Paoli's first house of worship had been built in 1838 as a joint venture of the Methodist and Presbyterian congregations. The Methodists became its sole owners in 1840.
This building served the growing congregation until 1881, when a new frame building was constructed on Main Street just west of town square. The building had just a single large room. The site was purchased for $250 and the structure built at a cost of $2175.
The Methodist church continued growing. A great remodeling and expansion program began in 1923. A large addition was built on the back of the building, including a kitchen, dining room and classrooms on the basement level, below a large gymnasium where high school basketball games were played. Central heating was installed, brick veneer was added to the exterior, and memorial windows were installed. A large pipe organ, still in service today at the new church, was installed in the renovated and redesigned sanctuary in 1927.
The following was written around 1968 by Maud Anna Ham, who was the daughter of Nell Rhodes Ham who with A. W. Bruner, Joseph Cox and Rev. Joseph Stout (the pastor in 1932) prepared the printed booklet History of the Paoli Methodist Episcopal Church.
Following the extensive addition to our church in 1923 and the installation of the organ in 1925 at a cost of $25,000, we found ourselves deeply in debt. This situation worsened as the depression years came on. Members worked very hard to reduce this debt. At one time during the depression, when foreclosure of the mortgage threatened, the three trustees whose names were on the note were obliged to pay the interest from their own pockets.
One minister, Rev. Millard Brittingham, was the only minister who ever left our church without being fully paid. This became a matter of embarrassment to faithful members and at a later date money was raised and a check sent to him as payment in full with interest.
Various activities were devised to earn money for paying our debts. Under the long leadership of Mrs. Lettie Moore, the Ladies Aid met for quilting parties and gave numerous oyster suppers, bean suppers, chili suppers, and chicken suppers. There were bazaars and bake sales, rummage sales and white elephant sales.
In early bulletins, which were begun in 1934, frequent mention was made of coin banks held by members and opened in a ceremony at family night suppers. Our ministers, too, suffered from the depression. From time to time, "pound parties" were held for ministers and donations of staple foods and canned goods came from the membership.
Janitorial work was usually done by members and occasionally work parties were organized for special house cleaning.
At one time a professional fund raiser was employed. By 1944 our indebtedness was reduced, and in September, under the direction of our minister Rev. Dr. Clarence R. Stout, a mortgage burning was held. A program was presented and there was an exhibit of old-time song books, saddle bags, and other items of interest. Dr. H. R. Page, District Superintendent, gave the address.
In 1949, after the sanctuary was repainted, it was dedicated by a guest speaker: Dr. Merrill McFall. By October 1955 a fund drive was started to raise $1,000 for placing asbestos shingles on the annex. By April 1956, $1,008.35 was raised.
In 1955 our minister, Rev. Everett Wright, was married in our church. He and his wife, Patty, did extensive decoration to the old East Main Street parsonage with considerable assistance from the membership.
Throughout the years, Paoli Methodist Church has emphasized youth work. The first such organization, called Junior League, was started in 1895 with 37 members. Later the name was changed to Epworth League and more recently we have had MYF groups for Jr. High, Intermediates, and Young Adults. We also encourage attendance at youth camps during the summer and many of our youth use these facilities.
In March 1956 an honor service was held for 50-year members of our church. Pins were presented to 31 members after which there was picture-taking and a fellowship dinner.
In June 1956 the Mayfield house on N. W. First Street was purchased as a parsonage. The old East Main Street parsonage was sold, after which a new parsonage fund was set up. The new quarters were repaired and redecorated and were occupied in July l956 by the Reverend and Mrs. Hubert Hoke and family. Open house was held and 98 visitors attended and were served tea by the Women's Society. Assessed valuation of the new property was $13,000.
In June 1957 Bill White was ordained as a minister at the annual conference in Bloomington. Our church members took great pride in this event.
Facilities for a nursery were started in September 1957. Mr. & Mrs. Luther White prepared the room for care of children during church services.
In April 1958 an open house was held for new class rooms and a pastor's study which were made in the area once used as a gymnasium. A drive for a modern piano for the sanctuary was spear-headed by Mrs. Dan Radcliffe and purchase was made in 1960.
To complete payment on the new classrooms and repairs on the furnace, the trustees obtained a loan of $3,900 in January 1960. Painting of the sanctuary was completed that same year at a cost of $972.
m March 1960 Mrs. Leota Hoke was honored with election to the office of Conference president of the Women's Society. Mrs. Luther White served for a number of years as Conference Superintendent of Children's Work.
Special days in the Methodist Church have always held great significance for its members. These included Old Folks Day (an early custom), Children's Day, Mother's Day, Student Recognition, Rally Day, Senior Day, and Pulpit Exchange Days. Also there were Prayer Breakfasts, Every Member Canvasses, 24-hour Prayer Vigils, Tithing Week, Retreats, and Revival Services. Occasionally, days were designated as "Catch-Up Sundays" at which time members were asked to catch up on their financial obligations to the church.
For many years the Servo Sunday School Class and Women's Society Jointly sponsored an annual bazaar and chicken dinner, our largest and most elaborate money-making endeavor. The hard work involved prompted the substitution of "Rocking Chair Bazaar" in 1960. The ladies gave cash in the amount of their usual contributions to the bazaar and supper. This custom continued for several years.
In November 1960 new robes were purchased for the choir at a cost of $400. The robes were initiated at a Christmas Cantata presentation. For several successive years, starting in 1963, Christ Cantatas were given by joint choirs of the Methodist and Presbyterian churches, a very successful effort.
In 1964 volunteer workers from the Friendship Sunday School Class renovated and redecorated the entire basement of the church. A further improvement of both church and parsonage was completed in 1967. At this time, windows were re-leaded at a cost of $900. Other repair and decoration amounted to $393 on the parsonage and $1,788 on the church. The total expenditure of $3,081 was raised by special projects and by subscription of members.
In 1965 a drive was started for the purchase of the new 1966 edition of the Methodist Hymnal. 120 memorial copies were included in the first order. These were dedicated in October 1966
Our first paid organist, Miss Pamela Horsely of Indiana University, was hired in l966, after many years of faithful service by volunteer organists. Miss Mabel Ellis served at the console over a period of forty years and was honored by a "Mabel Ellis Day" observance in January 1967.
In 1966, membership figures were published as follows: Resident members 195; non-resident members 42. There were 103 local families. There has been a consistent increase in these figures.
Also see the letter from Mildred Hamm Moss written in 1984, both about the 1927 purchase of the organ.
Several members were in military service during World War II. The church had a Service Banner recognizing them. One blue star for each member in military service, a gold star for each one killed.
Here is Howard Detweiler holding the Service Banner when it was rediscovered in 2015 and sent to the collection of the Indiana United Methodist Historical Society at Depauw University in Greencastle, Indiana.
In 1961 the United Brethren church, by now the Evangelican United Brethren since its 1946 merger with the Evangelical Association, purchased land south of Paoli. The parsonage constructed there is still in use today by the United Methodist Church.
This picture from the early 1960s shows the main entrance of the Paoli Methodist Church. Notice the words Methodist Episcopal Church in the uppermost stained glass window.
In 1968, the Methodist and E.U.B. Churches merged to form the United Methodist Church.
The merger and following construction of a new church building are the subject of the next page.