Methodism was established in Salem County in the late 1700’s. Shortly after, it gained a foothold in Sharptown. At first, the Sharptown Methodists met in a brick farmhouse about one mile north of Sharptown on King’s Highway at the home of William Clark. When this private home became too small to accommodate the meetings, it was decided that a new building should be built. The first church, called the Pilesgrove Meeting House, was erected in 1795. This church was located a short distance outside of Sharptown, towards Penns Grove, as the village of Sharptown was considered too wicked for a church. Isaac Vannamen and Simon Sparks were the principal men involved in the building of the meeting house.

In the early days, the church belonged to the Salem Circuit, and regular preaching was heard during the week. At other times, preaching was done by men of the church. John Murphy was a frequent speaker for ten to twelve years. James Newell came into the church by certificate and was licensed to preach shortly after he moved into the community. Until he relocated to Quinton’s Bridge by transfer of certificate, he was a great influence upon the church.

In 1831 Rev. Walter Burrows was the preacher in charge of the Salem Circuit. He soon realized that the Pilesgrove Meeting House was not adequate to accommodate all the people on special occasions such as two-day meetings and quarterly meetings. At such times the women filled the buildings while the men had to remain outside. At a meeting called by Rev. Burrows, the members decided that a new church was necessary. However, there was a difference of opinion as to where the church should be located. Some wanted the church built in the same site while others wanted the building to be located in Sharptown. A vote was taken, and it was decided that the building should be built on the Pilesgrove site. A subscription was started to raise funds for the construction. However, due to the lack of whole-hearted participation, fund raising became difficult and no further progress was made.

In 1833 Rev. Burrows decided to pursue this much needed building and he addressed the question of location of the new building to the quarterly conference of the Salem Circuit. Following deliberation, the quarterly conference recommended that the new building should be placed at the Sharptown site. During that same calendar year, the Salem Circuit was divided and Sharptown Church came under the authority of a new circuit, the Swedesboro Circuit.

The Rev. John Walker was the preacher overseeing the Swedesboro Circuit, and he was the one who laid the cornerstone for the Sharptown Methodist Church in 1833. The walls were erected before cold weather and the building was discontinued for lack of funds. Construction upon the building was continued in the fall of 1834 and the building was completed in the spring of 1835.

The church was of brick construction measuring 35’ x 50’ with galleries on three sides. It is recorded that the sanctuary was capable of seating approximately 500 people. Upon entering the front door into the vestibule, there were duplicate stairways leading to the galleries, of which the left one remains. There was no center door or aisle. The pews were divided into three sections with two aisles and doors leading to them. The original door locations can still be seen in the wall at the rear of the sanctuary. The Rev. R. Petherbridge dedicated the new building at the first quarterly meeting of the Swedesboro Circuit.

In the spring of 1838 the Methodist Society of Sharptown felt the necessity of having preaching every week. This was not being cared for by the traveling ministers of the Swedesboro Circuit. The Woodstown Society, which was part of the Salem Circuit, also expressed the need for weekly preaching. The leaders of the Woodstown and Sharptown societies petitioned the authorities of their respective circuits, and the request for these two circuits to be united and placed on one circuit was granted. Rev. D. W. Bartine was appointed as the first pastor, and preaching for the Woodstown congregation was scheduled for the morning and for Sharptown in the afternoon. Rev. Bartine remained for only one year.

The following ministers were appointed to this charge:

Charles T. Ford: 1839 – 1840
W. A. Wilmer: 1841 – 1842
A. K. Street: 1843 – 1844
Mulford Day: 1845 – 1846
J. W. McDougal: 1847 – 1848
John F. Crouch: 1849 – 1850
J. Atwood: 1851 – 1852

In 1853 the connection between the Woodstown Society and the Sharptown society ceased. Sharptown became an independent ministerial charge. Rev. David Duffield became the preacher of the Sharptown charge for that year and also the year to follow. In 1855, under the leadership of Rev. Joseph Gaskill, the society of Sharptown began to reach out to the surrounding community, and an additional class meeting was organized at Wiley’s Schoolhouse. The preacher would convene afternoon meetings at this location every other Sunday. Rev. J. S. Heisler continued these meetings during his appointment from 1857 through 1858.

The church was incorporated in 1866 under the name of The Pilesgrove Methodist Episcopal Church at Sharptown. It has been concluded that the first and most radical alterations to the church building took place sometime in the mid 1870’s. At this time the side galleries were removed and a new window design was utilized. Originally all windows were identical to the exterior front windows. Each side of the building had four windows upstairs along the galleries and four downstairs. When the side galleries were removed, the current windows were installed. At that time, the four windows on the front exterior wall were bricked up. Also, the pulpit alcove was added. When these alterations were completed, the church was re-plastered. The ceiling medallions were fitted with two large kerosene chandeliers and the walls maintained several double-cast brass brackets which held kerosene lamps replete with cut crystal prisms and frosted shades. (These sconces were still observed in the 1940’s.) In addition to the lighting, new pulpit furniture was purchased and included three Victorian Gothic chairs, a Victorian marble-top altar table, and a pair of Victorian walnut and cane arm chairs.

During the years 1886 to 1889, when Rev. Corson Pennington served as pastor of Sharptown, a new church was built at Haines Neck. This new church became part of the Sharptown Charge. This relationship with Haines Neck continued until 1972 when Sharptown maintained their own local pastor, and Haines Neck was paired with Pedricktown. The relationship resumed in 1985 with the arrival of Rev. Alan Darby.

There have been many highlights for the Sharptown Church as the congregation continues to faithfully pursue their calling as the body of Christ.

  • 1890s: Old heating stoves removed, central heating installed. The steeple and the bell installed approximately the same time.
  • 1907: The rear gallery was partitioned off for meetings and to save on heating cost.
  • 1911: Electric lighting was installed.
  • 1914: Horse sheds were built at the rear of the lot.
  • 1920s: A choir loft was built in the sanctuary.
  • 1930: The social hall was erected under the leadership of Howard Rode.
  • 1932: A small building in cemetery was constructed.
  • 1933: The Sanctuary was painted.
  • 1943: Horse sheds donated to Stoney Harris.
  • 1950s: Mill stones originally used in the Sharptown Mill were installed in the walkway as stepping stones.
  • 1961: Henry Hoefer was contracted to build a Sunday School wing.  The ground breaking service was held on September 19.
  • 1962: New Sunday School building was completed.
  • 1976: Mortgage burning for the Sunday School building.
  • 1991: Renovation of Social Hall begins.
  • June 1993: Parsonage painted and shutters hung. Front porch reconstructed; back porch installed.
  • Easter 1994: Opening of the gallery in the rear of the Sanctuary.
  • 2002: Opening of the new Worship Center.

 

Sources:

  1. Fisher, G.B. “The History of Wesley Chapel.” 1983. Note: Written for the chapel’s 150th anniversary.
  2. Stewart, F.H. “Sharptown.”  1932.
  3. “Almanac and Year Book: 1904.”  Woodstown National Bank.  1904.