Delving into old records of early land grants, you will find that tracts of land were taken up in this section along the Potomac River just as early as those nearer the tiny village of Mecklenburg (Shepherdstown). When the 1732 settlers, including Edward Lucas, Robert Buckles, Mercers, Swearengens, VanMetres, Taylors, Friend, Wrights, and many others, came to what is not Jefferson County and took up large tracts of land, John Wright and Samuel and John Taylor settled in this Molers Cross Roads area. Homes sprang up, and as years passed, others settlers came, families grew up and branched out, and a fine community life began. Like all other pioneering days in those early years community life meant neighboring together, helping each other in sickness and with work. Any schooling that was gotten was taught in the homes; as was the reading of the Bible and the children being taught to commit Bible verses and chapters to memory, a most worthy practice to follow in this day and age.
In the late 1700’s and early 1800 ‘s, many other families came, bought land, and built homes, these later houses made mostly of stone and some brick, and these are the ones you still see dotted here and there all over the county. Many family names are still familiar in this neighborhood: Reinhart, Molers, Knott, Hoffman, Osbourne, Staley, Skinner, Fraley, Flanagan, Banks, Knode, Thompson, Koontz and others being among those whose children grew up and attended school and Sunday School at Moler’s Cross Roads.
The earliest Bible School work was the teaching of children, by their parents, to memorize Bible verses, and the telling of Bible stories. This same applied to learning to read and write, until families went together and hired a teacher who lived in the different homes for a period of time, and those parents wishing to have their children taught had to help with the expense of the teacher’s salary, — a mere pittance when considered to-day.
Finally a brick school was built in a woodland owned by Christian Reinhart and now owned by Dr. S. T. Knott. This writer was unable to find the date of building, but it was long before the War Between the States. Because this school was built upon land given by Christian Reinhart, it was always called [page 2] “Reinhart’s School.” Incidentally, when a later two-room schoolhouse was built upon land given jointly by D. Griffith Molerand his sister, E. Victoria Moler, the name of Reinhart’s School still clung — and does to this day.
The church at Molers Cross Roads had its inception in the old Reinhart Schoolhouse when that schoolhouse was the center of a rural community church on the Sabbath day and the forum of the “Three R’s” on week-days. It was a brick structure, on a lot at the edge of a beautiful woodland of oaks and hickories, on the road leading now to Dr. Knott’s home. It faced the road, and had three windows on either side and none at the back.
Some boy, with an ax, had chopped off a few bricks from the east corner, leaving a hole along the floor; and that opening, together with a broken panel in the door, afforded a “peep-hole” for the boys to note the activities within, when some luckless culprit was being given a taste of the rod according to that day’s interpretation of the Biblical expression “Spare the rod and spoil the child.”
This building was used for school during the week, and on Sunday in the afternoons for services, class meetings, singing, Bible reading, Sunday School, and at night, for prayer meeting. These meetings often filled the house to overflowing. The late Mr. Jacob S. Reinhart told this writer that he could remember as far back as 1860 and he said emphatically, “Those were religious days, when prayer was offered from the heart with the most sincere emotion; and days when people worshiped God from the heart.”
Reinhart’s Schoolhouse was the community center for all denominations; Methodists, Reformers, Lutherans and Episcopalians, predominating in the order named. When no services were held in this schoolhouse, it wasn’t unusual for the young people to walk or ride horse-back to Zion Church, — which was then a union church, — or Unionville or Shepherdstown. My grandmother, Margaret Knott was a member of the Shepherdstown class meeting, before services were held in the Reinhart Schoolhouse, and she would often walk from the old Knott homestead along the Potomac River to Shepherdstown to attend these meetings. Imagine THAT, — in this automobile age???
In the search for data, the earliest record that I could find was one of 1844 in the “Church Register of Shepherdstown Station.” At that time, meetings were held in the Shepherdstown church, sometimes in homes of members and in various schoolhouses in different neighborhoods, led either by a minister or more often by a class leader. At this point, it is tempting to digress and record some of those early class leaders, but confining this narrative to Bethesda and its neighborhood, I must refrain. I only record these class meetings in Shepherdstown as I do because among the members I find the names of Margaret Knott, Philip Moler, James Hessey, Alcinda Taylor and others, who later made the class meetings at Reinhart’s Schoolhouse what they were, and what they meant to the whole neighborhood.
