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The Brake Church[1]

The Brake Church (first listed in the Yearbook in the late 1920s as North Mill Creek) is located three miles south of Petersburg on the lower reaches of the North Mill Creek on the road to Dorcas. It is very close to the ancient Shobe house. Its location puts it in the very heart of a most historic area, settled by Brethren two hundred twenty years ago.

Although the church is said to have been built in the 1920, the land for the church was deeded (BK 29, 262) on May 14, 1921 by Isaac and Ida Shobe to I. William Sites, George C. Thorn, and John K. Wratchford, trustees for the local congregation of the Church of the Brethren, who paid $30.00 for the lot. It was located on the North Mill Creek near the junction with South Mill Creek and was adjacent to a corner of the Brake Schoolhouse lot. Before 1920, the people met in the Brake Schoolhouse.

The church took its name from Jacob Brake, probable son or grandson of settler John Brake, who lived in the vicinity and was described as a “Baptist.” Although Brethren meetings have been held within the area with the exception of perhaps a few decades since the 1700s, local records go back only to around 1900. At the time, a congregation of about thirty people was meeting in schoolhouses.

The Shobe family donated land for school which was also used as a meeting house.[2] It was built around 1908 as related by Laura (Thorn) Ours to the writer. Laura Ours, born September 8, 1886, was the daughter of Nimrod and Dianna Thorn. The Thorn Family was Brethren for five or more generations but is mostly gone now from the area. Laura was baptized at the age of nineteen by a minister who came from “over the mountain” on horseback, perhaps from South Fork. The first church was built a couple years after that, she said. She probably referred to the community building of the schoolhouse. This group was part of the North Mill Creek congregation.

Around 1920, desiring its own place of worship, the group built the Brake Church, using mostly donated lumber and free labor. Remembered as working on the building were George Thorn, Jacob Thorn, and Thomas Vance.

Early families as given to the writer by Laura (Thorn) Ours were: Crites, Thorn, Shobe, Bergdoll, Judy, Helmick, Sites, Garber, and Wratchford. Many of those family names are included in Elder John Kline’s diary. Mrs. Ours found it difficult at age 100 to recall any more names. A Shook family also belonged (Gospel Messenger, Feb. 8, 1936)

 

The Thorn Family:

With five generations of affiliation with the church of the Brethren, the Thorn family is worthy of special mention. These families were the most numerous in this congregation. The Thorns are among the earliest settlers in the South Branch Valley. The Name Peter Thorn also appears in Augusta County[3] records as early as May 18, 1748 when he went surety for the administration of the estate of John Woolffallier (Wolfinger?).

Peter Thorn died February of 1758, after having his will written on Jan. 30. His widow married John Stradler. Court records (Chalkley, Vol. 2, 98) reveal the names of Peter’s children: 1) Henry, the oldest who died by 1751, leaving a widow Sarah who married Adam Harpole. 2) Michael, whose wife was Cathrine; 3) Tobias, who died intestate from a falling tree in 1764 leaving a widow Eve (Bylery) and an infant son, Michael. Michael died at the age of 21 leaving no heirs; and 4) Lazarus, who together with Tobias, was to serve as executor and care for their mother.

In light of the above information, it appears that most of the South Branch Thorns are descended from Michael and Lazarus Thorn.

Peter Thorn’s neighbors were Henry Crouchman, George Reid, John Wilson, George Snyder who moved to Redstone, George See, John Sebely, Michael Moore, Anthony Baker, and Moses Hutton.

 

The Sites Family:

Two Brethren Ministers, Sampson G. Sites and his son Isaac William Sites, were descendants of the Brethren Sites family of Brake and Rough Run communities. The parents of Sampson G. Sites were John and Hannah Teter (Tederick) Sites. John was a son of Jacob Sites and the grandson of George Sites.[4] John Sites had a sister, Barbara, who married the well-known schoolteacher, physician and minister, Emmanuel Iman (Eyman). Emmanuel was the son of Christian Eyman. Many of the Eyman family[5] were Brethren and lived on Iman’s Run, the home of Emmanuel. Peter Eyman, moved to Ohio, where he served as a leading Brethren minister. In Hardy County, the Eymans intermarried with the Brethren families of Stockey, Hyer, Peacock, Landes, and Power.

A brother of Rev. Sampson G. Sites, William Isaiah, born ca. 1840, married Anna Rebecca Bergdoll, daughter of Aaron and Hannah Ketterman Bergdoll. At least one of their children, Hannah Elizabeth (1875-1967), was a member of the Bethel Church of the Brethren.

