Friday, February 11, 2011

Ferron's Beautiful Old Presbyterian Church

Presbyterian School 1913-1942
Most Comely Building in Ferron built in 1913
There is a beautiful old church in Ferron, Utah that is referred to as the Old Presbyterian Church. Ever since I was a young girl visiting my cousins in Ferron, I wondered how there could be enough Presbyterians in the little Mormon town of Ferron to build a fancy church? Maybe fancy isn't the word for it, but look at that medieval style tower adorned with battlements on top! It makes me want to use old words like "comely," "most fair," "pulchritudinous," to describe it. I feel like an armored knight should walk out of that tower door! There is nothing else like it around here. So who built it and why?
    No one ever answered my question until I began working at the Emery County Archives. There I read some histories about the early settlers of Ferron and it turns out that Ferron wasn't just settled by Mormons, actually, some of the first to come to Ferron were Presbyterians.
     In doing an oral history with Phillip Nelson of Ferron I got the full answer to my question: It wasn't built as a church--at least not JUST a church. It was built as a school for The Christian Endeavor Society. The Christian Endeavor was a movement begun in the late 1800s to embrace the youth and encourage Christian values. There were many missions of this Endeavor throughout the world. Utah seemed to be an ideal place since it was filled with Mormons who were not considered to be Christians. (Yeah, that statement baffles all members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints.)         
High School Students Cleaning the Yard of the School
      The School offered a high school education. Because of the quality of teachers and programs, many people sent their children there from other towns in the county. Records show that they even  had two or three boarding students from Green River each year.
     Local people contributed money and labor toward the construction of this building in 1913.According to John Lemon's history (one of the first settlers in Ferron) he helped design and  build the school, along with many other town residents. The school, pastor, and teachers were warmly received, and the school became one of the largest in the county. Some years there were over 100 students.

The Red History book (as it is affectionately known--actual title is History of Emery County 1880-1980) says that "...in 1927, due to the small enrollment, the four year high school closed and the students were transferred to Wasatch Academy in Mount Pleasant. The school continued with summer Bible school and taught kindergarten and piano lessons.
     Phillip Nelson reviewed the photo album with us and with his great memory, filled in the blanks. The building became alive with children and activity in our minds as he fondly spoke about it. He went page by page identifying people and places. Phillip attended kindergarten as did many  Mormon children. Residents in the town were very open to their children attending. The teachers were wonderful people, the activities were educational, and edifying. Phillip said, "It was a great advantage to go to that school."

Teachers in Study Group in The Cottage
The Cottage
   A house was built as a residence for the teachers. It was called "The Cottage." There are photographs of the teachers inside the cottage having dinner and studying together. Miss Mary Donnley, an older woman who  moved here from back east to teach at the mission school became one of the administrators. Ruth Leber, LaRene Wilson, Ruth Fulton, Lily King (from China) were some of the other teachers. From the photographs, it appears the teachers took time to have fun and explore the area including Green River, The San Rafael Swell and other parts of Utah.    
  Students at Wilberg Resort --the adults are Mr. and Mrs. Greenhalgh
     The Red Book also tells us that students were introduced to Latin and given the basics of a classical education. The pictures tell us that the children were able to participate in field trips, holiday and birthday parties, picnics, and other activities as well as their academic curriculum.
     On the right is a picture of the children on an outing to the Wilberg Resort. This was exciting to discover this picture, as we had no photographs of the Wilberg Resort  until we found this one! We have heard that guests could rent rowboats at the resort pond as well as dance on the dance floor, and swing on the merry go round swing, and swim in the swimming pool, and see the caged animals...Yeah--look for another post all about the Wilberg Resort coming up! (And please let us scan any photographs of the resort that you might have--especially the dance pavilion.)

But back to the school-- one year a few girls were chosen to attend the World Conference of the Christian Endeavor as students of the program.
Aileen Nelson--11, Winifred Nelson-14, Virginia Nelson--11, LaVerne Nelson--13, Margaret McKenzie-12.

The Nelson Girls are Cousins. The photo was taken for a newspaper article. They made the trip to San Fransisco in an automobile and toured the sights along the way. The photograph is their car passing through the Big Tree at Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park, California. It makes me wonder how long it took to drive the roads from here to California in 1931. They took their tents and slept out along the way.

Ruth Leber, unidentified teacher, Dorothy Hood McNeil and Mr. McNeil
One of the teachers that Phillip really liked was a man by the name of Mr. McNiel. He came from Washington and fell in love with Miss Hood who was teaching at the school in Ferron. They married and stayed on for years. They had a baby named David who is featured in many photos.
     Phillip said, "McNeil was good guy. He kind of had Boys Club for us, and he didn’t ever try to get us to join his church or anything. We just had games and he did a lot of things with us.He was a good sports fan, and he always wanted me to go up to the University of Washington because I played basketball and I run track and so forth. He refereed a lot of our ballgames, in fact I think he even took trips with us. I think they would hire him to be one of the drivers to take us on trips."

Dorothy McNeil and her children after they left Ferron.
    When Phillip got back from the war, the school had closed and the teachers had all moved away. The McNeils kept in touch with people in town, and after a few years, they came back to visit Ferron. The whole town turned out to welcome them with a big party in the park. They had three children by that time, and people were very happy to see them again.
    After the teachers all left, Phillip said someone in town had this photograph album. They began passing it around town to the people who had attended the school. It came back around to Phillip and he kept it; he is pretty sure he is the only one still alive of the students that attended that school. 
    This fine and noble old building is now the American Legion Hall. It stands as a monument of the past, and is one of very a very small number of old public buildings that still exist in Emery County. These old buildings are treasures that connect us with our county history. We appreciate those who work to preserve them!

The Presbyterian School Photo Album not only has historic pictures of the school, but some of the town of Ferron as well, such as the ice cream truck, the swinging bridge over Ferron Creek, etc. 
To view the rest of this photograph album click on this link:    Presbyterian School Photograph Album

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