History of Corydon Presbyterian Church
1819–Church formally established 1819 by Rev. John Finley Crowe, the founder of Hanover College.
1825—First church building erected on what is now South Capitol Avenue.
1863—Church building used as hospital to care for wounded and dying confederate soldiers
1869—Church building expanded and improved
1906—New church building erected on Walnut St
1923—First women deacons elected
1959—Church building renovated
1986—Rev. Marion Garret, CPC’s longest serving pastor retires; Rev. C. David Cliburn installed as pastor
1995—New church facility on HWY 62 West is dedicated
1999—Rev. Cliburn is instrumental in organizing response to Ku Klux Klan rally in Corydon; this effort grows into Community Unity organization, which subsequently yearly holds World on the Square events 1999-2014
2003—Rev. Scott Hill installed as pastor
2005—Mortgage note burned after being paid off within ten years
2014—Rev. Mark McDaniel installed as Interim Pastor
2017—Rev. Phillip Dennis installed as Pastor
Timeline based on information from Fred Griffin
The story of Corydon Presbyterian Church (CPC) begins on the frontier in the early 19th century. The church was founded by three interrelated families who settled in the village of Corydon, which had been laid out in 1807 on land originally owned by General William Henry Harrison.
Presbyterian layman Henry Rice settled his family in Corydon in 1813.
At about the same time the families of Arthur Vance and Isaac Leffler located to Corydon and, like Henry Rice, each built substantial houses.
These three families were the nucleus of the Presbyterian movement in Corydon. Services were originally held in the Old State Capitol building, or in private residences. Clocks being scarce meeting times were often designated “at the ringing of the bell” or “at early candlelight.”
The Corydon Presbyterian church was founded on January 2, 1819 by Rev. John Finley Crowe, the founder of Hanover College. In July 1826 Jacob and Agnes Kintner donated land on what is now South Capitol Avenue, to the trustees of the Presbyterian Church. They erected a small one-room brick building with a front yard and fence. It was furnished originally with high-backed benches.
Rev. Alexander Williamson, the first pastor in the new building, served several different terms of ministry for the church until he died in 1849.
The first record of session minutes that have survived to the present is one from 1841 (the Session is the group of elders who govern Presbyterian Churches). Although surviving records of minutes are spotty for the 19th century (e.g. none survive from the Civil War years.)
Nineteenth-century Presbyterians had a reputation for strict moral propriety, perhaps not undeserved. The minutes of the Session meeting of February 19, 1853, notes that resolutions were drawn up by the elders recommending that all members of the Corydon church abstain from witnessing or taking part in theatrical representations, dancing, card playing horse racing, and other worldly amusements. These resolutions were to be read to the congregation on the following Sabbath. On March 22, 1859, one member appeared before the Session and confessed that he had fallen before the power of temptation and had again been intoxicated (evidently an ongoing problem.) The session apparently suspended his membership privileges in the congregation, as the minutes of June 9, 1859, noted that he was restored to church membership privileges (apparently after appropriate penance.) Unfortunately, he once again came before the body on September 14th of the same year and confessed that he had been intoxicated on Friday, September 9th after drinking what he supposed to be cider. The session then removed his name from the membership rolls of the church.
In less worldly matters, Session minutes reflect that Rev C.B.H. Martin conducted revival meetings during his tenure of 1857-59, bringing in new members to the congregation.
The Civil War brought about the splitting of the major Presbyterian denomination in America. Because of the divisive issue of slavery, at the beginning of the Civil War, there were four related branches of American Presbyterians: The Northern New School, the Northern Old School, the Southern New School, and the Southern Old School Denomination. Following the war, further developments among Presbyterians resulted in two major denominations: In the south, the Presbyterian Church of the United States and in the north, the Presbyterian Church-USA. These remained separate denominations until 1983.
Following the Battle of Corydon on July 9, 1863, in which 450 local Indiana Legion militia members were unsuccessful in stopping John Hunt Morgan’s 2500-member Confederate cavalry at the early stages of Morgan’s raid through Indiana and Ohio, the Presbyterian Church was used as a hospital to care for wounded confederates.
Shortly after the close of the civil war, the church building was enlarged, with the front extended to the street and a belfry added. A local merchant, Robert Leffler, donated the bell which was hung in the belfry and was customarily tolled for funerals. In those times, pallbearers carried the coffin all the way to complete the strenuous trip.
