I have a soft spot in my heart for old, country sanctuaries. I’m sure I’ve driven by hundreds of them over the years! Although many are incompatible with the needs of huge, modern megachurches, their continued existence is testament to dwindling congregations that push against the current, passionately committed to the glorification of a higher power. I’ve always morbidly wondered what happens to the actual buildings once their membership falls off, but I’m sorry to say that I found the answer at Mt. Pleasant Methodist Church in eastern Delaware County.
As far as I’m aware, there are three Mt. Pleasant churches in Delaware County. The one closest to me is in the High Banks area of Mt. Pleasant Township between Yorktown and Daleville, and there’s also the Mt. Pleasant E.U.B. church on US-35 southwest of Prairie Creek Reservoir. The sanctuary I visited sits in Liberty Township between Selma and Albany.
Methodism in Liberty Township goes back a long time: a Methodist Episcopal class in the area was organized under Reverend John Hull, who was quickly whisked away to tend to the Methodist church in Winchester1. Though the congregation lacked a dedicated home, it met at houses owned by William Wood and others beginning in 1837.
A man named John W. Baughn owned land in Section 36 of Liberty Township. In 1939, Baughn buried a young son on his land. A year later, he deeded that portion of his property to establish a public cemetery2. The first purpose-built Mt. Pleasant Methodist Episcopal Church, a log structure, was erected on on the site in 18423.
In 1864, a wood-frame church was built on the north side of Orr Road opposite the log building. By 1881, the congregation had grown to boast a hundred members with services conducted every two weeks by the Reverend M.A. Teague of Selma4. Biweekly services seem to be a major part of the church’s story, since the congregation shared a pastor with the Desoto Methodist Church from around 1917 through 19385.
The Mt. Pleasant Church Cemetery was expanded with a 247-plot addition to the north side of Orr Road in 1906. The plat consisted of a circular path accessed via walks that formed a cross. A diagonal path that originated near the northeast corner of Orr Road and County Road 850-East is still accessible today, although much of the addition was never developed6.
The Mt. Pleasant Church Cemetery is the final resting place of Ball State’s John Lewellen, but other families buried there include Adamses, Bartletts, Baughns, Cougills, Dragoos, Kettermans, Meeks, Pittengers, Shracks, and Shroyers, among others. I don’t purport to have examined every marker in the graveyard, but the most recent one I saw was from 2015.
The extant Mt. Pleasant Methodist Church was built in 1927. I’ve heard that the building reused some of the stained glass from its predecessor, but I can’t find a source to back that up. At any rate, the structure features a 12×11 foot entryway that rises into a bell tower, a 16×25 anteroom to the left of the entrance, and a large, 31×41 foot sanctuary.
I know those measurements because I got the chance to tour the building when it was up for sale in July, 2020. After the church was abandoned, it was sold to a property management company before it was sold again7. That owner put it up for sale, and my mom, stepdad, and I toured it with interest the following year after we got ahold of the realtor.
The house I grew up in dates from the jimmicarterian period of home construction, but my mom is fascinated by the idea of living in a historic building. She’s always up for a tour whenever one shows up for sale nearby, and is famous for applying exceptional optimism to some of the places she’s seen!
Unfortunately, that leaves my stepdad to step in and put the kibosh on the basket cases. By the time I went with them to examine the Mount Pleasant Methodist Church, it’d been abandoned for thirteen or fourteen years. It was a basket case, I’m sorry to admit.
A tree that appeared to be growing inside the building’s foyer meant that we had to enter through a secondary, secured, doorway on the building’s east side. We were confronted with a wooden stairway down to the church’s full basement and a step up to an area behind the chancel. Above is what we saw when we made our way to the stage.
The chancel makes up the northern part of the church. A small room at the northwestern corner of the building appeared to have been used as a pastor’s study, while a door at stage left conceals the landing we came through. The auditorium itself is sloped; seats in the rows furthest back sit slightly higher than those in front, like a theater.