The first record of a service held at Reinhart’s Schoolhouse was in 1851 . At that time, it was recorded as one of the classes on “Shepherdstown Circuit,” and called “Class No. 7,” leader and “exorter” Michael Nickols. There were eleven classes — two being for colored slaves but having a white leader — and all held at different places. The members of “Class No. 7” were Margaret Knott, Margaret Lancaster, John H. Moler, John Hoffman, Mary J. Bowers, Joseph H. Baker, George Nickols, David Lemon, Samuel Knott Jr., John Knott, George Knott. Probationers; Helen Moler, Sarah Ramsburg, Samuel Knott, Margaret Caton.
Joined in 1852 : Lethe Fraley, Keziah Homes, Margaret Nickols. Where the foregoing is the earliest record, I’ve no doubt whatever that services were held from the very time the schoolhouse was built, — a date I could not find.
In 1857 , Ellen Sarah Knott, Margaret E. Knott, E. Victoria Moler, Sarah E. Hunter, and Mary E. Norris joined on probation at Unionville Chapel, and were transferred to Reinhart’s Schoolhouse. The next year, George S. Knott by certificate from Illinois Conference, Charles H. Knott, Margaret Donnelly, Caroline, Barbara Ann, and Mary V. Lambright, Sarah E. Hoffman, Laura Virginia Moler, George W. Nickols, Ellen Nickols, Lee Henry Moler and Martha Banks became members.
Michael Nickols remained class leader from 1851 to 1856 when William Byers took over the helm until 1860 . At this time John Hoffman stepped into the picture as class leader and Sunday School superintendent; a man still remembered by the oldest members of Bethesda Church. In appearance, he was a very patriarchal-looking man, tall, large-framed, with long white hair flowing over his shoulders. He was of the Rattlesnake Run contingent, a Reformer as were all from that section. Mr. Emmanuel Staley, his neighbor and of the same faith, was his Bible Class teacher.
Mr. Hoffman was a religious enthusiast, and in his later life, trudged all over the country distributing religious tracts. Under his devout leadership and management a flourishing Sunday School was built up, and he was beloved by old and young.
In the very earliest days there were no song books. The leader would read two lines of a stanza, and the congregation would sing those two lines; thus by alternating reading and singing the hymn would be sung. After a few years, a little green-backed song book was used, which had no notes. At this time the singing was always led by David Fraley, a one-legged Confederate soldier. He was seconded by D. Griff Moler who sat beside him and suggested which songs to sing. Dave always had his “tuning fork” with him and it was of absorbing interest to the younger folks to watch him pull it rom his pocket and use it, to get the “right pitch.”
The favorite Sunday School pieces were: “I Want to be an Angel,” “Homeward Bound,” “There is a Happy Land, Far, Far Away,” “I’ll Away to the Sunday School,” and “My Mother’s Bible.” Later, when some new books were in vogue, the favorite song among the old Confederates (of whom there was a large number) was, “Let Us Pass Over the River and Rest Under the Shade of the Trees.” It was pathetic to hear those men, who had known Stonewall Jackson, sing that song.
The Methodists had inaugurated a “Bush meeting” in the Reinhart’s woods adjacent to the schoolhouse. This was attended by vast crowds from miles around. To this meeting, on one occasion, came a Prof. Beamer, and there [page 5] was sung for the first time, “The Master Has Come Over Jordan.” That song got Prof. Beamer a job at the schoolhouse, and eventuated a transformation in the music. New song books were obtained, and the new hymns were learned. David Fraleystill led, with Clayton Donley chief tenor, Milton M. Skinner, bass, and C. Jacob and John O., sons of Samuel M. Knott adding their youthful, but splendid, voices to the singing. That early choir was the beginning of what afterward grew, and became known as the “Knott Choir of Bethesda.”
Among the teachers in the Reinhart Schoolhouse Sunday School were E. Vic Moler with the very small children, a job she held for more than fifty years. She was often assisted by Mrs. Laura Moler, and Maggie E. Knott, for there were many children in attendance. Other teachers were Emanuel Staley for the Bible class; Abbie and Annie Hoffman, daughters of Mr. John Hoffman; Jack and Ella Foutz, Samuel M. Knott, Sarah Ellen Knott, Virginia Reinhart, and James M. Hendricks.
Exclusive of a very large Sunday School role, the church numbered twenty members in 1864 ; in 1870 , thirty-two, and in 1877 (after the building of the church) there were fifty-four.
