Page Three - Historical Notes
Alden and Helena Township, Michigan

contributed by Irene Hawley Montney

Table of Contents
(for this page)

The Methodist Church
The Seventh Day Adventist Church
The Baptist Church
The Helena Township Library

The Methodist Church

In 1927 the Alden church building was raised and a full basement was put in. At this time the cornerstone box was opened and this inscription was found:

"The cornerstone of the Spencer Creek M.E. Church was laid with appropriate ceremonies by S. P. Hewitt; July 18, 1884. Rev. W. R. Stinchcombe - Presiding Elder; Rev. R. N. Middleton - Preacher in Charge; Trustees: Reuben W. Coy - President; Leonard Armstrong - Secretary; George Suddes; Daniel Stratton; Stewards - George Suddes; Daniel Stratton. The class at this place numbers seventeen."

The Michigan Methodist Conference records mention of O. J. Golden as a supply minister at Spencer Creek and Mancelona for the years of 1874, '75, '76 and '77. Evidently services were held in some building before the church was built, possibly at the four corners one mile east of Alden, as this was the location of the first pioneer settlement.

In the early days the building was heated by a pot-bellied stove, lighted with hanging oil lamps, seated with round-backed wooden chairs, and the choir was accompanied by a reed organ. There were two windows of plain glass in the south end of the church which undoubtedly let in the glare of the sun and caused much strain on the eyes of the congregation.

The room was a fairyland at Christmas time when a huge tree stood in each corner, hung with presents brought in by the people of the town. In a way it was a competition to show off gifts. One man received a new harness for his horse, delivered by Santa, of course. One year a large hole was cut in the south wall so that Santa could enter and come down through an improvished chimney. For years, a circular band mended the spot in the south wall and could be seen on the siding outside.

A shed stood at the back of the church lot for the shelter of horses, buggies and wagons. It was also used throughout the week by those who came to town on business.

During the years 1903-06, several improvements were made in the interior. A hardwood floor, opera seats, and red plush Chancel chairs were obtained. A partial basement allowed a floor furnace to be placed. Jesse Kilpatrick was much interested in these improvements and helped secure them. The Rev. Eugene J. Gray was in charge from 1904-1906. He, too, worked for these things, especially the new furnace.

In 1927 enough money was raised to put a full basement under the building. The space provided room for social gatherings, dinners, and Sunday School classes. A small kitchen and crowded furnace room were added. Later, through a generous money gift, the auditorium was completely redecorated with new walls, ceiling and stained glass windows. Under the leadership of Rev. Charles Dunbar, an addition was built at the rear of the church. The extension made possible rest rooms, a ministers study, and a larger chancel. At the lower level a fellowship hall, new furnace room, and a large well equipped kitchen were added.

In recent years many fine endowments have been given to the church in memory of deceased members of the community, among them an organ, the pews and the Carillon. Also in 1962, two furnaces were put in, one to head each floor of the building.

It is a lovely little church for a small community. Any account of the growth of the Alden Methodist Church must give credit to the devotion, loyalty and financial generosity of the people who spend their vacations and summer months in our beloved Torch Lake area. Without their help in material and spiritual ways, the present church would not exist. The Alden people do appreciate this support.

The Seventh Day Adventist Church

A short history of the Seventh Day Adventist Church was written by Myron Ashdon, a member. Frank Lyon, who collected notes on former days, passed this on to the writers of this pamphlet.

In the spring of 1878 John Sisley held a series of meetings in the Lannin schoolhouse, five and one-half miles southeast of Alden. (The building is still there.) A company was organized under the name Rapid River Church.

A year or so later the members moved to other places. Since many of them had gone to Spencer Creek, it was thought best to change the name of the church. That year at Conference Meeting in Battle Creek the question of the name came up. The request was made to change the name from Rapid Creek to Spencer Creek. Edler J. E. White remarked, "What is the difference; it is water just the same".

