There are older churches in Jefferson County, Missouri, but there probably are few that remain as quaint and well preserved as the little church called Belew Creek Chapel on Hillsboro-House Springs Road in the Hillsboro area.
The Belew Creek Chapel congregation was organized on Oct. 8, 1912, as a Presbyterian church, according to “Churches of Jefferson County” written by Jo Burford.
Before the church building was constructed, the congregation met in the General Store and Post Office on the northeast corner of Goldman and Hillsboro Roads. Church charter members included Amy and Roscoe Elstrot, Mrs. Sarah Dickemann, Katherine and Bertha, Mrs. A. Blumenthal, Mrs. Kate Heiland, and Mrs. Charles Steidel, Burford said in her account.
The members were a small, but mighty group whose church met a need in the community, or at least they promoted it well because by the time Christmas rolled around just three months later, there were 83 people singing hymns in the holiday service.
The construction of the little church began early that following year. Charles and Jennie Steidel donated an acre and a half of property. A contractor from Fredericktown was hired to draw up the plans for the church, but the labor itself was provided by the men in the church and community. Pews were handmade the same year the church was built. The pulpit, lectern, cross and communion table were all hand-made. Finally, the little church was ready for services in the summer of 1914, Burford said.
It may not seem so long ago, but 100 years ago the Hillsboro area was a quiet rural place. Electricity was still two decades in the future. Most people still traveled by horse and buggy or walked, and preachers were too scarce in the wilds of Jefferson County to devote all their time to one church.
Belew Creek Chapel was one of four Presbyterian churches that shared a minister, who visited each church one Sunday a month. Belew's Creek Chapel shared its minister with the sister churches of Cedar Hill, Hillsboro and Horine, and the ministers of the day traveled miles on horseback or on foot just to serve the congregations, according to Burford.
But the people traveled too. Sunday school was held every week and at least one Sunday school teacher was well appreciated, according to the history.
“Among those young people who attended Mrs. Morris' Sunday School class was a brother and sister – Lloyd and Wilma Reissing. Lloyd now lives in Hillsboro. ‘I must have been around 12,' he told us, ‘when I attended Mrs. Morris Sunday School class. My parents belonged to a church up near Antonia and we didn't get to church very often because of the distance. So, Wilma and I joined eight or 10 other kids of the community and we all walked five or six miles on each Sunday to sit in Mrs. Morris' Sunday School class. She was just wonderful.’”
But life is full of adversity and the Belew’s Creek community had their share. One year a fire broke out that destroyed all of the buildings on the southeast corner of the Belew's Creek community. Miraculously, however, the chapel was spared.
And today, it still appears the chapel has been spared, perhaps by divine favor and certainly by the faithful devotion of a few.
Although the membership was diminished, the church survived World War I and the depression, but after a well loved pastor, Daniel Moore, who served the four churches, left, the church struggled again.
“Upon his leaving, the small church was once again left without a minister and the struggle to hold together began all over again but worse was yet to come. The Second World
War, with its demands for all-out effort, affected the whole community and along with it, the church, Burford wrote.
Services continued to be held intermittently as they found speakers. The years between 1955 and 1960 were “silent” years when the church was held together by a few souls. In 1962, the church was vandalized and locked.
In 1974, the Chapel separated from the Presbyterian Church to become a non-denominational church. There were still 26 members at that time.
In 1980, circumstances improved, and about another acre of land adjoining the church property site was purchased and a well was drilled. Church members then added indoor plumbing and air conditioning. But even with modern improvements inside the building, the remnants of those early years still adorn the church.
Belew's Creek Chapel is lighted by old wall-hanging kerosene lamps that have been wired for electricity along with a chandelier of the same design. The wooden pews made the same year the church was built glow “with the satiny richness of old polished walnut,” Buford wrote. And the church at 8144 Hillsboro-House Springs Road still holds services at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays.
Belew Creek Church photo is the property of Mark Schuver Photography - Used with permission