Plum Street Series

Beginnings of the Church of Christ/Disciples of Christ/Christian Church in Detroit

1815-1840s

Thomas Hawley (originally Scotch Baptist) and his family, including son Richard, had come to the United States in 1815. Between 1815 and 1835, they lived in Cambridge, MA, Germantown, PA, Wheeling, WV, and Cleveland, OH. In 1835, Alexander Campbell preached at the Cleveland courthouse. The next year, Richard was baptized. Thomas and the family (except for Richard) joined the Disciples of Christ. In 1840, they moved to Detroit.

Meanwhile in Scotland in 1838, Philip C. Gray, also Scotch Baptist, joined with others in Edinburgh to start a congregation. He had been influenced by Alexander Campbell’s writings in the Millennial Harbinger. In the same year in Paisley, Alexander Linn and his sister Caroline became friends with Helen Lambie and began attending services at the Methodist church with Helen. In 1839, Alexander Linn became a member of the Scotch Baptist church because they didn’t sprinkle for baptism and didn’t require belief in Calvinist doctrine. The whole Linn family also joined. In 1840, however, Caroline Linn joined with the Disciples of Christ meeting in Glasgow (Colin Campbell was already meeting with them).

In Fall 1841, six Hawley family members started meeting for worship at Thomas Hawley’s home in Detroit. Alexander Linn, now married to Helen Lambie, and his sister Caroline, now married to Colin Campbell, arrived in Detroit in 1842 and began meeting with the Hawley family. Their parents William and Jean (Ralston) Linn also moved to Detroit and joined. In 1843, Thomas Hawley’s son Richard settled in Detroit with his own family. Between 1844 and 1853, the congregation meeting at the Hawley home moved to a few different places – a schoolhouse on the corner of Randolph and Congress streets, Fireman’s Hall on Woodward between Congress and Larned, and the Detroit Institute on Jefferson near Antoine.

Meanwhile in 1849, the Gray family settled in Wisconsin.

1850s

In 1853, Thomas Hawley’s wife Rebecca died and he returned to England the next year. Also in 1854, Charles A. Lorman was baptized by Alexander Linn. The church moved to the Detroit Court House, east of Campus Martius. Isaac Errett, leader of the so-called “New Interest,” visited and preached in Detroit often. He was a big influence on Colin Campbell and Richard Hawley. The “New Interest” group supported instrumental music in worship, missionary societies, and some other ideas that other members disagreed with. In the spring of 1856, the congregation bought a lot on the southwest corner of Miami Avenue and State Street, and Hawley and Campbell were appointed trustees. The building, however, was never built, perhaps due to the friction between the congregation and Campbell and Hawley. The group continued to meet at the Court House until the Spring of 1863. In 1857, Philip C. Gray and his family moved to Detroit from Wisconsin. On December 24, 1858, Alexander Linn’s sister Janet married Charles Lorman. In 1859, Walter and Isabella (Gray) Sanderson also moved to Detroit, and John S. Gray joined the church.