The enlargement of the building added a vestibule in the front, with double doors opening to the sanctuary. The high-backed pews were replaced with rows of benches surrounding the pulpit on three sides. Three chairs for the celebrants sat behind the pulpit. Benches to the right hand of the pulpit contained the choir, while those on the left comprised the “Amen corner.” While Fred Griffin gives no further explanation of the function of the Amen Corner, S.G. Thigpen of Mississippi recalls the Amen corner of the church in his childhood:
“The corner where the deacons and older men sat on the preacher’s right was known as the Amen Corner. Whether true or not, I always thought, as a boy, that this arrangement was planned so that these older men and women could keep one eye on the young people further back in the church. Another thing I used to wonder about was how a church member got promoted to the Amen Corner. While no one ever told me, the idea lodged in my mind somehow that when they reached a certain age and gained prestige and respect in the church they just walked over and started sitting in the Amen Corner.” (http://www.hancockcountyhistoricalsociety.com/vignettes/the-old-time-church-reflections-of-s-g-thigpen/Thigpen, S. G. Pearl River: Highway to Glory Land. Kingsport, T N: Kingsport Press, Inc., 1965.) Also, included in the sanctuary was a hand-pumped organ (with a curtain concealing the pumper.) Wood stoves front and back, and a set of stained glass windows. In 1887, the church purchased its first manse (minister’s residence,) located on Capital street where the old Brenham tavern sits today.)
Singing was unaccompanied in the early days of the church prior to the installation of the organ. Those with the strongest voices led the singing, and since song books were scarce, a leader would often “line out” several lines of the song at a time, followed by repetition of them by the congregation. Fred Griffin notes that an old timer once remarked that the pause for the leader to sing the line not only allowed congregants to catch their breath, it also gave the tobacco chewers an opportunity to spit! A pipe organ was purchased for the church in 1897; it had been removed and replaced at the Henry Ward Beecher Church in Indianapolis. During the 1880s and ’90s “extension” services were held by CPC for Presbyterians living out in the county at the Heth Schoolhouse, the Brandenburg schoolhouse the Nevin German Reformed Church, the Hickman schoolhouse and the Whitetop schoolhouse.
In January 1905, George Applegate, CPC member, and banker offered to arrange financing via generous donation to build a new church building, encouraging the church to name the building the Anna M. Applegate Memorial in memory of his wife. A lot was purchased on Walnut street, across from the present day courthouse. The ground was broken April 9, 1906, the cornerstone laid on June 24 of that year, and the first service held on Christmas Eve of 1906. Dedication services for the new building were held on February 10, 1907. A new pipe organ was built for the new church by Henry Pilcher’s of Louisville and installed as the church was built. It served until the remodeling of 1959 when it was torn out and replaced along with other renovations.
In 1923 four women were elected deacon apparently, some of the first women to hold office in the church (Fred Griffin notes that the effects of recently granted female suffrage were apparently being felt locally.)
The church was renovated in 1959—hot water heating was installed, the church was completely rewired and new lighting fixtures placed in the sanctuary, the sanctuary carpeted and the pews refinished.
A new pipe organ was installed, and the basement was renovated into social, classroom, and new kitchen space. During this work, the church held services in the Masonic Lodge building; the renovated church held its first service on Christmas Eve 1959 and was dedicated on Sunday March 6, 1960.
Corydon Presbyterian Church life continued on in the Applegate Memorial building. Minutes of the Session reflect the church engaging with the issues of the time. In 1978 the clerk of session read to the Session a letter signed by a number of former moderators of the General Assembly bringing attention to “… the issue of homosexuality” and urged churches to consider this matter “… in an orderly, studied manner befitting the followers of Jesus Christ and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.” In 1979, the church was notified by the denomination of growing concern about child abuse and domestic violence. Minutes from June 1982 note that several Session members had received letters from Congressman Lee Hamilton, US Senators Dan Quayle and Richard Lugar in response to the Session communication to them supporting a nuclear weapons freeze.
Minutes from September 1983 note that “There appears to be a general satisfaction with the music program as a whole; however concern has been expressed about the emphasis of the choir music. The desire has been expressed that more emphasis be placed on worship-oriented music as opposed to popular church music.” The same minutes also indicate a strong disagreement between a congregational faction wanting to discharge the organist for lack of practice, sloppy playing and possible alcohol breath at church, and a faction denying those problems and advocating for retaining the organist.
Nineteen eighty-three marked the historic merging of the Northern and Southern churches into the Presbyterian Church USA, headquartered in nearby Louisville, KY. Presbyterianism had splintered prior to and during the Civil War over the issue of slavery.
In November 1983, the Session appointed a committee to study the feasibility of enlarging and renovating the church building or building a new one in a different location. Based on their report, the Session voted in June 1984 to search for new property to build a new building rather than renovate the current building. At a July Congregational meeting, the congregation voted 38 to 31 against building a new church. In May of 1985, Rev. Marion Garrett retired as the minister, after having one of the longest pastorates in the history of the church (1966-86.) In the position description for the pastorate, the church stated its goals for the coming years as:
We recognize we are a dormant church in a fast growing community. Our hope and goal is to become a growing and prospering church by attracting and retaining new members through: 1) stimulating worship, guidance, and preaching of biblical and spiritual interpretations of contemporary life; 2) evangelism activities involving the congregation; 3) providing meaningful ministry and Christian education to youth; 4) counseling of the parishioners and others in the community; and 5) involvement of self and the church in service and mission to the community.
