The earliest pioneers did not attend established religious services – there were no churches. Initially, the families would read the Bible and possibly sing hymns at home. As additional people moved into the area, people with like religious beliefs would gather at a home for services conducted by one or more of the family members. These gatherings eventually outgrew the space in anyone’s home. At that time, the only public buildings were the one-room schoolhouses, so the meetings were moved there.
For example, what would become the First Congregational Church began in December 1838 with a group of nine individuals gathered at the log school house near the corner of General Squiers (then West Road) and Shoemaker roads. Later, the Society decided to split their meeting locations evenly between the General Squiers/Shoemaker schoolhouse and the Townsend schoolhouse. The Townsend schoolhouse was located on the south side of Bordman Road at the top of the hill about a quarter mile east of Fisher Road. The Society’s membership grew with the community. By 1846, the membership had reached 90 members and was outgrowing the schoolhouses. In the fall of 1847, the first church was constructed at the southeast corner of Washington Street and Main Street in Almont.
The Methodist Church took a different approach to providing ministers to the numerous groups meeting at the schoolhouses spread across a large area. The church created “circuits.” A circuit consisted of several groups meeting at schoolhouses for which the minister performed services on a schedule. The minister would hold a service in the morning in one schoolhouse, go to a second schoolhouse and preach in the afternoon and another in the evening. If the circuit was large, the minister would conduct services on weeknights at some of the schoolhouses. Because the meeting sites were in schoolhouses, the individual meetings sites were referred to as “classes.”
On December 3, 1859 at the Grub schoolhouse in Dryden, the Attica circuit of the Methodist Protestants Church was organized. The Attica circuit included in Lapeer County; Goodland Township, the southern half of Arcadia Township, Attica Township, the northern half of Dryden Township, and the eastern half of Almont Township and in St. Clair County; Berlin and Mussey Townships. The circuit reached from the Cole schoolhouse in Goodland Township to Richmond Township.
George W. Davis was the minister in charge and James H. Morton was the assistant preacher. In these early days it was impossible for the regular minister to be present each Sunday. Beginning in 1860, lay members regularly led prayer meetings, class meetings and Sunday school sessions. Among those licensed to conduct these sessions were Lester Clark, George Edgerton, Daniel Jones and John Paton.
In May 1860 at the McGeorge schoolhouse, located at the northwest corner of Almont and Holmes Roads, the Berlin class (West Berlin) was organized. Lovel Gage was the leader of the Berlin class. There were fourteen original members but the membership was quickly increased by another fourteen members. Among these members were Amasa Clark, Asa Hulbert, Levi Loukes, Sam Lee, Cordelia Beach and Byron Stringham.
The West Berlin class motto Hebrews 12:14 was adopted; “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.”
In 1861, classes were established at East Berlin (located east and north of Allenton) and Scotch Settlement (corner of Marr and Scotch Settlement Roads). At this time, the name of the circuit was changed to the Almont Circuit.
The first building committee was elected in May 1862 for the purpose of constructing a parsonage. The committee members were G. W. Curtis, P. C. Goodell and M. McNaught. It is believed that the parsonage was built at the southwest corner of Capac and Hough Roads (the Crawford home from a prior history), half a mile south of Allenton. This parsonage was used by the minister for the “circuit.”
The beginning of the Civil War saw many of the church members entering military service. At a conference held on August 30, 1862 at the McGeorge Schoolhouse, the members present voted on the following motion: “Resolved that we, as a quarterly conference, deem a man that will run from his country in times of peril, for fear of the draft, not worthy of a membership of church or state.”
By the end of 1862, the Almont Circuit consisted of eight classes – known sites included West Berlin, Capac, Berville and East Berlin. At the 1863 General Conference, the Almont Circuit was divided. The revised Almont Circuit consisted of the northern half of Almont Township in Lapeer County and Berlin Township and Mussey Township in St. Clair County. Because of its central location, West Berlin was most often used for quarterly meetings.
The revised Almont Circuit had increased to seven classes by 1865 including the Riley class. Classes were held at Capac at 10:00 a.m., Baker’s Corners (Berville) at 2:00 p.m. and West Berlin in the evening at the Gould schoolhouse.
In 1871, the church membership decided to build a church. Under the leadership of James M. Morton plans for and construction of the church moved forward. Peter Churchill, who owned the farm at the southeast corner of Almont and Holmes roads, donated the land. Peter’s father, David Churchill Jr., had established the farm in the mid-1830s. From the homesteads of Bryon Stringham and Schyler Jones, timber was secured. John Berk, who was probably a carpenter, had moved to the area and aided in the construction. Many members provided stones for the foundation and their labor to construct the church. They also donated $1,600.00 for the construction. The initial version of the building was completed.
This past summer, the church celebrated the 150th anniversary of the construction of the church.
Copies of the Almont Historical Society’s various books can be purchased by contacting Jim Wade at 810-796-3355 or firstname.lastname@example.org or stopping by the museum on Saturdays from 1-4 p.m.