundred thirty five years in its historic sanctuary in Orlando, the Mt. Zion Methodist Church beckons to former members who moved away and who are now nearing retirement, to come back to their former church home. Mt Zion also beckons to former Orlando residents now living a short automobile ride away to re-join the church fellowship at its Orlando church and sit in the same pews as did their forebearers and remember the melodious voices which sang the sacred hymns that graced its halls long ago.

1. John Elam Mitchell's story is found in the July '07 entry The Reverend Captain John Elam Mitchell
comment 1: Donna Gloff
In the 1950s the Ladies' Aid Society always had a meeting during the two weeks in August that we visited Orlando. My grandmother, Edith (Skinner) Stutler, was a committed member. My mother would go to the meeting with her, and they usually took me with them. We went "up to the Ladies' Aid." My father, Carl Witzgall, would give Grandma a hard time talking about going "up the lady's leg." Grandma just ignored him.

I was a kid. I have no idea who the other members were or what they did, besides have a business meeting and then a luncheon. Too bad. Even in my youthful oblivion I could tell that this was a long standing, committed group of women.
comment 2: Pat Reckart
Edith Stutler was my Sunday School teacher. I remember grandma would give me a penny or a nickle for the offering and tie it in the corner of my hankerchief. Just before the collection was taken, Mrs. Stutler would help me untie to knot in my hanky to get my offering.

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