In recent columns we have written about the families making up the Yankee Settlement of Lake Prairie, West Creek Township, Indiana. These families were tied together by friendship, various degrees of kinship, and common cultural, educational and religious backgrounds.
Shortly after the Little, Gerrish, Ames and Peach families came from New Hampshire to settle in Lake Prairie, weekly prayer meetings were started, and Sunday meetings took place from house to house.
In September, 1856, Rev. John Sailor of Michigan City, Ind., conducted services and meetings were held for 3 days at the log house of Abiel Gerrish. Soon after, Rev. Hiram Wason of Vevay, Ind., conducted services, the attendance being so large, two sermons were necessary.
On Nov. 22, 1856, at the log house of Capt. Thomas Little, an independent church was organized with the help of Rev. Sailor. The twelve charter members were: Abiel and Eliza D. Gerrish, Thomas and Myra Little, Sarah Little, Samuel and Emily Ames, Henry and Betsy Peach, Peter Burhans, Harvey Austin and Henry Austin.
Abiel Gerrish and Peter Burhans were chosen as the first elders and Henry Peach the first deacon. The new church was called The Presbyterian Church of Lake Prairie, and was received into the Logansport Presbytery in 1870.
On Sun., Nov. 23, 1856, the first regular meeting was held in the Gerrish home. The officers were installed and Rev. Hiram Wason was called to be the first pastor. He accepted the call and began his pastorate January 1857. Thirty-five members were present for his first service and during the seven years of his pastorate, 54 members were added.
In 1857 services were first held in the Gerrish home, then in Abiel's new barn and later, in the fall, in the new school house, where boards were laid across the desks to provide seating space and church supplies were kept in the school's corner cupboard. Services were held in the school for 14 years.
In 1858 a group of mothers formed an organization called "The Lake Prairie Maternal Association,"which continued until 1865.
Also in 1858, one and one-half acres of land was purchased from E.N. Morey for the sum of $5.00 and set aside as Lake Prairie Cemetery. Henry Peach, a charter church member, died in September 1858, and was the first person buried there.
Rev. Ball, Lake County historian, had this to say in 1872: "Lake Prairie Cemetery is large, well protected, cared for on a sightly eminence, fine location." The cemetery is located at the north junction of U.S. Hwy. 41 and State Road 2.
In 1871 the congretation decided to build a house of worship of its own, and a new frame church costing $1,500 was dedicated on July 7, 1872. It was built on land given by Abiel Gerrish for a church and a school.
In May 1916 the cornerstone of a new brick church was laid, and one year later, May 20, 1917, the new church was dedicated at Lake Prairie. The cost of the new building was $6,000.
Rev. Wason served as pastor for seven years, and after his resignation in 1864 he remained in the community to become a recognized leader in religious, agricultural and civic affairs of the neighborhood.
In 1864, Benjamin Wells became pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Lake Prairie and stayed for four years. Rev. Edwin Post was pastor when the first church was erected in 1872. For a few years there was no regular pastor, until Rev. Homer Sheely came in 1877 and stayed for three years. In 1884 Rev. Harris of Illinois, came to preach on Sundays.
About the same time, Thanksgiving services were held at the church and a New England thanksgiving sermon was given by Rev. T.H. Ball, of Cedar Lake. Rev. Ball said of Mrs. Hiram Wason: "a woman of sterling qualities, an excellent pastor's wife and a good singer."
Following Rev. Harris were these pastors: Rev. J.F. Smith, F.W. Thomas, L.D. Hemminger, Mr. Bennett, Simon Gobiet, Peter A. Davis, J.W. Wozencraft, E.E. Delong, O.L. Carr, J.J. Simpson and J.E. Jones.
Then came Charles Little, P.A. Mezzari, Arthur H. Subens followed by F.C. Gleason, during whose pastorate the manse in Belshaw was secured. Then Rev. R. Shafer, J. Paul Hadley, Roy Brumbaugh, Henry J. Bonnema, William Stephenson, John Hanstra, Allen Jump, James Cook, David Horne, James C. Lattie and the present pastor, Rev. Albert Phillips.
Serving on the present governing board of the Lake Prairie United Presbyterian Church are the following members: Richard Little, William Herlitz, Gary Herlitz, James Claus, Irvin Guritz and Linda Hug. Wayne Cunningham is Treasurer. The church address is 18500 White Oak Ave., Lowell, Indiana.
Taken from the April 1901 issue of an early newspaper, the "Lowell Souvenir," are the following Lake Prairie news items: "Rev. F.W. Thomas finishes up his work at McCormick Seminary next week, and both he and Mrs. Thomas will be home a week from tomorrow." "The Ladies Missionary Society met with Mrs. Morey last week. The officers for the coming year are: President, Mrs. William Michael: Vice President, Mrs. Charles Marvin: Recording secretary, Mrs. Frank Plumer; Corresponding secretary, Mrs. M.G. Little; Treasurer, Mrs. Jesse Little."
This is the last column telling the stories of the early New Hampshire settlers of Lake Prairie. Information for this month's column was taken from the Joseph and Mary Little Family Book; history books by Rev. T.H. Ball, 1872 and 1884; the Lowell Souvenir, April 1901; Lowell Centennial Book 1952; and conversations with the elders of Lake Prairie Presbyterian Church.