The structure began its life as a one room school house, then became a house of worship, and now it is being re-purposed again. But, let me go back and explain a little history.
There is a brick building on State Route 41, east of Covington, which for almost 90 years has been a meeting house for the Old Order German Baptist, a strict Christian faith group which still utilizes the horse-drawn buggy in daily life. Recently, the edifice was sold to a family who is planning on restoring and renovating the old structure as a personal residence.
For some, who are not familiar with the German Baptists, I thought I would add a very brief overview of their history.
Dunkards/Dunkers, German Baptists, Church of the Brethren, The Brethren Church, Dunkard Brethren and several other names have been utilized to describe several groups within this tradition of the Christian faith that has a long heritage in the Miami Valley, including Miami County.
Initiated in 1708 as particular Christian group in Schwarzenau, Germany, the Brethren were persecuted by the state officials. Like other Christian branches, they were tagged with a derisive name meant to humiliate them or be derogatory in nature. The name Dunkers, or its other variation Dunkards, described the group because of their particular form of baptism for new members. In the region that is now Germany, a country which was mostly Roman Catholic or Lutheran, both of which baptize infants, the Brethren believed the Bible only called for the baptizing of those who could profess their own faith. In addition, one of their earliest leaders believed they should practice trine baptism, i.e., baptizing (immersing a person in water) three times forward; once in the name of God the Father; once in the name of God, the Son, and once in the name of God, the Holy Ghost. Hence the name Dunkers.
About 11 years after their founding, the Brethren began immigrating to the United States because of the freedom that was offered by William Penn’s colony of Pennsylvania. In the freedom of that colony and then, later, with newfound freedom following the founding of the new nation, the Brethren began to migrate eastward. The Miami Valley was one of their strongholds and several “districts” of the group were organized over the years.
In 1881-82, and several times in later years, the Brethren divided into several branches and range in differences from the Old Order German Baptists, rejecting automobiles, current fashions and many modern conveniences, to the Church of the Brethren or even The Brethren Church (Ashland, Ohio), which would resemble many modern churches. The Miami Valley has almost all these branches of the Brethren within its territory to this day. Now, back to our story of the old school house.
In the 19th century, most of the local, rural education took place in one-room school houses, which were located at various sites throughout a township, and were administered by the board of education of the township. Slowly, as time encroached on the turn-of-the-century and especially during the first quarter of the 20th century, school districts began to consolidate their educational facilities. Today, families from rural areas send their children to central schools such as Miami East, Newton or Bethel, just to name a few.
During the time of the small schoolhouses, the Newberry Township Board of Education purchased two small plots of land in 1871 and 1872 and constructed what was known as Newberry School Building No. 9, which was located just opposite and a little southeast of the tiny Johnson Cemetery on State Route 41. Here children from the surrounding farms attended school for the next 30 years. Visions of little boys plopping the pig tails of girls they fancied into ink wells, or fighting in the school yard are brought to mind. Can you imagine the long, hot days of late spring in a brick building with very little ventilation?
In time, whether due to disrepair or the need for a larger facility, in 1902, the Newberry Board of Education purchased a small lot in Mulberry Grove from Emma Fisher. It was at that location the board of education constructed a new school house number 9 for the surrounding area. Mulberry Grove is the area around the intersection of Farrington Road and State Route 41, about a mile east of Covington.
The school district utilized the building for a number of years until its necessity became moot. In 1931, the board of education sold the old one-room school house to the Old Order German Baptist as a meeting house. The building was fit for their needs of an unadorned and simple structure in which to meet and worship. Not long after purchasing the property, the German Baptists utilized the bricks of another school house which was razed and added on to the Mulberry Grove building to better suit their needs. Here they faithfully met for almost 90 years as they celebrated God’s love by singing, preaching, fellowship and attending to the Love Feast.
These people of quiet faith have met here over the years, and residents of the area, if travelling to or from Covington on a given Sunday, would see many horse-drawn buggies coming to the meeting of the Brethren.
In 2016, the Old Order German Baptists purchased property just east on Farrington Road and have now constructed a newer, but still plain and simple, meeting house to better suit their needs. As a result, the old school house/meeting house was once again, not needed, therefore, it was sold. But, another person seeing what the structure could be came forward and purchased the old building.
The family who purchased the building is restoring and renovating it for a home, which I think is great. Some, who might have purchased it, may not have seen its beauty and potential and would have torn it down and started from scratch. This story is a reminder to us that some of the old historic buildings in the Miami Valley, even simple ones such as this, often require attention and need to be restored, preserved and re-purposed, if possible. Many of these buildings have character or strength that are sometimes absent in newer designs.
Patrick D. Kennedy is archivist at the Troy-Miami County Public Library’s Local History Library, 100 W. Main St., Troy. He may be contacted by calling (937) 335-4082 or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org