The Indiana Historical Bureau will be presenting a new historical marker to the town of North Manchester, Ind., commemorating the social and economic impact of Brethren Annual Meetings that were held there in 1878, 1888, and 1900. This is the first State Historical Marker to be awarded to the North Manchester area, and the first time that any Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren has been so recognized, according to a report from William Eberly, retired faculty at Manchester College and a Brethren historian.
The project was initiated by the North Manchester Historical Society. The Brethren conferences were hosted by Manchester Church of the Brethren with much help from other nearby Brethren churches and many community residents. The meetings attracted thousands of visitors to each week-long gathering, Eberly said.
The 1900 conference attracted perhaps the largest crowds ever assembled at a Brethren conference, with variously estimated as high as 60,000 on Sunday, June 3. “It might also have been the largest religious assembly ever held in Indiana up to that time,” Eberly said. “You can imagine the impact of this crowd on this little rural town of barely 4,000 inhabitants. The demands for services (food, lodging, local transportation, etc.) were a tremendous challenge to local residents, both in town and in the surrounding rural area.”
There have been two other Brethren annual meetings in North Manchester, one in 1929 and one in 1945, Eberly added. “The distinction is that the first three conferences were hosted in the name of the Manchester congregation, while the later conferences were more institutionalized and not the direct responsibility of a single congregation,” he said.
The historical marker will read, in part:
“CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN FOUNDED 1708 IN EUROPE. BY 1778, BRETHREN MET ANNUALLY TO DETERMINE CHURCH POLICY. FIRST ANNUAL MEETING IN INDIANA WAS IN ELKHART COUNTY 1852. NORTH MANCHESTER CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN HOSTED ANNUAL MEETINGS 1878, 1888, 1900…. BUSINESS MEETINGS AND PREACHING BY PROMINENT BRETHREN LEADERS DREW THOUSANDS FROM U.S. IN A FAIR-LIKE ATMOSPHERE, VISITORS HAD ACCESS TO MODERN CONVENIENCES OF THE TIME, INCLUDING IN 1888, ELECTRIC LAMPS.”
The marker will be located on the south side of the Harter’s Grove area where the last two Annual Meetings were held, now the City Park on Seventh St. The marker will be unveiled and dedicated on Aug. 11 with a ceremony at 9:30 a.m. A representative of the Indiana Historical Bureau will be present, as well as representatives of the North Manchester Historical Society and church and community leaders. A choir will present old-time, favorite hymns. At 11 a.m., an illustrated lecture on “The Social and Economic Impact of the Brethren’s Annual Meetings in North Manchester” will be open to the public at the North Manchester Center for History.