1860s

In 1862, Richard Hawley, Colin Campbell, and fourteen others withdrew from the congregation meeting at the Court House and started meeting independently at a building on the corner of Jefferson and Beaubien. They adopted Isaac Errett’s “Synopsis of Faith and Practice” as their by-laws. This seemed a lot like a creed to the Linns and other men in the other congregation. In Spring 1863, the Court House congregation bought and moved into the old Tabernacle Baptist Meetinghouse on the north side of Howard Street between 2nd and 3rd streets. They call themselves the Howard Street Church of Christ, Charles Lorman, Philip C. Gray, Alexander Linn and 2 others were chosen as trustees. In 1865, Errett left Detroit for Cleveland to start the journal “Christian Standard.” He left W.T. Moore in charge who wanted to repair the rift between the congregations. In October of that year, the two groups met at Howard Street and adopted resolutions for merging (Walter Sanderson, P.C. Gray’s son-in-law, was the secretary at the meeting). On November 16, 1865, the churches joined together for worship again at the Jefferson and Beaubien building. The organ was used even though the Howard Street people didn’t want to. In 1866-1867, Moore left for Kentucky and a man named Hobbs was voted to replace him (Hobbs was called Pastor, another problem to the Linn group). The group tried to elect officers again (which had failed in 1865). Hawley and Campbell nominated each other for elders, as well as Alexander Linn and four others for deacons. Alexander protested the whole thing and withdrew his name. Hawley and Campbell were elected as elders, and P.C. Gray, Charles Lorman, and two others were elected as deacons. Lorman and Gray declined since they hadn’t received a majority vote. Alexander lead protests so often that Hawley and Campbell charged him with unruly and disorderly conduct and considered excluding him from the congregation. Hobbs resigned and a man named Berry replaced him. Alexander Linn resigned his membership, and Hawley and his family and some others withdrew and began another “faction.” There were now 3 groups: the Howard Street group (Linn), the original “new interest” group (Campbell), and the new “new interest group (Hawley).” Charles Lorman, Linn’s brother-in-law, opposed Campbell and Berry about by-laws and 19 members sign a petition. Campbell and his clerk son, John M.L. Campbell, sent a letter out that upset many. Finally, on December 15, 1867, Berry and Campbell excommunicated 11 of the 19 petition signers, including Helen Linn (Alexander’s wife), Philip C. Gray and his wife Amelia, Charles Lorman, and Walter Sanderson and his wife. Starting in 1868, Colin Campbell’s group met at St. Andrew’s Hall on Woodward and State street for awhile. Eventually Campbell’s group and Hawley’s group combined and met at 41 Washington Avenue until 1884 as the Central Christian Church. In January 1868, Linn and Lorman’s group started meeting at the Detroit Ice Company (owned by Lorman) while they sold the Howard Street property. In February 1868, the Church of Christ bought two lots at the southwest corner of Fourth and Plum streets for $1800. They formed a committee to build a meeting house for $2000. During construction, the congregation met at the Celtic Historical Society Hall on Michigan Avenue and Cass. Their first service at Fourth and Plum was on July 26, 1868, with Alexander Linn preaching about “The aims of the church in maintaining a distinctive existence” and Philip C. Gray presiding over the Lord’s Supper. On August 9, James and Jean Gourlay placed membership and by September 6, there were sixty members.

Meeting – The Disciples of Christ meeting on the corner of Fourth and Plum streets, hold public worship on Lord’s Day morning at the usual hour and at 3 1/2 o’clock in the afternoon. Bren, Black and Beatty, of Toronto, Ontario, will address the meeting on this occasion. A cordial invitation is extended to all.

Detroit Free Press, August 23, 1868

From the Burton Historical Collection at Detroit Public Library: “Disciples of Christ Church (Christian), 4th & Plum St., 1882”. Prior to 1906, the terms “Disciples of Christ” and “Church of Christ” were interchangeable.

1870s-1880s

Christian Church
In 1871, Colin and Caroline (Linn) Campbell founded the Orchard Lake Community Church for a summer chapel (Colin had bought Apple Island in 1856 for $3050). Its original building was dedicated on July 18, 1874. In the 1879 Detroit City Directory, Colin Campbell’s church was named the Central Christian Church and was located at Washington Avenue between State and Grand River with Colin Campbell and Asa Sears as elders. Colin Campbell died in September 1883. In 1884, the church moved to Second and Ledyard Streets.

The Christian Church on Washington Avenue. From the Burton Historical Collection at Detroit Public Library. This photo was owned by Colin Campbell’s daughter who inscribed on the back, “Father and Uncle Thomas Linn bought this building from the Scotch Presbyterian Church and paid for its removal from the eastern side of Woodward Ave. to its site on Washington Blvd. This was before 1870 or about that time.”

Church of Christ
In 1871-1873, the church on Plum Street held several multi-day meetings and raised money for various causes like the victims of the fire in the Thumb in 1871 and an 1873 yellow fever epidemic in Memphis. In the 1879 Detroit City Directory, the Plum Street church was referred to as the Disciples of Christ at the corner of 4th and Plum with elders A. Linn and P.C. Gray. At Plum Street, Philip C. Gray served as an elder from 1875-1892, while Alexander served as one from 1875-1882. Walter Sanderson was an elder from 1880 until his death in 1888. In December 1882, a committee including Lorman, J.S. Gray, James Gourlay, W.F. Linn, W.G. Malcomson, A.A. Trout (Alexander Linn’s son-in-law) and James Sanderson was formed to buy a lot at 14th and Ash Streets and build a meeting house. The first service at 14th and Ash occurred on May 6, 1883. Alexander A. Trout was appointed the leader there with W.G. Malcomson and James Sanderson as his assistants (these appointments apparently lasted a year).

Note on back: “Mission Chapel – Disciples of Christ, 14th Ave & Ash St., 1883.” From the Burton Historical Collection at Detroit Public Library.

