The African M. E. Church of Council Grove

The Ransom Chapel built in 1880 at the southwest corner of Hall and Mission Streets, now located on Inman St.

 

While perusing through the musty pages of the newspapers, ‘Disturbing the Peace’ caught my eye.  This is from the Council Grove Republican Saturday April 17th 1880.

“Last Sabbath evening the peace and quiet of the African M. E. Church service was broken, and the solemnity of services marred by two bellicose colored men, named respectively Frank Walker and Isaiah Harris.  Walker knocked down and otherwise abused Harris, who forthwith drew a razor and proceeded to carve up Walker’s countenance in a manner exceedingly unchristian.  The latter received several severe cuts on the face and forehead.  The following day a warrant was sworn out against both parties for disturbing the peace.  Harris could not be found, having “exodized” to the more serene atmosphere of Emporia.  After diligent search Walker was arrested, and on Thursday was brought before justice Atkeson, who sentenced the prisoner to ten days confinement in the calaboose.”

This got my curiosity up, I wasn’t aware there ever was an African Methodist Episcopal Church in Council Grove.  So I went to, you guessed it, Ken McClintock.  He confirmed there was an African M.E. Church and the building is still standing in town.  In fact, I had been walking past the building for years and never would have guessed the story it held.  Ken handed me a copy of an article from the Council Grove Republican August 14th, 1980. From this I was able to get the whole story.

The Pride Historic Survey Committee was making an inventory of all sites of architectural or historic interest in the town.  In their research they found that a small building at the southwest corner of Mission and Hall streets is what remains of the AME church of the Peasant View area, 12 miles southwest of Council Grove.  In 1910 Jacob Welcher, a former slave and Civil War veteran, donated one acre of his land for the building of this church.  Something interesting about Welcher, he is buried in the Pleasant View Cemetery, but you won’t find the name Welcher on his stone.  Instead you will find the name Jacob Lewis.  According to the traditional story passed down by locals, he was laid to rest with the name of his old master because of his veteran status.

A Negro singing group toured the county raising $1,300 for the church.  $500 was used in the construction of the building the rest was used to hire a preacher and pay other church expenses.

The church had a basement with a cook stove and tables and was used for social gatherings for many years.  People from the Pleasant View neighborhood remembered how the black folk came from Council Grove on the weekends.  Often, they would put up tents on the church grounds and stay the whole weekend.  Locals also recalled that the Negros could be heard from a distance as they came singing along the way.  Although the church was built primarily for blacks the white neighbors attended as well.

Around 1939 or 40, the AME church of Pleasant View was moved to Council Grove to replace the Ransom Chapel that had fallen into disrepair.  The Ransom Chapel was built in 1880 shortly after the Strieby family had donated the land to the AME church.  This is the building where the afore mentioned scuffle took place.  According to the 1980 paper, “the original Ransom Chapel was acquired by Ed Fletcher and moved to his property at 501 Inman Street.  It is now the south part of the garage at that address.”   The building still stands at present.

After the AME church of Pleasant View was moved to its present location, it continued as a church for some years, then served as the Community Thrift Store for a time in the 1970s.  In 1993 owner Mark Yowell removed the front entrance and replaced the roof with a lower pitched gable, and put new siding on the structure.  Today you would not recognize either of the churches as such.

One remarkable thing I discovered (or rather the lack of discovering) in my research was the absence of these two AME churches on any plat maps.  I checked the 1880, 1900, 1901, 1910, 1923 and 1924 plat books and found all kinds of churches in town as well as the country.  Not the AME churches.  I can’t help but wonder if this is evidence of the racial inequality of the time.  Although the local blacks and whites could fellowship together and carry on friendships with each other, did the county and state still not wish to acknowledge the black’s place in our society?  Is that why they chose not to acknowledge the churches?  That may not be the reason for their absence in the plats, but any good and plain reason escapes me.

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