The Historic Hopewell Church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is recognized for its important and unique history. The families of the church first came from Scotland, immigrating to the United States in 1772, eventually settling in Hopewell, South Carolina. In 1805, about 20 families left their homes and headed northwest to Ohio because they were opposed to slavery and their church in South Carolina would not condemn and oppose slavery. These abolitionist families came to “Beech Woods” in what is now Israel Township, Ohio. They held church services at their homes until 1808 when they built the first Hopewell Church, a 30x30ft log building.
From these humble beginnings, the congregation of Hopewell Church continued to grow for the next 100 years. The log building was replaced by a beautiful brick church in 1825. At one point Hopewell Church had over 400 families, and the church was an important site for many events in congregants' lives. Some of these events and families are described on the history pages on this site, and more information is available in on our HHC Publications page.
Historic Hopewell Church is also important for its contributions to the National Underground Railroad, the network of people and places that provided safe haven and resources to help slaves escape to freedom. Documents and stories tell how members of the Hopewell Church risked their lives to hide and help slaves escaping to the North, including several who were well-known conductors: Ebenezer Elliott, Nathan Brown and Gabriel Smith, the latter who was a former slave freed in Ohio in the 1830's. The church members were also active in trying to persuade other churches to condemn slavery. While facing opposition and risk, the members stood strong in their values. As a staunchly abolitionist congregation, many members of the church fought for the Union and a number of veterans are buried in the cemetery adjacent to the church. The church has been recognized by the Friends of Freedom Society for its role in the Underground Railroad.
Throughout the 19th-century, the church membership continued to grow, often exceeding its capacity. So from 1835-1879, four daughter churches were organized and built in nearby towns of Fairhaven, Oxford, College Corner and Morning Sun. As the daughter churches expanded, in part because they were located in more residential areas, the membership of the Hopewell Church began to decline. In 1915 the church ceased to be an active church.
For decades, the church building was basically abandoned, but then in the early 1960s, when the church building was facing demolition, community members and descendants of the original families rallied to the church’s rescue, saving the building. They eventually formed Historic Hopewell Church, Incorporated, a non-profit dedicated to preserving the church grounds and to keeping community connections.
Historic Hopewell Church continues to serve the surrounding community, providing an important historical landmark and, in the summer months and at Christmas, an active place of worship.
Please see the other history pages for more information.