Prepared by Julie Boozer, Ph.D., November 26, 2000
It is known that folks met for religious services in the Friendship School at Mack’s Corners as early as 1856 and this gathering was called the Elk Sabbath School. By 1862, this group became affiliated with the United Brethren Church and in 1882 constructed a church across the road from the schoolhouse. During the 1860s, at least three other Elk Township groups of United Brethren were worshipping in services conducted by circuit riding ministers from Erie. One was located in the school at the corner of the Cable Hollow and Robbin Hill Roads in northern Elk Township and two were here in southern Elk Township.
In 1874, the Church of the Seven Dolors was constructed on the Roper Hollow Road to meet the spiritual needs of nine Irish Catholic families that had moved to Quaker Hill. Its center doors opened into the sanctuary, which featured fine alter furniture, a reed organ and kneeing benches upholstered in red velvet. The building was removed in 1941, but its cemetery remains with stones honoring its early Catholic pioneer families.
The very first Swedish families arrived in Elk Township in the 1850s. My own Swedish family arrived in the 1870 wave of Scandinavian immigration and they settled on the newly opened Peterson Road. In 1873, my great-grandparents built the log house and barn that Bob and I live in today. (This southern part of Elk Township was the last to be settled and is where the Scandinavians concentrated.) The Swedes kept swarming and more than 50 families arrived in Elk Township the 1890s.
It is well to remember that in Sweden they had been on the bottom step of a feudal political system. The landed gentry owned huge farms, for which the peasant population provided the labor. These peasants could not own property, could not vote, nor could they relocate without permission. They were essentially serfs that worked five or maybe six days for the manor farm, hopefully leaving enough time to grow sufficient crops on their little tenant farm to feed their growing families. My ancestors made charcoal to burn in the stoves of the manor house, hopefully reserving a little to burn in their own stove. We can only imagine how hard life in Sweden must have been and how great the promise of freedom in the New World must have seemed to them. As the Lutheran Church was the only church in Sweden at that time, these new immigrants were Swedish peasants bringing their Lutheran heritage. My own family had lived for at least 250 years within the thirty mile radius of two small Lutheran Parishes. Having never been more than a few miles from home, it astounds me to think of how my ancestors as 18 year old single men and women ever had the courage to sail to America, a land they had only heard about in stories.
The growth of Elk Township’s Swedish churches reflected this Swedish immigration pattern. The Swedish Methodist Episcopal Church was constructed in 1874, on the Cole Hill Road, just west of what we know today as Scandia Corners. Only its foundation stones and overgrown cemetery remain to remind us of its presence in our community. At about the same time, a house of worship was erected on this very lot called the Evangelical Lutheran Lebanon Church. Minutes for the first few years are unavailable, but at a business meeting held on October 15, 1877 at the church, a resolution was unanimously passed to withdraw from the Augustana Synod of the Lutheran Church. The reason given was that they had not received the spiritual help promised them nor the financial aid for building the church so they preferred to work independently. The spirit of the resolution was very friendly, closing with the words, “May now God’s grace and peace abide with us all. Let us part as friends and brethren in the Lord and not as enemies.” This document was signed with a dozen Swedish family names such as Erickson, Olsson and Hultberg. In 1878, a constitution was adopted and lots in the adjacent cemetery, just east of this sanctuary, were staked out and assigned to each family. My family ancestors rest there today, however their graves are under the macadam parking lot. In 1879, a Sunday school program was begun with five faculty members including a superintendent and a secretary.
Despite the fact that the 1877 Constitution categorically declared that the name of the church shall never be changed, in 1884, it was altered to become The Swedish Lebanon Church and again, just one year later, to become The Swedish Christian Church of Quaker Hill. (Remember the name Scandia had not yet come into usage.) A new constitution was adopted in 1885 specifying that only those confessing salvation could become members. Throughout the late 1800s, the pastor’s annual salary was $300 and a cord of wood from each member. If he was lucky some families might also have given him some grain for his horse. By 1887, the church membership had grown to almost 50. In 1892, they called a minister all the way from Sweden, the Rev. K.E. Bergstrom, who served this congregation for four years. The photograph shown on the cover was taken during those years.
On August 22, 1892, a decision was reached to demolish the old church building and construct a new one, which would measure 32 X 52 feet. Amazingly, it took only three months to complete and the dedication service was held that November. Twenty three pews and a pulpit were purchased. As most of the labor was donated by members, the building fund slightly exceeded $500. It is interesting to note that when payment was given, a man’s daily wage was $1.50, whereas with a team of horses, he could make as much as $3.50 per day.
This church flourished in the late nineteenth century, however by the beginning of the twentieth century, the exodus from Quaker Hill’s rocky soil and short growing season to the lure of steady jobs in the thriving industries of Warren and Jamestown was sadly evident. Increasing numbers of Church families moved off the hill, which made the next thirty years quite lean. The church was reduced to a part-time minister, but its tenacious membership of 19 struggled forward.
In 1937, the name was changed to the Scandia Swedish Mission Covenant Church and in 1947 to the Scandia Mission Covenant Church, dropping the Swedish designation. By now all of the minutes were in English. By the late forties, there were indications that the church would not survive. Many of its sons, who had left for service in WW II, did not return to the family farm and membership continued to decline.
Things turned around in the 1950s. Fifteen new members joined the church almost doubling the membership. The first excavation of the church basement was completed to provide a meeting hall for church suppers and Sunday school rooms outside of the sanctuary.
By the close of the twentieth century, the church has expanded the excavation of the basement several more times and has completed an entirely new Sunday school wing with clergy offices. In 2000, the membership was growing and the minister, James Swanson, was full-time, energetic, talented, and even had a Swedish surname! The sanctuary has been completely modernized and about all that remains from yesterday is the magnificent reed organ.
In December 1895, that’s 105 years ago, in this very building where we are seated today, the minutes record the following words:
“At this meeting (December 1895), we had decided to meditate upon Colossians 3:16. We had a good discussion on this text, prayers and testimonies and then the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.”
Colossians 3:16 reads, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you rich in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
A History of Elk Township. Warren County. Pennsylvania, complied by the Elk Township Historical Society, Laura Brainard and Ethel Young, editors, 1994.
Forsammlings bok for Sv. Kristna Missions Forsamlingen, Scandia, Warren, Pa. 1877 (Original Minutes of Scandia Covenant Church) 1877.
Original membership list (in Swedish), Scandia Covenant Church, 1877 Programs of Scandia Covenant Church anniversary celebrations, 1937 – 1997