Mr. John Hoffman continued leader and superintendent from 1860 until the Methodists began agitating the question of building a Methodist Church, about the year 1871 or 72. This question of building a Southern Methodist Church caused much bitterness in the entire neighborhood. The Reform people, very strong, and the Lutherans who had become strong, saw no reason to break up the delightful relations which existed among the different denominations up until then. But the Methodists argued that a church organization which was responsible to nobody could not long endure; and that, while the Methodists would own and control the church, their friends of other denominations could worship with them as before. Ministers of the different denominations had frequently conducted services in the schoolhouse. Of these, Messrs. Andrews and Hubbard of the Episcopal; Drs. J.C. Bowman and Bittles and Rev. Mr. Moser of the Lutheran; Rev. Mr. Whistler and Rev. Mr. Rosster of the Reformed, are recalled by members.
The building of Bethesda Church meant the ending of the “group” preaching in Reinhart’s Schoolhouse. The Reformers and Episcopalians gradually drifted into Shepherdstown congregations, the Lutherans to Unionville, and Reinhart’s Schoolhouse ended as a “Church center.”
After the church-building contention began, James M. Hendricks was appointed Class leader by the Methodists, and Samuel M. Knott as assistant and exhorter. As this church-building movement grew, Rev. A.A.P. Neel was sent to the Shepherdstown Circuit. He took up the idea, backed solidly by the whole Knott family, James M. Hendricks, E. Vic. Moler, Levi Moler and his son Lee Henry (from the latter the ground was obtained) M.M. Skinner, the Flanagans, Wrights, Foutzes, Catons, Taylors, Thompsons, Knodes, Bankses, Koontz and Fraleys. The church building became a reality. Rev. A.A.P. Neel had the honor of naming the new church, built and dedicated in 1874 , and he gave it the name of “Bethesda Methodists episcopal Church, South.” Rev. G.T. Tyler, at the request of Mrs. Margaret Knott, dedicated it.
The church building, erected right at the Cross Roads, was a simply designed structure, about 30 by 40 feet, weather-boarded with unusually good lumber, clear glass windows, straight backed pews, with an aisle running through the middle of the church, and a large coal stove in the middle of the church and aisle. The pulpit, dappled grey in color, was on a slightly raised rostrum surrounded by a railing. In the upper right-hand corner, called the “amen corner,” James M. Hendricks for years taught the men’s Bible class. In those days, very often many extra chairs were needed to seat the large attendance of men.
On the left side, beneath the window adjacent to the choir corner, on every preaching Sunday and seated on a low split-bottomed chair, you would see “Grandmother Margaret Knott” dressed in a black silk dress, white lace collar fastened with a black cameo pin, — a perfect setting and picture of the “Mother of Bethesda,” — and that is just what she was. That same chair and black cameo are prized possessions of a grand-daughter of hers to-day.
Church attendance was a habit with every one in those days of yore, and for every service, including Wednesday night prayer meetings the church pews were filled. The church prospered and grew and continued to exert a Christian influence in the whole neighborhood.
John O. Knott was the first to make a move to procure an organ. As he went from house to house collecting money, he was soundly abused by the village blacksmith, Mr. John shell, at his Cross Roads shop, for wanting to “praise the Lord by an organ.” The first organist was Etta Thomas. She was followed by Maggie S. Hendricks, who was organist for over fifty years. The present organist is Mrs. Margaret Knott, assisted by Mrs. Anna Carter.
For forty-two years this church filled the needs of the community when the younger members felt a more modern building of artistic design should replace this first one. The older ones, especially the Knott contingent, remembering the early days, were satisfied with what they had, — such an improvement over the old school building. A happy solution was finally reached when it was decided to utilize the old building by raising it intact, building a basement underneath using the windows from the church in it and putting modern windows in the church proper; building a vestibule and modernizing the whole interior. All this was accomplished under the pastorage of Rev. Absalom Knox, in 1916 .
The official board of, in 1874 , was as follows:
George S. Knott, Sunday School Superintendent,
Samuel M. Knott, Exhorter,
James M. Hendricks, Class Leader and Men’s Bible Class Teacher,
George S. Knott, Steward,
Samuel M. Knott, George S. Knott, James M. Hendricks, Trustees.
George S. Knott remained Superintendent of the Sunday School from 1874 until 1899 , a period of 25 years of Christian stewardship. Then James M. Hendricks was appointed in his place and remained until his death. M.M. Skinner, W.J. Knott, Jr., Jacob S. Reinhart and Dr. S.T. Knott have followed in succession. Dr. S.T. Knott, now ninety years of age, is still Bethesda’s Sunday School superintendent, and his assistant is M.S.R. Moler, of the Presbyterian faith.
