Monday, December 15, 2014

The Walnut Pews at Shiloh Church

Annie L Mangum wrote an article on Wed Aug 16, 1961 for the Illinois Baptist magazine about the Walnut pews at Shiloh church:

High upon the top branch of a tree along the Wabash River hung some black walnuts.  Along came a gust of wind and blew them all to the ground. Some of these walnuts chanced to sink in to the good moist earth where they grew for centuries.  They belonged to 'Uncle Sam' until an enterprising young man from Butler County Ohio,. Jacob Hershey came to Lawrence County Il, saw their beauty and the potential worth and purchased the land.  The government gave him a parchment paper deed to trees and the  land on which they grew in 1839.

When the trees became two of three feet in diameter their owner decided they were right for cutting.  In came the loggers with their cross-cut saws and felled them one by one.  They were cut into logs 10-12 feet long and stashed in the edge of the Wabash River to season..  Because they were superior logs  the owner did not want them to  warp or buckle.  They seasoned in their watery bed for more than a year.  When the Baptists organized a new church in 1839 near Bridgeport the building had only puncheon seats.  The timber farmer and his good wife were  among  the first members to join the church.  

The man attended the business meetings of the church even though he had to ride 8 miles on horse- back.  It was brought up at the business meeting that they needed new pews.  The next morning the man went down to the river to look over his walnut logs.  They were beautiful logs, all the same size and so smooth and faultless.  He knew it would take all of them to seat the church but he had planned on using the money to buy another fertile 80 acres of land.  After sleeping a restless night he said to his wife that the Lord had won. "He gets the logs."  They are the best logs in Lawrence County  and we can't give less than that.

The next meeting Jacob arrived early and announced he would donate the walnut logs.  They were hauled to a sawmill where they were cut into boards, two feet wide planed by hand to perfect smoothness and made into pews.  Used in the church for three generations, the pews finally began to show the effects of time.  They served more than a hundred years until the church caught fire form an overheated stove and burned to the ground one winter day.  The pews were saved and stored in a neighboring barn where they remained until the new church was finished.  Once again they were used until the church became financially able to purchase new ones for the sanctuary.  The 120-year old walnut pews were retired to the basement.

The writer of the article asked for two of them as a remembrance of her grandfather.  A cabinet maker at St Francisville transformed them into a beautiful knee hole desk which graced the home of the old Deacon's descendants in 1961 when the article was written.