June of 1987, Rev. David Cliburn was called to pastor the church and was installed on June 1, 1987. The years of his pastorate heralded a season of membership growth and the increased focus of the social gospel and service to the community. The issue of whether to build a new church had not gone away and in September 1989. a motion was put before the congregation that the church should “… purchase the property on Highway 62, known as the Williar property. The congregation voted to approve this motion 62 to 16.
The Williar property has been owned and farmed by several generations of Presbyterians beginning with Levi Long (1843-1884.) The old farmhouse had sat where the present day sanctuary is situated.
By the time the groundbreaking ceremony was held in July 1994, the congregation had grown significantly, overstretching the facilities of the old church on the square. The new sanctuary was designed to hold over 200 people; Session minutes reveal that average worship attendance at the advent of Rev. Cliburns’ tenure was around 60. In the 1994 Annual report, it was celebrated that “As of December 1994, $239,105.68 had been received from all giving sources for the new building project!” Including borrowed funds, the final budget for the building was $1,077,327.
The building cornerstone was laid on July 23, 1995, and August 27 was declared Procession Sunday. On that day, 250 persons walked up the hill from the old church to the new church for a celebratory gathering. On September 24, the Celtic cross (fashioned by a member from cherry wood salvaged from the building site) was raised on the chancel in a ceremonial service attended by over 400 persons (church and community members.) The 1995 annual report reported that the largest amount in church history was raised in the 1995 pledge campaign, that membership had reached 242 and that weekly worship attendance for the year had averaged 154. Also in December 1995, the stained glass windows were installed in the church and dedicated.
In 1999, the Ku Klux Klan announced that they were holding a rally in Corydon. Rev. Cliburn was instrumental in helping organize a community response to this event which took place on September 11 of that year. A group of counter-protesters peacefully assembled for a rally that fizzled out after 45 minutes. Growing out of this response, a group called Community Unity was formed and organized many initiatives to further community unity. Notably, this group sponsored an international event, World on the Square, promoting inclusion and highlighting the diverse contributions to Corydon and Harrison County. Between 1999 and 2014 this event was held, featuring booths and foods from a wide array of countries and cultures. Corydon Presbyterian members consistently led and helped put on this event each year.
From 1995 to 2005 the church sponsored a Coffeehouse on the third Friday of every month, featuring regional amateur and professional talent. All expenses were covered by donations of labor and goods from the congregation, and all donations given by attendees were given to local charities, often to Harrison County Community Services. As an example, in 2002, the coffeehouse, with supplements from the Harrison County Community Foundation, raised $10,174 for local charities.
Karolyn and Richard Mangeot, former members, grew daylilies and sponsored a fundraising sale at CPC every other year from 2002 to 2014, with the proceeds going equally to Repair Affair and Habitat for Humanity. Church members helped them pot, dig, transport and sell over 3,000 plants over those years, raising a total of more than $15,000.
On December 16, 2001, Rev. Cliburn’s pastoral relationship with CPC was dissolved, as he answered a call from a church in the Kansas City, MO area. On May, 5, 2002, Rev. Wayne Willis, a longtime hospital chaplain in Louisville, assumed duties as Interim pastor of the church.
His warmth, wisdom and down to earth preaching made him quickly loved and respected by the congregation. He helped guide the church in the process of calling a newly installed pastor, and on August 17, 2003, Rev. Scott Hill preached his first sermon as a pastor, coming to CPC from a church in Illinois. In August of 2005, the church had a mortgage-burning ceremony after paying off the building loan on the new facility in just under 10 years. A strategic plan that year yielded two main goals for CPC: spiritual growth and deeper relationships.
Rev. Hill subsequently left CPC in May, 2011 to become Interim Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Columbus Indiana.
Rev. Mark McDaniel was called to be Interim Pastor. Beginning on January 15, 2014. His charge was to help the church make the transition in leadership, support, and minister to the congregation’s spiritual needs during the interim period and help them search for a newly installed pastor. During the year he assembled a Pastor Nominating Committee who began the search. A pastor was found and Rev. McDaniel was given a going-away luncheon by the congregation on April 30, 2017. Among other auditory remarks was that he was a wonderful model of the servant-leader in his tenure at CPC. He left to become Interim Pastor of historic Franklin (TN) Presbyterian Church.
The search ended successfully on April 2, 2017, in the calling of Rev. Phillip Dennis to be the installed pastor. Rev.Dennis commutes from Indianapolis, where his wife is associate pastor of a large Presbyterian church. He resides in Corydon four and a half days a week, spending time with his family the remaining days of the week. He is bringing fun and humor and skill as a drummer to the congregation, preaching thoughtful sermons, and practicing spirituality as a daily way of life.
Corydon Presbyterian Church is looking forward to another two hundred years of service to the community, pursuit of Jesus’ Social Gospel, study and practice of the teachings and examples of Jesus. and worshiping Him.
Written from information compiled by Frederick P. Griffin (1915-2008,) Harrison County historian and lifelong member of Corydon Presbyterian Church. Revised and updated by CPC Elder John James.