On January 1, 1842, led by Reverends W. M. Andrews, Jacob Andrews and John Sprague, in the home of James S. and Polly (Hooton) Parnell a weekly prayer group was organized with the following charter members: Jackson and Phebe Hale, the Parnells, James S. Hooton, William Hooton, and Esther Hooton. Polly (Hooton) Parnell was Esther’s sister-in-law; James and William were Esther’s sons.
For approximately 27 years, the adults attended weekly prayer meetings. At first they were held in different homes and after a few years, they began to hold church in the Parnell Schoolhouse (sometimes called the Hooton Schoolhouse) on State Road 2, hence the name Parnell’s Church.
Thomas Hooton, Esther’s husband, originally purchased the land across the highway to the south from the church from the United States. This schoolhouse is in the 1863 Platt Book of St. Joseph County, on James Parnell’s land which was the previously named land belonging to Thomas Hooton. It was well attended, with Reverend Davie Culp in charge. The children were seldom allowed to attend.
In the fall of 1868, a large revival meeting was held in the Parnell Schoolhouse, and a number of people came forward. The Schoolhouse was not large enough for all to attend, so it was discussed that a new church house was to be built - should it be near the Schoolhouse or should a new location be selected.
It was settled when Joseph and Nancy Adams, members of the church, agreed to donate the ground at the corner of State Road 2 and Timothy Road. In 1868, the corner was called Gates’ Crossroads. There’s no record of this, but possibly about that time the name became Olive Chapel Church since they were now going to have a permanent building. State Road 2 was also named Division Road and Western Highway before becoming State Road 2.
Beginning in 1869, Hank VanDusen was in charge of building the new church. He at once began to clear a place that was heavily wooded.
Logs and timber were donated by the neighbors and were hauled in part to Puddletown Saw Mill and part to Zigler’s Saw Mill. Puddletown Saw Mill was in Puddletown, which was located about a mile and a half west of the church on State Road 2. When they were sawed, they were returned to a dry kiln which was built a little north of the church grounds. Simon VanDusen volunteered to watch the kiln and dry the lumber.
Benny Culp and Daniel VanDusen built the foundation from the field stone the neighbors hauled from their fields. Once the foundation was finished, the building was started. The building was to be 34 by 48 feet with the ceiling to be 16 feet high with the entrance doors facing west.
The completed cost was $1,900.00. At the time, this represented a lot of faith and financial sacrifice in the pioneer community. The material used to build the church was so sound and the construction so sturdy, that the original building withstood being moved from its original position at the corner of Gates’ Crossroads (State Road 2 and Timothy Road) to its current position at the “new” corner of State Road 2 and Timothy Road for 150 years.
On October 16, 1869 the church was dedicated. The sermon was preached by Elder Nichols Summerbell from Cincinnati. A few days after the dedication of the church, a personal friend of James Harvey Rodgers, a local artist, Emlack Gary, inscribed this inscription on the church “Olive Chapel Church - dedicated October16, 1869”, a replica of which is still on the church today. Did he give Olive Chapel its name?
The first organ was purchased in 1889. By the turn of the century, the original oak pulpit railing, the original pedestals and other original furnishings were removed and “tossed into the woodshed for kindling.” They were soon replaced.
In 1912, Francis Marion Hooton and his wife Anna, donated the land the parsonage stands on today. The parsonage was built at a cost of approximately $2,000.00. Unfortunately by October of 2019, the building has fallen into disrepair and plans are being made for removal.
The Ladies Aid Society, one of the main supporters of the church budget, needed a place other than members’ homes and nearby schoolhouses to serve meals conveniently. In 1925, at a cost of $1,000.00 the church was modernized with lights, furnace, complete kitchen and social room in a newly added basement.
Western or Division, as State Road 2 was called, became an Indiana state highway about this time. The traffic became so heavy that plans were made to make State Road 2 a four lane divided highway. As of December 31, 1940 any buildings left in the path of the expansion would became property of the state.
The church was in the planned west bound lane of the highway. It was decided to move the church north and turn it to face the south, in line with the parsonage, in order to save it. The church was moved and put on stilts. A basement was dug at the current location and the building was set in place.
During this time the congregation attended services with the Community Church in New Carlisle. This is the only time in its entire history that the church has not been used on Sunday morning. Soon after the move, inside bathrooms were added.
The fifties brought more structural changes. The vestibule or narthex was added in 1955. The old wood framed windows were replaced by the current stained glass windows in 1958; it’s been reported these are the second set of stained glass windows. The financing of the windows came from memorial donations from church families, fundraisers by the adult Sunday school classes, and the story goes that the Studebaker Corporation donated crop land to the farmers. When the crops were harvested, the money was to help with the purchase of these windows.
