I haven’t spent a lot of time looking into them, but I’m attracted to abandoned, rural churches for the same reason I love old schoolhouses. They’re testaments to communities that once thrived but have since been forgotten, and I’m driven to try and tell their stories. Although deserted schoolhouses were often repurposed into barns, corn cribs, or sheds, it’s uncommon for old churches to be recycled in that way. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what happened to Shinn’s Chapel -later known as the Blackford Methodist Episcopal Church- in the far northeastern corner of Blackford County.
The story of the church begins nearly two-hundred years ago, when a log chapel was built sometime between 1830 and 18401. The building was used as a school until a larger building, later known as Harrison Township’s District 3: Blackford schoolhouse, was constructed a mile west of the log sanctuary2.
From there, history is a little bit muddy: it appears as though a later iteration of the church, called Shinn’s Chapel, was built in 1875 although the land it stood on wasn’t purchased until the following year. Elihu Hills sold the plot to the congregation for $164. The building doesn’t show up on any period plat maps of Blackford County. Regardless, the church was prosperous in 1887, boasting eighty members including trustees Darius Shinn, E.A. Shook, Jacob Miller, Peter Miller, and an S. Kirkwood5.
The extant building was erected in 1900 over the timber foundation of the original log church. It was known as the Blackford Methodist Church by the 1930s. The institution closed in 1994 after the congregation dwindled to four members- Cecil Miller, Emily Daugherty, Mary Coleman, and Joy Brown6.
Accoutrements like the building’s pews were sold after the church was shuttered. The building sat empty until 1997, when someone bought the structure with plans to move it elsewhere. Those plans failed, and the owner removed the building’s bell7. In 2008, the building still featured an open belfry that rose above the flat tower it sports now. Google’s Street View cars snapped this shot of it that year.
At some point, a garage door was carved into the east side of the old church. Today, Blackford County’s assessor categorizes the building as a “detatched garage/boat house8.” According to the assessor, the building’s owner lives in Petroleum, an unincorporated village in Wells County.
My early trips through the Indiana backcountry solidified my love of exploration, but I’m embarrassed to confess that, although I must have passed it ten or fifteen times, I can’t remember setting eyes on the old Shinn’s Chapel church until I went to take photos of the Blackford schoolhouse a couple of years ago. Despite its state of disrepair, the fact that the building is still standing is testament to the church’s first trustees and its final members alike.
1 Towns, E. (1998, October 20). Empty Blackford County church sad reminder of change. The Muncie Star Press. p. 20.
2 (See footnote 1).
3 Scott, K. (1976, October 2). Panelists to Discuss ‘Religion and Politics’ The Muncie Star. p. 5.
4 (See footnote 1).
5 Biographical and Historical Record of Jay and Blackford Counties, Indiana (1887). The Lewis Publishing Company [Chicago]. Book.
6 (See footnote 1).
7 (See footnote 1).
8 Blackford County Office of Information & GIS Services. (2023). Parcel ID: 001-00060-00. Blackford County, Indiana Assessor. map, Hartford City, IN.