Coalbrook Presbyterian Church Still Serving Neffs After 142 Years
By JOSELYN KING
NEFFS — Coalbrook Presbyterian Church sits stately along Ohio 149 in Neffs — just as it has for more than 142 years.
A brick facade and bright flowers welcome the congregation each Sunday, when about 25 members typically attend.
A decreasing population in the Neffs area — and other options for worship — have resulted in fewer attending services regularly at Coalbrook Presbyterian Church.
Mary Maker serves as clerk of session at the church, and she has been a member for more than 60 years. She remembers when the church served as a cornerstone of the community.
“Nowadays not so much,” she said. “There are other churches in Neffs, and the Presbyterian Church doesn’t have much appeal for moderns. Neffs has been losing population for a long time.
“It’s just certain people have been connected to this church for as long as they can remember.”
Maker said she began coming to the church as a child with her parents. Now 71 years old, she said most of the congregation is about her same age. And she wonders what will happen to the church as its membership grows older.
“People still come,” she said. “We have a few pretty faithful attenders.”
Coalbrook Presbyterian Church gained a reputation as a place where those in need in the Neffs area could go for help.
“Back in the days before welfare, people in the church who had misfortunes received support from the church,” Maker said. “The church had some rental property, which it provided at low rents to widows. The church has always helped those who couldn’t pay their bills.
“In many ways it supported community. These days the church provides Christmas presents for children in the community and looks after church shut-ins.”
Names featured prominently in the history of Coalbrook Presbyterian Church include Meek and Millicent Duvall, and their daughter Laura Groux also grew up in the church.
“Coalbrook was a big part of my childhood,” Groux said. “Starting in 1951, that is where my parents were married. Then in the following years, my brother and I were baptized and confirmed within those walls.”
Every Sunday the family attended services and Sunday school.
Meek Duvall was an elder in the church and its Sunday school superintendent. Millicent Duvall was a church deacon.
“The friends I made while singing in the junior choir then the adult choir are still very close in my heart,” Groux said. “In the 1960s, the church sponsored age-eligible children to attend Camp Presmont at Piedmont Lake. Those were great times!
“As my life path led me to leave the area and then to convert to Catholicism, my priest years ago complimented me by saying I was a unique ‘Presbyterian Catholic’ — the best of blends! So even after the girl left Coalbrook, the teachings stayed with her! Years ago after my return to the valley, I attended Sunday services at Coalbrook. It was like stepping back in time. So many familiar faces greeted me, and I felt like I had returned home.”
The History of Coalbrook Presbyterian Church
The seeds for the future Coalbrook Presbyterian Church were sown on March 14, 1871, when community members met in the St. Joe school to discuss the construction of a possible church for the community.
Two months later, a bid to build the original church building was awarded to J. Baggs and Sons, who also agreed to furnish the church and put in a water well and pump for the sum of $3,250.
It is uncertain when Coalbrook Presbyterian Church held its first service or was dedicated, but church records date back to March 1875.
The original 49 members were members of the nearby Rock Hill Church who petitioned to be dismissed to Coalbrook
For the next 49 years, the original church building served the community as church membership began to grow.
By March 1924, the congregation decided a new church should be constructed as it approached its 50th anniversary. At the time, church membership was 127 and Sabbath school membership was 189.
As a way to spur the drive for a new church building, member Franklin Neff offered to match dollar for dollar each dollar raised for the new church — with the amount not to exceed $20,000. Construction was started the following month by the Martin, Orr and Martin firm of Columbus, Ohio. Between April and November of 1924, the congregation met in the former Neffs school building.
It was on Nov. 2, 1924, that the new building opened.
A history of the church states that the Rev. J.M. Gaston of Pittsburgh offered both a morning and an afternoon sermon that day — and that attendance exceeded capacity.
Following the services, the congregation learned the cost of the new church structure to be $39,000. The congregation had raised $16,000 of the needed funds, while Neff contributed $16,250.
Over the next year, membership in the church had increased from 127 to 215. But the Great Depression took its toll on the local coal mining industry and church membership then began to decrease.
The church continues to host services at 9:30 a.m. on Saturdays.