By John J. Baughman
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the Robertson Meeting House, the oldest surviving building of Indiana United Methodism. It was built in 1807 for Nathan Robertson on his farm in Clark County, just north of present day Charlestown, Ind.
Natha Robertson, a native of Maryland, moved his family to Indiana Territory in 1799 by way of 12 years spent in frontier Kentucky. Converted early to Methodism, Robertson entertained "exhorters" in his home and when Presiding Elder William McKendree of the Western Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church organized the first three Methodist classes in Indiana in 1801, he created one in the Robertson home. Six years later our present remaining log meeting house was built on the farm by Andrew Mitchell for the Robertson class.
For the next fifty years the Robertson Meeting House was used for church services, visited by such noteworthy early Indiana circuit riders as Peter Cartwright, as a location for many early camp meetings, and was surrounded by pioneer graves.
After 1857, the Meeting House became a farm building, was neglected, moved, restored, continually needing upgrading. Its next to last move in 1954 was to the campus of DePauw University near the Gobin Memorial UMC. The name (Old Bethel) was then used and many became familiar with it under that name. In 1995 title was transferred to the Conference Corporation of the South Indiana Conference. With funding through the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, the South Indiana Conference United Methodist Historical Society and the Conference itself, the Robertson Meeting House was restored to its original appearance, moved to the grounds of the Rivervale campground. It continues to be used for a chapel of worship as well as a historical teaching tool.
In 1975 the Robertson Meeting House was officially registered as a National Historic Site of the United Methodist Church by the General Commission of Archives and History. This little log church, measuring only twenty by thirty feet, built of hewed poplar boards, clapboard roof and puncheon floor can look forward to its third century of usefulness in ministry by Indiana Methodists.
1807 was also a memorable year in United Methodist History in Indiana for that year the first circuit completely in Indiana Territory, the Silver Creek, was created in Clark's Grant. This year also marks the 200th anniversary of the first annual conference of Albright's People in Pennsylvania, which took the name Evangelical Alliance at their first general conference in 1816. It eventually joined with the United Brethren Church and later with The United Methodist Church.
John J. Baughman serves as president of the Indiana United Methodist Historical Society.