Our History

Hanging in the church basement.

Hanging in the church basement.

History of the Fraser Presbyterian Church as related at the church Centennial celebration, September 26, 1976.

The Fraser Presbyterian Church was started as a mission in 1866 at Old Greenleaf by John Fraser, with meetings being held in various homes.

During the summer of 1876 preaching services were held in the log cabin store and home of Daniel Morrison located one mile west and about one half-mile south of where the present church was built on land donated by Duncan and Catherine Campbell. The Morrision building was torn down a few years ago.

On September 12, 1876, the Fraser Presbyterian Church was organized with 17 members and added to the Roll of Churches by the Saginaw Presbytery. According to their records, this was the first church in the Upper Thumb area.

A building was started immediately and finished in 1876, but was not formally dedicated until January 1877. The church was named in honor of Alexander Fraser’s father, John Fraser.

The original church building was the size of the present sanctuary, which still stands on the original footing, but many changes and additions have been made.

The original building had three windows on each side, twice the length of the present windows. There was a four-foot wainscoting which covered the inside of the church from the floor to the bottom of the windows. The entrance to the building were double doors in the center of the south wall, which was topped by the spire and a bell tower (only the bell never became a reality). Inside was a vestibule approximately 8 – 10 feet square, then another set of doors admitted people into the sanctuary. This vestibule left two small alcoves, one on each side. The women hung up their wraps on the east side, and the men used the west side.

These small three-sided rooms also served as sunday school rooms, one for the beginners, complete with sand box, and the other for the Junior class (which sometimes got out of hand.)

All the furniture was handmade except the minister’s chair. The original pulpit was hand-made and later reconditioned. (It is still in the church, but not in use.)

There was a raised platform in the northwest corner, which was about two-thirds the width of the church. There was a very pretty handmade railing around this platform which was reached by three steps up. This later held the organ and choir as well as the pulpit and chair. The pews were also handmade: the seats very narrow (and hard), the backs very straight and definitely uncomfortable – probably so no one would go to sleep. The building was lighted by oil lamps held in brackets on the wall. It was heated by a huge, black, pot-belled stove. Needless to say, one roasted on one side and froze on the other.

The self-appointed janitor was lovingly called by all who knew him “The Blacksmith”, and to many of us he was Uncle Jack. (No one ever called him Mr. MacCallum), and for as many years as he was able he not only built the fire so the church would be warm, but furnished the wood with a little assistance from my Dad, James Dew.

At one time a row of horse sheds stood on the west side of the church. One stall had doors for the minister’s horse. Then these were torn down after cars became more common.

A split in the church in 1893 divided the church in three parts.

The first split was over a difference in church government. This caused a group to leave and build a church three miles north, known as the Erskine Church. It is now disbanded.

The second group decided to build a church at Popple, since it was much closer to them, in as much as road conditions were impassable much of the time – and the winters were very severe. It is well to remember at this time there were few roads, mostly trails, and people often walked miles to church. This church was sold when M-53 was built. The road went right through where the church stood. This congregation was transferred to Bad Axe.

In 1901 a new organ was purchased, the first instrument in the church. Not all were in favor: 27 ayes and 7 nays, which caused more trouble for the little church, some saying, “It is an instrument of the devil because it is used at dances,” and one dour Scot was heard to remark in broad Scottish accents, “Now we’ve got the orrgan, next ye’ll bring in the feedle”, but one hadn’t come in yet.

In 1918 the church received a new roof and carpeting to cover up the wide, rough-boarded bare floor.

In 1929-30 the floor in the sanctuary was raised, and a basement was dug, using horses and scrapers. This gave a dining room, kitchen, and furnace room (the first furnace). A new entry way was added and tower and stained glass windows were installed. The windows were donated by various families and were only half the length of the original windows. The large window facing south is over where the entrance to the church once was. All of this work was donated.

In 1942 the Greenleaf Extension Group took as their Community Project ground improvement around the church. The yard was cleaned and the green planting around the front door was bought, but all the other trees and shrubs were dug up and transplanted.

In 1952 a new oak floor was laid and carpeting in the aisles, across the front, and on the platform which was moved out of the corner and placed in the center and once again the work was nearly all donated.

In 1959 an addition was completed to the north end of the original building which housed the two sunday school rooms, two restrooms, room for choir robes and sunday school supplies, plus water system – and new gas furnace, and again all the labor was donated as we were fortunate to have a carpenter and cabinet-maker, electrician and plumber in our congregation, and many helpers.

In 1964 or 1965 the stone church sign was built. It was designed and built by Henry McLellan. Only the material was bought.

In 1969 the sanctuary was completely refurnished and remodeled once more. The furniture, new lights, and lighted cross were purchased with Memorial Funds. New carpet was given by the Ladies’ Aid. The chancel rail was designed and built by Henry McLellan, a descendant of one of the founders of the church. The staining and finishing was done by Hazel Thorpe. Mr. Anderson, the man who built the furnishings, provided us with the oak wood, stain and finish so everything would match. The baptismal font was designed by Henry McLellan, made by him of the same oak wood and finish, and given as a memorial.

Twenty-seven ministers have served this church. The first one was Alexander Fraser, son of John Fraser.

Our present minister, the Reverend Robert von Oeyen, together with his wife, Janet, have done a great deal of work to make this celebration possible.

There have been eleven sunday school superintendents – thirty-four teachers, organists, pianists, and choir members as well as elders and trustees are listed in the Church History, a copy of which is included with this summary.

Present church organizations include Sunday School, Women’s Association (better known as Ladies’ Aid), Men’s Council, Youth Fellowship, and choir.

The highest average attendance was 100 in 1900-1901. Reverend Smith was pastor. The church now has 65 members.

This morning, September 26, 1976, a new piano, bought with memorial funds, to commemorate the one-hundredth birthday of our church was dedicated in the memory of its founders.

Since this church’s doors have never been locked it has sheltered travelers stranded due to weather conditions and many have stopped to rest and relax within its walls, and we hope many may have received consolation, renewed hope, and courage. Many notes have been left on the pulpit expressing their thanks for the open door.

Through the years our church has had its “ups and downs” but through it all, with God’s help and the faithfulness of its members, it has met and conquered each crisis. It is the hope and prayers of this congregation that the Fraser Presbyterian Church will continue for the next 100 years with the blessing of our God and Master, the Giver of all good and perfect gifts, Love, Hope, and Peace.

-Winnifred McLellan


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