History of Melbourne Community Church



By Bill Caster

Melbourne Community Church has been here around for over 100 years. However, the history of the congregation dates back even further. One of the few stories written down was by Edna Neihof. She wrote, “The church once was located between the Trutschel and Reagh place on the north side of the highway (Rt. 8)”. In the book “The History of Melbourne, KY,” there are several maps. One of those maps shows the owners of different pieces of property, and it shows the names Trutschel and Reagh side by side. Also, in that book, there was the 1883 Lake Atlas. In just about the same place where the property line between the Trutschel and Reagh would be, there was a church called Berry’s Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church.

Berry’s Chapel dates back to November 17, 1871, when Taylor Berry sold 1/4 acre of land to the trustees of the Mount Pleasant Branch of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, for $1. Mount Pleasant Church is now called Highland United Methodist Church in Ft Thomas. The original deed stated that the building was to have originally housed a church and a district school, and if the church decided to abandon the building, then the land would go back to Taylor Berry. It is not known whether there was a school or not, but in 1879 Berry’s Chapel was listed in Mount Pleasant Methodist Episcopal Church’s charge. A deed from 1892 from Taylor Berry, who by then had moved to Kansas, stated that the clause put in about the land going back to him is no longer valid.

The C&O Railroad used to sponsor picnic excursions to Melbourne and those lots were on sale. A flyer from 1892 shows a round-trip ticket cost a whopping 15 cents. In 1894, there was an attempt to establish a church near Kenton Ave. in Melbourne. Disagreements among the brethren undermined the effort and the idea was abandoned.

On October 6, 1899, Mary Hannah of Lenoxburg, Ky., sold lot #363 to the trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South in Melbourne, for $30. On story states that Berry’s Chapel was put on rollers and pulled by horses to the lot where the church now stands and renamed Melbourne Methodist Episcopal Church, South. That story has not been verified. As soon as the new church opened, the first minister Rev. T.W. Barker took in the first new members, Mary E. Powers and Blanche Powers Spangler. Blanche’s daughter Alma Pombles was still a member of the church until she died.

October 29, 1902, saw the first wedding in the church when Rev. J.M. Johnson married William Appel and Lulla Baker.

In 1912, when the City of Melbourne was incorporated, they bought 4 gas or kerosene streetlight and one was placed next to the church. The original windows were 9 over 9 divided panes of glass and were clear. They had a decal placed over them to simulate stained glass. Before electricity, there were kerosene lamps hanging from hooks in the ceiling. The hooks can still be seen in the ceiling.

During the Great Flood of 1937, the church was flooded above the first section of the windows. Everything was ruined. The hymnals, the Bible, the piano, and the seats. The only thing saved was the altar rail which was made by Isaiah Guy around the late teens or early 20s and was found on top of the furnace. Even with the help of the WPA and other various organizations, it took several weeks to clean up the mud and light a fire to dry out the church. Services were held in some members’ homes. New seats were found in a Saylor Park, Indiana theater, and a new piano was bought. The wainscoting was cleaned up as well as it could be but was never the same. The new seats weren’t as good as the original but they were good enough. One story stated that when they were repapering the walls, everyone was allowed to write their names on the wall, and years later, when the walls were being worked on again, some of those names were still there

In 1961, it was decided to add Sunday School Rooms and a Fellowship Hall to the back of the church. Up until that time, all the different classes, which were about 5 or 6, were held in the sanctuary, and that made it very noisy and confusing. The children’s class was held in the foyer. Now you all can see how small that place is; even with the little table and the coatrack removed, it is very tiny and I don’t see how they got anything accomplished. On April 6, 1961, a loan was approved and signed, and construction began. In October 1961, the rooms were first used. Due to the lack of money, a flat roof was put on, but in May 1968, a gable roof was added. In April 1970, the loan was paid off and in May, there was a “Burning of the Mortgage” service.

The biggest change to the sanctuary came in 1973 when it was remodeled. The old theater seats were replaced with the pew benches, still in use. The old wainscoting was replaced with paneling. The only original piece of furniture left is the altar rail that survived the 1937 flood.

In 1983, disaster almost struck when it was discovered that termites had eaten away some of the old wooden main beam in the sanctuary. For several months, church services were held in the Fellowship Hall until a new steel beam was installed. In 1984, Arthur Neihof, son of one of the founders, cut the ribbon at the reopening service.

In 1999 to celebrate the church’s 100th anniversary, a centennial park was built. The centerpiece of the park is a cross made out of personalized brick. 2010 we remodeled the sanctuary again to bring it back to close to what it looked like before the 1973 renovation. In 2012, we had the outside repainted, new sidewalks poured as well as new steps going down to Fellowship hall. We also brought back some of the features that were covered up when the aluminum siding was installed.

In the early days, ministers were shared with other churches, like the circuit riding preacher or the circuit judge. He would have had maybe 2, 3, 4, or sometimes 5 different churches where he would preach. These churches were called a charge. He would ride around and preach at a different church each week, so sometimes services were held once a month, then twice a month, then in the 1950s, Bro. Mussman made it once a week. At one time, we were on the same charge as Dover and Maysville. The preacher would ride the train and a member of the church would house him until Monday. Some of the preachers didn’t like to ride the train on Sundays. In 1900 our pastor was paid $25. In 1904 we had a membership of 28. To date, there have been 45 different pastors that have served at Melbourne. Most of them served only a couple of years, but Bro. Dewey Sanders served the longest. He served for 12 years. In 2005 saw the church’s first woman pastor when Karla Fullwood started serving. Betty Jo Sommerville, an African American, came to our church serving 2010-June 2015. In July 2015, Pastor Ken Clift was assigned to our church.