At that time the Sabbath School was held in a log schoolhouse one mile east of Alden, with a membership of thirty-five. The school seemed to be on the increase with a later membership of forty-nine. Myron Ashdon was superintendent and Cora L. Smalley secretary.

At Alden, in 1888, Timothy Harriman was conducting the school in the upper room of a building that stood on the site of the cement block "garage-factory" next to the present post office. Two previous buildings had burned down on this spot. The school now had a membership of seventy-three, and plans were being made for the construction of a house "dedicated to the Lord". J. W. Tyler gave a piece of land to the group for this purpose. It was located on the corner where the old road turned from north to east, going past the present park. "A neat building, nicely plastered, and having a fine steeple was erected." One night when special meetings were being held a severe thunderstorm developed. Lightning struck the "fine steeple" knocking it off the roof. It was never replaced; pride may have been rebuked.

In 1900 some had passed on, others had moved away, and ther were now twenty-five names on the roll. H. H. Gooden was superintendent, Pearl Angell was secretary. The membership continued to decrease and finally the only ones to keep the church open on the Sabbath were Mr. and Mrs. Ashdon and Cora Smalley. After their deaths meetings stopped.

The church stood unused for several years; then, in the early 50's it was torn down and the material taken to Central Lake where it was rebuilt as a church home for the Adventists of that town. The land was sold to the Telephone Company and they erected a service station on the old location. The Adventists who still live in Alden attend church in Elk Rapids or Central Lake. this religious group has had a very interesting story.

The Baptist Church

An old record kept in a World's Fair composition book is dated for the years 1891-1892. This shows the acounts in goods and cash given toward the support of the minister. Some of the items are: Sister Johnson - 90 lbs. of beef - $4.50; P. Hawley - 200 lbs. hay - $2.00; P. J. Chappelle - cash - $1.40; C. Pernell - 57 lbs. flour - $1.55; A. Crandell - cash - $1.00; C. Kitchen - one bag potatoes - $1.75; Mrs. McCracken - cash - $1.50; Bro. Beneway - cash - $1.00. The minister was to be paid $250.00. $92.44 has been raised; the church still owed him $157.66.

For a number of years this group conducted services and Sunday school classes in the town hall. They were organized and helped by the Michigan Baptist Convention. They did not always have a pastor but were encouraged and guided by visiting ministers from other places who were sent by the Mission Board.

About 1900, Rev. and Mrs. Dwight, young people, served the church for a year or two. In 1903 or 1904, Rev. and Mrs. Reed were on the charge. During the Rev. Reeds pastorate the membership decided to buy a store building across the street from the town hall. This they remodeled into a kind of church, the ground floor for services, and the second floor for Sunday school rooms. A new front was put on with peaked windows which were made to look like stained glass by the use of transparent colored paper with conventional designs.

During these early years the first summer visitors began to come to Alden. Some of the Baptists who came to this little town church were the Famams, the Chamberlains from Flint, and the Clellands from Monmouth, Illinois.

When Mr. Reed left, the group was again without a pastor. Then Daniel B. Oviatt, a member, became the lay reader and conducted the service each Sunday. He was a Bible student who gave his views on portions of the Book as he led the congregation. Later disagreement arose among the members, the group became divided in feeling and could no longer carry on. Some members went to the Church of Christ in Rapid City and others attended the Methodist Church.

The building, which really was the property of the State Board of Baptist Mission, was moved to Eastport, where it was remodeled and is still used by the Baptist congregation there. The three peaked windows look the same as they did in the Alden church in past years.


The first school, built in 1867, was located one mile east of Alden. The school house, a log structure, was considered a fine building, having four windows and one door. Miss Emma Smith, daughter of one of the earlier settlers, was the first teacher.

In December, 1868, a new school district was formed near Clam Lake, but a school wasn't built until 1870 and was located a mile or so east of Clam River. The cost of the building, constructed of logs, was $125.00. It is interesting to note that there were only five qualified voters for the first annual school board meeting held December 12, 1868.

