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By Anne E. Allen

The Monroe Presbyterian Church was a small country church established in Ridpath, Monroe Township, Jefferson County, Indiana. The church grounds, as well as the surrounding farms, were purchased by the Federal Government to form the Jefferson Proving Ground in 1941. The church was located in Section 21 of Monroe Township.

The spiritual beginning, if not the actual beginning, of the Monroe Presbyterian Church started with the formation of the Middle Fork Presbyterian Church on 25 September 1830. The name was subsequently changed to the Lancaster Presbyterian Church. A few years later, the members (mirroring a national Presbyterian conflict) split into two sides over the interpretation of the Westminster Confession, a cornerstone of the Presbyterian Church. Part of the church conflict was over slavery. The “Old Style” approach was more conciliatory toward Southern Presbyterians, while the “New Stylers”, including the founders of Monroe, sided with the New England abolitionists. Though most of the congregates were probably against slavery, they differed in the importance they assigned to its removal. Several of the “New Stylers” who would found Monroe, like Robert Elliott, Jr., were active in the antislavery movement. Elliott drove a wagon for a meat-packing plant and also transported runaway slaves from Madison to his farm north of town, one stop on their way to freedom.

The division between the two groups was formalized on 22 June 1839, when the Old Style adherents wrote a statement of beliefs in the session book and appended their names. (This statement was apparently excised from the book.) The session book records the names of members who would stay with the old church, and those who broke away to start a new one--the Lancaster Presbyterian Church, New Style, which eventually became the Monroe Presbyterian Church, once again taking the name from the township. The 1839 date was considered to be the founding date for the new church. This group also kept the original session book begun in 1830.

The church struggled for a period, meeting in various homes before realizing that if they were going to grow, they needed a building. Anthony and Elizabeth Elliott offered a lot from their farm on which to build the church. Nathan Yost was hired to dress the stone quarried from along Middle Fork Creek, and to direct the construction crew. The church building was completed in 1844, costing less than $500 in cash.

With the completion of the building, the church began to grow. After the Civil War, the natural affection of the separated families and neighbors led to the reunion of the Lancaster and Monroe congregations in September 1870. Monroe was kept as the name of the unified church. In the ensuing years, it grew with the small town, Ridpath, which developed around the church. The Monroe Church Centennial was celebrated in August 1939. The final service was held on 16 February 1941, with the Reverend Daniel Simpson leading the worship. The church was a continuously active force in the community for over 110 years and was an anchor and mainstay for generations of families in Monroe Township.

Copyright by Anne Allen

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