From 1846 until 1866, the Evangelical Congregations of Oberlin and Highspire met and held services in Member’s homes for 20 years. The group was growing and the lay leaders felt the need for a house of worship.
In January 1866, Elijah Balsbaugh purchased, from Solomon L. Swartz, a parcel of land 2.9 perches (47.85 feet) wide and 5 perches deep (82.5 feet) for ten dollars ($10).
This land was located two (2) miles north of Highspire, along the Middletown Oberland Roads. Later in the month, Elijah Balsbaugh sold the same plot of ground to the church for twenty-five ($25). The deed of transfer for the property dated January 26, 1866, clearly shows that “Ebenezer Church” had already been erected. Elijah Balsbaugh and his wife Anna were the grantors and Solomon L. Swartz, Samuel Ulrich, and John Balsbaugh were trustees for the United Brethren Church. In 1873, a half-acre of ground north of the church was purchased for a cemetery. The cemetery was later taken over by the Ebenezer Cemetery Association and from this time on the church no longer held an interest in the cemetery.
The church was built as a wood-frame structure with one floor. It was 40 feet, 10 inches long and 35 feet wide with no basement. The original building had no tower or bell. It wasn’t until 1882 that a very tall spire was constructed at a cost of over $400. The tall spire was struck by lightning around 1899, at which time it was lowered to its present level.
The church was built with two entrances. The two front windows on the street side were originally doors. On the inside, aisles ran from the doors to the front. Short pews ran from the aisles to the walls. The center pews ran from aisle to aisle with a dividing panel running through the center. The purpose of this was in the early days of the church, the congregation was segregated. The men sat on the right side and the women on the left.
In 1908, the family of Solomon L. Swartz (now deceased) had the church beautifully frescoed and had two life-size pictures of Christ painted on the walls. It may have been at this time that the two entrance doors were replaced with windows and one double door entrance was added. The walls were also covered with wainscoting and a wide center aisle was added with the pews running from the center aisle to the side walls. There was a high dark wood, narrow tongue and groove board ceiling. For heading there were two coal-burning stoves one on each side of the room. Years later, one larger heater replaced the two smaller ones.
For lighting, kerosene lamps were used. One lamp over the pulpit; a two-lamp chandelier over the pump organ; a four-lamp chandelier in the center aisle and four bracket lamps attached to the side windows. After the chandelier over the organ came crashing down, this led to the purchase of new lights. The Thomas High pressure mantle kerosene lamps were installed.
Sometime in the 1930’s a used Delco generator was purchased and the church was wired for electric lights. This system was used until March 1944, when the church connected to PP&L for electrical service.
IN the early years of the church, the ministers often walked from one church to the other. Members would them for dinner and give them food to help compensate for their small salary. During the “Harvest Time” services, the canned and fresh fruits and vegetables were always given to the ministers and their family.
In 1866, the church was recognized as the “Ebenezer United Brethren Church”. By November of 1946, it merged with the Evangelical United Brethren Church. It wasn’t until April of 1968 that the Evangelical United Brethren Church merged with the Methodist to become known as the Ebenezer United Methodist Church.
With the increase of the congregation and the purchase of an additional 1.95 acres, in December 1986, it was time for a new church building. On July 4, 1993, a ground-breaking ceremony was held during the morning worship service. The Horst Company started ground construction work on July 13, 1993. A work camp began under the direction of Charlie Foster. The group consisted of 50-60 volunteers the first week. Over a three-week period, from August 9 – 27, 1993, approximately 162 people gave of their time and varied skills. These volunteers consisted of builders, craftsman, helpers, and kitchen crew; all working together for the construction of the new Ebenezer United Methodist Church.
History of the Church compiled by Iren Zell, 1986.
History of the East, PA Conference by Phares Brubaker Gibble (copyright, 1951)
Written notes by Norman A. Shoop.
Older church photo courtesy of Joseph Strite.