LIMA — It has gone by three different names, and its congregation is no longer unified, but a church on the south side still stands today.
The Presbyterian Mission Church was first organized June 12, 1875, according to a historical booklet published by the group. Its first building was a little building on East Pearl Street near railroad tracks, and the first minister was the Rev. A Leyman. In those early years, pastors changed frequently.
A notice of a guest preacher coming into town to speak at the courthouse on behalf of Presbyterian Mission Church was published May 4, 1876, in the Allen County Democrat.
By 1882, it moved to Irwin’s storeroom on the southeast corner of Main and Vine streets. A notice of another guest preacher was published Oct. 5, 1882, at the church, which met in the storerooms.
“The Presbyterian Mission members are talking of erecting a new church in South Lima. The plans are being made for it,” a story reported June 20, 1883.
A story that fall reported the Rev. A.T. Robertson, pastor of the now Main Street Presbyterian Church, was sponsoring a seven-lecture course at Faurot’s Music Hall. Season tickets were $5. It was a fundraiser for the new brick church being built at 730 S. Main St.
“There will be no services at the Market Street Presbyterian Church to-day on account of the dedication of the Main Street Presbyterian Church. The South Lima ME Church will dispense with services to-day in order that the congregation’s minister may attend the dedication of the new Main Street Presbyterian Church,” a story reported Jan. 27, 1884. “The workmen and members of the church have been very busy this week finishing the church and furnishing it, and have succeeded very well, though through a mistake of the manufacturers at Chicago the glass of two of the windows in the lecture room has been delayed and because of the very cold weather the varnishing has to be deferred. The church, however, is in good order for dedication and the congregation is to be congratulated, for it is one of the handsomest edifices in the city.”
Alexander Shields did the shop work and carpenter work, Spiker and Courtney the mason work, John Hutton the slate and galvanized iron work, John Martin the frescoing, and Mr. Meily the painting and varnishing, a story reported Jan. 30, 1884. The sanctuary could hold up to 400 people and had a sloping floor. A lecture room connected, with seating for about 100 more there. It cost $6,500.
Fundraising did not stop even after the church was erected. Ladies sold flowers, leaders held ice cream socials, organizers served oyster suppers and more. Enough was raised that the congregation also pursued building a parsonage.
In 1894, the church’s Rev. W.G. Smith started appearing in the papers. He made formal charges against the city’s baseball team (unnamed) for playing the game on Sunday, which violated state law. Temperance meetings were held at the church, with a popular — and acceptable — entertainment being travelogues with early slide shows.
In 1902, a news item noted the church was undergoing “extensive improvements,” like a new furnace and installation of modern items. There was also a notice about the choir being restarted, and a sporting project was in the works.
“A number of lawn tennis enthusiasts have clubbed together on the south side and are planning for the construction of a court in the rear of the Main Street Presbyterian Church. The McLaughlin brothers had better look to their laurels or they will lose them,” an Aug. 10, 1903, Times Democrat story reported.
Just days later, disaster.
“There was a noise like the crack of a 13-inch gun closely followed by a rattle as 1,000 window glasses shattering. Everybody rushed out to see what it was, and all eyes were soon turned upwards to the steepletower of the Main Street Presbyterian Church where a streak of shattered shingles showed the zig-zag course of the bolt,” an Aug. 28, 1903, story reported. This was the third time it was hit. “So long as people persist in building their churches with high steeples, they may confidently expect to have them struck by lightning sooner or later.”
Church members installed a lightning rod — but it was struck again in 1906, and that strike kindled a fire that burned off off the cupolas.
There was one more strike, and this time it was the pastor. The Rev. H. Marshall Thurlow was hit while he was turning water into his cistern, a story reported May 5, 1906. He survived with little injury, as the energy passed through him.
“Because the steeple of the Main Street Presbyterian Church has been lowered after being struck three times by lightning, it does not follow that instead the pastor is to become the target of the destructive element,” the story continued.
That was it. A new church was to be built on the northwest corner of Kibby and Elizabeth streets. This building was dedicated Jan. 12, 1909, according to an April 29, 1917, Republican-Gazette story.
Members met for services in the YMCA auditorium while the new church was being built and the old church sold and converted into apartments. At that time, the church changed its name again to Olivet Presbyterian Church.
“Many of the older members will give up the old church on Main Street with sadness. But the business interests of South Main Street are encroaching year by year upon the territory beside the old church which is badly in need of repairs and would be inadequate to the present needs of the congregation,” an April 29, 1908, story reported.
The new church could seat up to 900 and boasted electric and gas lights and a “wonderful” organ, according to a Feb. 22, 1909, story.
And so the church continued, with a church of that name present until the 1970s. In the 1980s, it was a property helped in a citywide rehab project. It is now home to New Life Christian Ministries.