At first the school term was for three months in winter; then in 1872 they voted to have a term of six months, four in the winter and two in the summer. The teacher "boarded around", that is, she stayed at each home a certain length of time, according to the number of children belonging to each family. Also, in October, 1872, the district board voted to raise $138.28 for teacher's wages and $18.00 for contingent expenses, making a total of $151.28! Delbert Pendock was janitor for the school in 1874 and Henry Lyon taught ther in 1875 and 1876.

There was also another log school, which was on the present Mancelona road, approximately two miles north and two and one half miles east of Alden. A good example of the log school houses of that period may be seen at the Brownwood Acres located north of Clam River on the shores of Torch Lake.

As the population of the township grew, the log school houses became inadequate and it was necessary to build larger ones which were located on different sites. One was built on the north side of Clam Lake and was known as the Dewey School, the second was the Bass School on Paige Road north of Alden, the third was the Rose School on Parson's Road two miles east and one-half mile north of Alden, and the fourth was built on the present site of the Alden Grade School.

In 1899, the Alden school building was removed, take to the village, and is now the upper part of the Odd Fellow's Hall. A fine new two-story building of red brick was built; but, sixteen days after the opening of school, it was destroyed by fire. Plans were made immediately to construct another school at the same place, but an attempt was made by some to have the site of the school moved to lots in Alden Park, or some other place in the platted village. After several proposals were defeated by vote, the new school was built on the old site using the same plans as for the one destroyed by fire, the only difference being that light-colored brick instead of red brick was used for its construction.

In the beginning this school had eight grades, with a school term of approcimately four months held in the winter time. Later, the ninth and tenth grades were added, and the length of the school term was increased to nine months. Eventually the eleventh and twelfth grades were included. The first graduation was held in 1915.

The school system remained as a grade school and high school until 1942. At that time the high school students entered the Elk Rapids system, went there for a few years, then they transferred to Mancelona. In that same year, the schools in the other districts of the township consolidated with the Alden school system. In 1957 a bond issue for a new school was passed. The building was constructed near the old school, completed the following year, and was dedicated August, 1958.

The Helena Township Library

Full credit must be given to Mrs. Earl Pillman for the founding of Helena Township Library, as she spent two years collecting books and trying to find means for supporting a library in Alden.

Finally, in 1941 or 42, the W.P.A. agreed to pay a librarian's salary if some local organization would sponsor the library, which the Friendly Bible Class agreed to do. Wilson D. Morrison was appointed by the W.P.A. as the first librarian with the library located in the township hall. It was soon moved to the school basement where it remained until the W.P.A. no longer functioned.

The Township Board then agreed to finance the library and allow it to be located in the Township Hall. Mrs. Pillman was requested to select and organize a Library Board. The first board was composed of Mrs. Earl Pillman, Chairman; Mrs. Frank Hawley, Secretary-Treasurer; Mrs. Fred Aemisegger, Mrs. Alger Wheeler and Mrs. Guy Armstrong, Trustees.

From its establishment till 1948 there were several librarians due to the very low salary, but in May 1948, Mrs. Eva Leonard became librarian, and held the post until August, 1950, when she was succeeded by Mrs. Nina Gaylord, who was served most efficiently every since.

In 1951, the Library Board began to sponsor a series of teas with outstanding local and summer resident talent giving book reviews and showing color slides and movies of their travels. These have proved very popular every summer.

The Board has joined book clubs, the Children's Book League and borrowed books from the State Library. At the present time the Library is a member of the Traverse City Area Library Federation and as such is able to borrow over a hundred new books every three months, and has at least two hundred of them on hand at all times.

This concludes the book, Historical Notes on Alden and Helena Township, written in 1964 by Irene Hawley Montney. I hope you have enjoyed this interesting insight into the early years of this area. If you have interesting notes concerning Antrim County and would like to share them, do contact me,
Margaret Pecar Fallone . I would be pleased to present them here for you.
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