By David Fleet
Groveland Twp.- Ron Sutton was just 17-years-old when the church fire occurred July 14, 1947.
“Mom got me out of bed in the morning,” said Sutton, now 88. “She told me Mt. Bethel Church was on fire and we drove out there— about 10 minutes behind the fire trucks—since my dad, Bill on the department. Groveland Township did not have a fire department back then so Brandon responded. When we got there the church was just about gone—we just stood there and watched it burn.”
Sutton and his family had attended Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church since 1933. It was determined a lighting strike destroyed the New England-style church built in 1872.
“We were standing there at the fire and people were asking what’s going to happen next to the church,” he recalled. “Long time church member Clara Scramlin was there and said, ‘we are going to rebuild.”
The Sutton and Scramlin families are just a few of the area parishioner’s at the foundation of the Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church, 3205 Jossman Road that will recognize the 180-year history of the church, from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m., Sept. 10. The community is invited to a celebration featuring food, music and desserts.
Life long member Marvin Scramlin, 72, also recalled the July 1947 church fire.
“My dad, William Scramlin, arrived at the old church while it was on fire, said Marvin. “All he could do was stand there and watch it burn.”
Following the fire, the church continued to meet at a structure near Dixie Highway and Oak Hill Road, known to locals as Austin Corners. The present church was completed on July 24, 1949 and has been upgraded over the years.
“Somehow the congregation raised $10,000 to get the project going. Money was tight and it got down to the stain glass windows when they ran out of money. My grandmother Claria Scramlin donated the last $1,000 for the windows.
She’d been attending Mt. Bethel since about 1910.”
The church was started during the winter of 1837, when Rev. Smith, a Methodist pastor, traveled through the wooded, rolling township countryside gathering for services in the homes of a few settlers to the region.
Church records include the pioneer names of Cogshall and Ogden ’about seven families comprised the first church class, later named by the Ogdens for Mt. Bethel, N.J., their home prior to moving to the township. In 1840, a log church was built near the intersection of Jossman and Bald Eagle Lake roads.
Scramlin says the original 22-foot-by-32-foot log church existed about 100 yards south of the Mt. Bethel Cemetery, facing a swampy area.
‘We’ve farmed that area of ground and have yet to find any signs of the old log cabin church, said Scramlin. ‘The swamp is there and the ground is pretty high for a building.”