For those interested in old records, and especially for those of us who are descendants of these church members of early days, I give below the last list of members at Reinhart’s Schoolhouse, in 1873 . (Sunday School role is not included.)
James M. Hendricks, Leader
Samuel M. Knott, Exhorter and Steward.
Margaret U. Knott
Maggie E. Knott
Sarah E. (Knott) Hendricks
Levi Moler (died June 14, 1872 )
E. Vic. Moler
Alcinda A. Caton
Margaret A. Caton
Margaret A. Miller
John P. Hoffman
David D. Fraley
Milton M. Skinner
Samuel J. Badger
Charles H. Wright
Margaret E. Foutz
Charles H. Knott
Anna A. Loudan
Mary E. Flanagan
Marbary E. Hoffman
John W. Mitchel
Alfred L. Knode
Emma G. Moler
Eliza B. Hoffmaster
Margaret D. Osborne
Sarah V. Caton
Sarah C. Knott
Alice Lee Flanagan
Ella V. Cloud
Margaret A. Koontz
Margaret E. Hoffman
Joseph E. Wright
Jeremiah B. Kauffman
Jacob A. Knode
Sallie A. Koontz
Elizabeth E. Koontz
Mary V. Bowers
Hester Ann Eccord
Lydia A. Cloud
George S. Knott
Catherine E. Mallatt
Clara J. Echart
Sue G. Knott
Benjamin F. Steele
A few little incidents of “ye olde days” may not be amiss to relate, and may be of interest to those interested in this particular locality.
One custom that was handed down to the first Methodist Church from the old Reinhart Schoolhouse days was that of all the men folks sitting on the right side of the church and the ladies on the left. This custom was strictly adhered to, and courageous indeed was the young man who braved criticism to sit beside his best girl at Sunday night prayer meeting. By the time of the rebuilding of Bethesda, this custom came to an end.
“Bush meetings” may be a term entirely unknown to the present generation, “Camp meeting” (which was really a later name for the same thing) may have a more familiar sound. Bush meetings were really held in the woods among the bushes. A clearing was made, briars and bushes cut out and a pulpit or a small platform erected. For seats, boards were laid upon strong stakes driven firmly into the ground. Folks sat for hours and listened to sermons and songs. They brought heavily laden baskets of food and stayed all day, and often until after the night service. Meetings often lasted ten days or longer.
The name became “Camp meeting” after people began erecting tents and staying overnight. Meetings were so arranged that they came between very busy seasons on the farms, and many availed themselves of this rest and change as a blessed vacation. I’ve been seriously informed that the physical rest and spiritual refreshment meant much to all those who availed themselves of this opportunity.
Bush meetings were very popular and were largely attended, often assuming proportions of our modern fairs. They were often marked by great and fervent religious fervor. But, sometimes, other things occurred not intended by the leaders. One such occasion was related to me by the late Mr. Jacob S. Reinhart, who was an eye-witness and could recall the occurrence in detail. He said that the largest bush meeting that he ever remembered was also the scene of the “Biggest fight” he ever saw.
Two crowds, attending from quite a distance, became so entangled that it bid fair to break up the whole meeting. Women and children ran screeching, and the noise of the meles frightened horses, tied to bushes and tree-limbs around the clearing, making them break loose. then it was that the “Old Confeds” took a hand, and chased the belligerents from the field, which must have reminded them of former days in the “Valley Campaign.” Quite was restored.
In retrospect, Molers Cross Roads community has always been an agricultural one. The only early industry besides farming was the Knott lime-stone quarry just below Knotts mill on the Potomac. This quarry was begun and owned by Samuel Knott who boated the stone on the canal to Georgetown and then burned it into lime. Later the Flanagan’s quarry was opened adjoining that of the Knotts. Three generations of the Knott family kept this stone business going until its final closing in 1912 . Samuel Knott was the pioneer of the stone business in Jefferson County.
To-day farming has added unto itself the business of dairying, fruit growing, and stock raising. The blacksmith shop of Mr. John Shell and the Moler’s Post Office are things of the past; the village store, church and two dwellings still stand at the Cross Roads. Many lovely old homesteads once owned by happy Christian families, are empty or torn down, although some homes and farms still remain in possession of the descendants.
Reluctantly, I record that church-going does not seem to have the urge it once did. The “Church by the Side of the Road” still stands ready to welcome all who come to her door. Great-great-grandchildren of Margaret Knott, the “Mother of Bethesda,” are on this church’s role to-day.
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