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From the El Reno Tribune, Sunday October 5, 1997

El Reno Tribune newspaper masthead

Moving day

Historic church gets new home in city

By Pat Hammert  Staff Writer

Churches, especially ancient ones, aren't moved down the street in El Reno every day. When Canadian County Historical Society and former members of Mennoville Church undertook to move the 106-year-old church to a new home Friday, the maneuverings drew a crowd of onlookers.

The old Mennonite church was moved to the Canadian County Historical Museum grounds for protection and so that care could be taken in restoration, said organizer Ed Zweiacher.

Loaded up about 10 a.m. at its site six miles north of El Reno, the church was moved V- e-r-y slowly and carefully south on U.S. 81, then west on the red-bricked Watts Street to Heritage Square.

Utility trucks went ahead to move utility lines and sheriff's deputies and local police halted the busy highway traffic. The entourage made its way without incident, arriving about noon.

Another group was awaiting its arrival at the square. Among them was the oldest living member of Mennoville Church, Bertha Zweiacher Smith, 87, of El Reno.

She said she was delighted that the old building was being moved. She was taken to service there as a baby by parents and grandparents but her first memories are when she was 5.   "It will be a nice memorial to my parents and grandparents," Smith said.

Western District Conference of Mennonite Churches in Oklahoma held the deed to the church which was officially turned over to the museum officers once the church was unloaded onto footings.

There it will rest permanently in a tree-shaded plot between Old Possum Holler Schoolhouse and the gazebo.

Bertha Smith, 87, sits in the shade of an elm tree at Heritage Square while workers unload the historic Mennoville Church


Bertha Smith, 87, sits in the shade of an elm tree at Heritage Square while workers unload the historic Mennoville Church from the moving truck. Smith is the oldest living church member of the 106-year-old Mennonite church. She is sitting on one of the original handcarved oak chairs used for worship

Building More than a century old

Mennoville Church building is 106-years-old and was the first general conference Mennonite church to be organized in Indian Territory.   It is the oldest such church in the state of Oklahoma.

Presently the building is owned by Western District Conference of Mennonite Churches in Oklahoma but is being deeded to the Canadian County Historical Society.

Mennoville was organized in 1891 by 12 Mennonite families who homesteaded between El Reno and Okarche, according to Wilma McKee of Hydro, who serves a historian of the Western District Conference.

A recent article in The Mennonite said the church organization was aided by H.R. Voth and other missionaries from Darlington, who worked with the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians.

The congregation had 27 charter members and the building was placed on two acres of land purchased for $10 by Joe Springer of Berne, Ind., who became the first minister.

Other ministers, Henry Funk and H.D. Voth, a missionary, W.C. Voth and a deaconess Zippora Meschberger came from the congregation.

In later years, J.S. Krehbiel of Geary traveled 56 miles round trip by horse and buggy twice a month to preach morning and evenings.

The highest membership was 31 in 1911. Since 1959, no regular services have been held.  A marker was placed to denote the buildings and grounds a historical site in 1972 and in 1975 more than 100 people attended a commemoration service.

The Mennonite Oklahoma Convention celebrated Mennoville's 100th anniversary in 1991.

This was an historic event for our families and community. Our goal is to restore this church to its orginal 1893 beauty. However this will take alot of time, work and material. If you know of anyone that can assist with this project in either time, labor, or funds please contact Tom Zweiacher by email or snailmail at:

Tom Zweiacher
PO Box 275
Bethany, Ok 73008