In 1885, Ella F. Linn (daughter-in-law of Alexander Linn) started a Sunday school between Fort and Dix in a store building on what is now W. Vernor near Lansing Ave. Sarah Malcomson (Alexander Malcomson’s wife) helped her. In 1887, the church bought a lot at Vinewood and Dix for $3250. This new congregation grew to 100 members. Alex Y. Malcomson was an early member at Vinewood. In 1888, both Alexander Trout and Walter Sanderson died.

Vinewood Church of Christ, c1900, during building updates. From  http://dalnetarchive.org/handle/11061/2315

1890s-1900s

In 1891, Plum Street hired W. D. Campbell as their full-time preacher. Many members at 14th and Ash left to help at Vinewood and also to go back to Plum Street because they liked W.D. Campbell. After 10 years, the 14th and Ash mission was abandoned. In 1894, W. D. Campbell baptized Otoshige Fujimori at Plum Street. In 1898, Fujimori started a mission in Takahagi, Japan. John S. Gray paid half the balance for the purchase of the land. On December 26, 1905, there was a celebration of the anniversary of the Bible school of the Plum Street Church of Christ and architect W.G. Malcomson was the school’s superintendent. Also in 1895, Plum Street established a Cameron Avenue mission. After meeting in various places, John S. Gray paid to build a meetinghouse for that congregation on a lot at Clay and Cameron Avenues. The first service was held on June 7, 1903. Gray’s death on July 6, 1906 was a “severe blow to church efforts.” (Boyd, 112).

1910s-1930s

On August 1, 1912, Claud F. Witty became the preacher at Plum Street. In 1914-1916, the Fairview Church of Christ began by meeting in a remodeled dwelling at the northwest corner of Waterloo and Lemay Avenues in a section of Detroit called Fairview. In 1916, John S. Gray’s son Paul Robert Gray contributed the money for Fairview’s permanent building (Fairview later became Lemay). In 1918, the Plum Street congregation moved to Hamilton and Tuxedo to land donated by Vernon C. Fry. Then, according to a history of the Westside Central Church of Christ written by Claud Witty,

…an evil hour came upon us… . Upon hearing of this move, Brother A. Y. Malcomson, one of the Plum Street members, decided to take over the building on Plum Street and assemble another congregation, which would retain the historic name of “Plum Street Church of Christ”… . His first move was to employ Fred Cowan…as the minister. The second move was to go before the Cameron Avenue congregation… .

Malcomson went before Cameron Avenue to offer Cowan as preacher (supported financially by Malcomson). A church in Harlan, Kentucky church sent out a call for help and Malcomson asked the Wittys if they would go and he would pay their expenses. While they were gone, Malcomson wanted to combine the Gratiot Avenue mission and the Cameron Avenue church under Cowan. Some agreed and some didn’t. Malcomson sent two of his trucks to the Warren Avenue church (which became Westside Central) to load up their furniture and returned their key to the owner, without the congregation or Witty’s knowledge. His plan was to combine the enlarged Cameron Avenue church with the new congregation on Plum Street, as well as the Warren Avenue congregation.

The final move was to close the Warren Avenue church, as well as Gratiot Avenue and Cameron Avenue. This would make the new congregation consist of a goodly number of the Plum Street members, many from Vinewood, all from Warren Avenue, all from Cameron Avenue, and all from Gratiot Avenue… . Leading members were invited to the home of Brother Malcomson on different occasions for secret meetings.

The plan was not very successful. Twenty-three members of Warren Avenue did go over to the new congregation, but the congregation as a whole did not. This also happened at Cameron Avenue. In fact,

…many of the members, including all that went from Warren Avenue and Brother Malcomson himself withdrew from the effort and Brother Cowan and those loyal to him went in a body to the Central Christian Church, where Brother Cowan was made co-pastor with Edgar DeWitt Jones.

In 1925, the Central Christian Church and the Woodward Avenue Christian Church merged.

A final congregation I wanted to discuss is the Dearborn Church of Christ, which I have some personal connections to. The group first gathered on August 4, 1929 at the Robert Oakman school. W.G. Malcomson spoke at the service. In 1930, they bought lots at the corner of Chase Road and Gould and a temporary building paid for by Vernon C. Fry was put there.

Dearborn Church of Christ building from 1930-1937
– from http://dalnetarchive.org/handle/11061/2345

On November 13, 1936, ground was broken for a permanent Dearborn building designed by W.G. Malcomson. The building was not completed until 1942, but they occupied the basement beginning on August 5, 1937.

Dearborn Church of Christ building and congregation in June 1942. The building was designed by W. G. Malcomson. From http://dalnetarchive.org/handle/11061/2343

Sources:

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