Church marks 200 years

Began in Bellevue as log chapel

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Now a cornerstone of the Bellevue community, Greenstone United Methodist Church was but a log cabin chapel 200 years ago.

The church's congregation will celebrate its 200th anniversary beginning this weekend with a visit Sunday from United Methodist Bishop Thomas Bickerton.

The Rev. Richard Feagin, Greenstone pastor, said it will be the bishop's first visit to Greenstone Church, 939 California Ave., Bellevue.

Former Greenstone pastors also will attend, and the church will be host to a banquet after the service.

The church's history parallels that of the North Hills since 1802. It has been at the current site in Bellevue since 1874, although the present building was constructed in 1906.

The log cabin building originally was erected on Maryland Avenue, now Bayne Cemetery, in 1813. The small congregation of early settlers, led by William and Bernard Jackman, Joseph and John Rodenbaugh and Robert Quaill, moved temporarily to Reserve in 1832, then back to Bellevue in the 1840s, because the Reserve location was too far to travel. Services were held in a schoolhouse on the Quaill farm.

Around 1844, the schoolhouse was moved to David Quaill's farm on Jack's Run Road in Ross. A new church at this location, Fleming Chapel, was dedicated in 1850, and the members were referred to as the Jack's Run Congregation.

"The United Methodist Church has roots as far back as shortly after the American Revolution," said Rev. Feagin, 56, adding that the church enjoyed widespread popularity, especially in the early part of the 20th century. "But, we are experiencing a long-term decline in numbers." Greenstone currently has approximately 175 active members.

When Bellevue separated from Ross in 1867, the congregation moved to follow the population in the new borough. In 1873, members purchased a lot for $1,500 at the present location -- Home and California avenues. They changed the church's name to Bellevue Methodist Episcopal Church, and the wooden structure opened in 1874 at a total cost of $6,000.

In the following 20 years, the congregation grew to nearly 500 members. In 1899, the church was enlarged and remodeled in the shape of a cross, adding 50 feet in each direction.

However, by 1903, church leaders had decided to build a new church on the site.

The cornerstone was laid in 1905 and the church was dedicated on May 20, 1906. The cornerstone from the 1813 church was placed in the tower.

Andrew Carnegie donated $1,500 toward a water-powered Moller organ, which was converted to electricity in the 1930s. The bell in the steeple was a gift from Capt. and Mrs. W.B. Rodgers in memory of their son, J. Norwood Rodgers. It had been cast in 1851 and used for many years on steamers on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.

Constructed with green sandstone and adorned with stained glass windows and spires, Greenstone Church became a part of the community.

In 1931, the Jull family donated a revolving lighted cross, which became a beacon in Bellevue. During World War II, the light was turned off, but it was relighted in 1946.

The revolving mechanism wore out in 1972, and the cross was replaced with the current stationary version.

Greenstone offers a variety of activities for congregants.

"Our church has a long tradition of scouting," said lifelong church member Barbara Rankin, 76, of Cranberry.

The church's first Boy Scout troop formed in 1916, and another started in 1958. Longtime Boy Scout leader Jim Kratt is memorialized on a plaque in front of the church. A Girl Scout troop began in 1928.

Rev. Feagin said the church has housed a privately run day care for the past 20 to 30 years. Allegheny County operates a Head Start program in the church, and Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous groups also meet there.

Five years ago, Greenstone began offering a vacation Bible school and has sponsored an annual strawberry festival.

Mary Ann Van Newkirk, 64, of Ross is coordinating 200th anniversary events. She joined the church as a seventh-grader (independently of her family) and was confirmed at Greenstone in 1963. "I was involved with the youth group and other activities, and I had a feeling of belonging there; it was always a very comforting place to be," she said. "At various stages of your life, you want a feeling of stability and comfort."

A church picnic will be held for members in July and a free picnic is scheduled for Bellevue and Avalon residents in September. The church will honor 50-year members in October. A wrap-up celebration will be held in December.

"The congregation is small and getting smaller," Mrs. Van Newkirk acknowledged, "but they stand behind you, and they're there when you need them."

neigh_north

Jill Cueni-Cohen, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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