 

Rev. Sampson G. Sites

Born May 3, 1843 and died March 2, 1916, S.G. Sites served for a few years as elder of the North Mill Creek congregation, preaching in the several preaching points of Bethel, Brake, Rough Run, and also in the preaching point so South Mill Creek congregation.

The Sites family lived for many years east of Rough Run. Sampson did not unite with the church until relatively late in life. He was a carpenter, stone mason, mechanic and the (best chimney builder in the country” (Sites, My First Eighty Years.) As a young man , he owned a still which supplied, among others, the Confederate soldiers that were stationed nearby. It is said that the Confederate officer allowed him to remain undrafted in return for access to the still.

On January 24, 1865, Sampson married Catherine E. Simons, and their children included B. Harvey Sites (1872-1956); J. Charles Sites (1877-1958); George E. Sites (1880-1961); Rev. Isaac William Sites (1875-1955); Hannah S. Judy (1884-1978); C/ Elizabeth Judy (1882-1962); David Eston Sites (1882- ?); and Dr. Edgar Curry Sites (1892- 1967).

Sampson as a young man undoubtedly had contact with Elder John Kline. Kline would come to visit the Isaac Shobe family., and the Sites family at the time lived on land that belonged to the Shobe plantation. Later in life, the home of Sampson and Catherine Sites often provided hospitality for traveling ministers. A grandson, Virgil Sites, recalls stories of the visits of Jacob Garber and Isaac Myers.

Sampson G. united with the Church in 1891, and in a few years he was called to the ministry. He took his calling with the utmost seriousness. He and his wife followed traditional dress code of the Dunkers. He was ordained elder in 1902. By 1911, he was in charge of the congregation. He was its first known resident elder. He preached a heavy schedule, usually traveling to more distant places on horseback. His wife was described as being of great aid and comfort to the sick., often going on horseback across rough trails to minister on call. Elder Sites’ funeral was preached by Arthur W. Arnold who was serving Tearcoat congregation at the time (Gospel Messenger April 1, 1916)

 

Rev. Isaac William Sites

A son of Elder Sampson G. Sites. Isaac was born Aug. 15, 1875 and died October 1955. He was first married on Nov. 15, 1899 to N. Blanche Iman (Eyman) who died Sept. 1, 1928. Following her death, he moved to North Manchester Indiana, where he lived the remainder of his life. He married second, Sally C. Hedrick who survived him and returned to her home community in her last years. She died January 1982 at the age of ninety-eight.

The home of I.W. and Blanche was located a half mile wet of the Brake Church which I.W. served while he lived in the community. He also preached at Bethel, Rough Run, Dumpling Run, and other churches near by. He was called “Preacher Will,” and was often sought after for funerals and weddings.

A son Virgil recalls that it was through “Preacher Will’s” efforts that the Brake Church was built around 1920

 

Earliest Ministers:

The oldest minister recalled by the local people were Samuel G. Sites and his son I. William Sites, followed by Peter I. Garber. Earlier visiting ministers were Jacob A. Garber (1853-1915) and Isaac C. Myers (1893-1925). Jacob A. Garber was the father of Peter I. Garber. Both of these men were ministers and Elders at Greenmount to which the North Mill Creek congregation belonged in its earliest days (Zigler, 1914, 185-187). The ministers of Greenmount and Linville Creek churches labored many decades to build up the North Mill Creek and South Mill Creek churches. The North Mill Creek was large enough by 1910 to have its own elder and be organized. Pastors of Brake Church are given in the Yearbook have been, John P. Litton (1959-1964); Raymond Helmick (1968-1978); Craig Howard (1981 to the present). Other ministers mentioned have been Harman Turner and Carl Mauzy. The membership as of 1987 was 179.

 

[1] Bittinger, Emmert F. "Churches of the South Branch Territory." In Allegheny Passage: Churches and Families, West Marva District, Church of the Brethren, 1752-1990, 408-11. 4th ed. Camden, ME: Penobscot Press, 1991.

[2] West Virginia communities often built. School houses with the understanding that they would be used also as houses of worship.

[3] This area was once included in Augusta County, as was most of the present state of West Virginia. Consequently, the oldest land and court records are located in Staunton Virginia

[4] See the Sites family in the chapter on the South Branch Settlement.

[5] See the Eyman family under South Branch Settlement

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