In 1972, the sanctuary was remodeled by lowering the ceiling, the original tin ceiling is still there, and adding two archest the platform; one goes through the ceiling, one does not. The original reason for the arches has been lost in history. Some say they represent ascending into heaven and being in heaven, others say they represent the counties of Saint Joseph and LaPorte, while another idea is, one is the beginning of an era, while the other is an end of an era. If anyone remembers the reason, please let the church know. The sanctuary was carpeted. Possibly at this time the siding was put on. During the seventies, the parking lot was blacktopped.
Another change came in the 1980s when part of the vestibule was made into a nursery. The Scripture Sign was remade incorporating the original inscribed portion into the new sign. And the wooden cross on the hillside was built and donated by a local community member. In 2019, lights were added to the cross.
By 2019 the lighted highway sign has been replaced with a larger one was and has been placed in front of the church. The Scripture Sign has been replaced, with a lighted one, keeping the original shape. Air-conditioning has been installed, a new roof has been put on; the cross on the front of the church over the double doors has been replaced by a back-lit cross; the electric has been updated; a chair lift has been installed; an overhead projector has updated the sanctuary; and a concrete bench has been added to the west garden.
A fire in James Parnell’s home, one of the early clerks, destroyed the records of the meetings in homes. Since the dedication, Olive Chapel Church has been a house of worship occupied by the “New-Lights”, they were based in North Carolina, the “Campbellites”, and “Christians” and the “Church of Christ”.
These three denominations came out of the Second Great Awaking Revival Meeting at Cane Ridge Meeting House in Paris, Kentucky in 1801. At that time the Hooton and Parnell families lived in the vicinity of the Cane Ridge Meeting House before moving to Decatur County, Indiana. Is there a connection?
Olive Chapel Church has been a member of The Western Michigan and Northern Indiana Christian Conference, The Eel River Christian Conference; renamed the Eel River Congregational Christian Association, at which time Ralph Bennett, of Olive Chapel Church, served as president of the Northern Indiana and Southern Michigan Christian Conference for two years. It was part of The Christian Church with the Congregationalist. The last denomination being the United Church of Christ of the Indiana-Kentucky Conference. In 2003, Olive Chapel Church became an independent house of worship.
The Ladies Aid Society played an important role at Olive Chapel Church. The purpose of the Society was to provide funds for the church while providing social opportunities for the members. The funds helped pay the church bills and maintain the interior of the church.
The Ladies organized on November 20, 1887 with twelve charter members and grew to 100 members. They were noted for preparing chicken dinners for people on their way to Notre Dame football games from 1949 to 1972. When the dinners first started, some of the ladies would stand next to the highway - on both sides - and wave their dishtowels at passing cars to get their attention to the signs advertising the dinner!
They were also known around the country for their quilting, charging so much per inch plus thread. As well as serving dinners at auctions and alumni functions, the Ladies made rugs, cleaned houses and soup beans, tied comforters and dressed chickens for the freezer (some remember the chickens hanging on the clothesline waiting to be dressed/cleaned!) and many other worthwhile projects. By 1984, most of the elder women had passed away and those left were not able to continue, so the Ladies Aid Society disbanded. The congregation continued to be of service in other ways in the community.
The Olive Chapel Cemetery is not a part of Olive Chapel Church. It is located on land originally owned by Thomas and Esther Hooton. Their son, Thomas (born August 3, 1826, in Decatur County, Indiana and died May 3, 1837 in Olive Township), is the first to be buried there, according to the records. The stone at the entrance says Olive Chapel 1837. The other side of the stone says EST. 1901. This is about the time the state started keeping records of burials. The Church does not maintain any of the burial records or arrange any of the burials.
After all these years, God still has a purpose for this little church. So as we begin our next 150 years in this building, we invite you to join us as being at the gateway in and out of Saint Joseph and LaPorte Counties, Indiana; and in serving, through donations to the food pantry and to the schools and other projects, the New Prairie Community - our schools, businesses, surrounding farms, and great town of New Carlisle.
Please help us celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the church building on Sunday, October 6, 2019 at 10:00am EST for Worship Service and fellowship with light refreshments afterwards.
If anyone has anything to add to this history, please contact the church @ 574-654-3615 or Diane Melady @ 574-250-8498
This information was gathered from: minutes and notes from past Olive Chapel Church Secretaries, minutes and notes of the Olive Chapel Church Ladies Aid Society paper written in 1920 by James Harvey Rodgers, member, married to Esther Hooton’s (of this article) granddaughter Mary Ann, then to Ida Miller Bunton story written in 1977 by Glennie Hooton Clark Moffitt, daughter of Francis & Anna Hooton, (of this article) high school paper written in 1990 by Jeffrey Parsons, son of Nils & Doris Parsons, members county histories, platt books, and census reports.