The south side of the church’s auditorium connects with this anteroom. I imagine this area was used for Sunday school or overflow seating, as connects to the sanctuary by the folding doors to the left and the church’s entry vestibule through the door near the right of the image above.
If it hadn’t been apparent from our visual inspections outside, going into the old church truly showed that was in an advanced state of decay. The deterioration was made more poignant by the survival of some of its most prominent decorative elements, like the stained glass in that anteroom under the front-facing cross gable. Had it been saved from the building’s predecessor? I wish I could say.
Me being me, I wanted to go up in the church’s tower. From the outside, it appeared that the open belfry had been sealed off to protect the building’s original bell, and I searched left and right for stairways, ladders, ropes, or an escalator that could take me to the top. In the end, all I found was this open hatch near the building’s front doors. I’d have used the ladder I saw back in the anteroom and clambered on up were it not for the suspect condition of church’s plaster ceiling.
Just past that entry hatch was the inside of the building’s primary entrance. From the outside, it looked like a tree was growing there, and itt turns out that a small one was. The stained glass above the modern doors commemorates two dates: the church’s founding in 1837 and the building’s dedication ninety years later.
We left the building through the sanctuary and side door. I can’t speak for my parents, but I left the property with some real sadness: this building is a Liberty Township landmark, but anyone hoping to use it for modern purposes will have to confront some unfortunate realities. Beyond its structural condition, the church doesn’t have a septic system, and the graveyard next door is still owned by the Mt.Pleasant Cemetery Association trustees, which means the lot is too small to install one, build a garage, or meaningfully restore the property at all. Even someone like my mom had to pass, which she did on her own recognizance without my stepdad’s intervention! That’s truly saying something.
Although I infrequently feel the need to stop in on a Sunday morning, old sanctuaries like Mt. Pleasant possess an undeniable charm and unique beauty that makes me think of a simpler time. Contemplating those foregone days, or at least my nostalgic impression of them, can be a spiritual exercise on its own. Of course, it’s a different story once you walk into a place that’s been abandoned like Mount Pleasant Church has.
I’m an adamant proponent of no-tresspassing policies, so I don’t often go inside the places I research and write about. Maybe that’s what made taking photos inside the forlorn Mount Pleasant Church feel exhibitionist. There are countless other churches around East Central Indiana that have met similar fates or have been torn down, but poking around the interior of this one didn’t lead to a good feeling. Instead, I left the place feeling like I’d seen something that should have remained hidden and haunted by nearly a century’s worth of memories from the people who worshipped inside.
1 Stowe, R.A. (2006). Some Historical Highlights of Methodism in Delaware County, Indiana. High Street United Methodist Church. Web. Retrieved March 12, 2023.
2 Helm, T. B. (1881). Mount Pleasant Township. In History of Delaware County, Indiana: With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers (pp. 268–269). book, Kingman Brothers.
3 (See footnote 2).
4 Programme (1880, December 15). The Muncie Morning News. p. 2.
5 (See footnote 1).
6 Wood, M.F. (190, October 4). A Plat of Mt Pleasant Cemetery Association. Muncie, Indiana. Map.
7 Delaware County Office of Information & GIS Services. (2021). Parcel ID: 0836200002000. Delaware County, Indiana Assessor. map, Muncie, IN.
4 thoughts on “The sad fate of Delaware County’s Mt. Pleasant Methodist Church”
This is both sad and sweet! Though it’s silly of me, I imagine that the church understood why your family couldn’t buy it, and it was just happy to have had visitors.
Keep remembering the things people find it easy to forget. That’s your gift – and your charge.
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I felt the same thing when I left. It wasn’t silly!
I think I try to remember what’s easy to forget, but it comes naturally to me. My worry is that i present those places in a light that they deserve.
Oh, you do. It’s important work – keep it up!
This reminds me of my walk through St. Adalbert Catholic Church in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood several years ago, just on a different scale. That one is definitely on the way out after the Chicago Archdiocese removed some large statues by busting through a brick wall.
These little country churches are different in the way they popped up on their own and died the same way. Like you, I am sad to see a place that was once full of happiness become a crumbling shell.
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