It was a hot and wet year in Jackson County; cholera was taking its toll. In this year in a roughhewn log schoolhouse by the side of the Old Santa Fe Trail some five miles south of Independence (about Old Highway 40 & Blue Ridge Boulevard) a small group of farmers established a new Methodist congregation. The Cassell School in which they met was named for a family from Kentucky who lived in the area. Mr. Cassell was captain of a wagon train for Russell, Majors and Waddell, the brains behind the Pony Express. A group of Methodists from the Pink Hill Methodist Church in the “Six Mile Area” helped in the organization. This initial meeting in 1851 was sixty-seven years after the Methodist Church was organized in Lovely Lane Church, Baltimore, Maryland, December 24, 1784.
This history spans seven wars…Civil War, Spanish American War, World Wars I & II, the Korean and Vietnamese Wars and the Gulf War. Blue Ridge Boulevard Methodist Church, which has stood in the same locality for the past 150 years (as of 2001), has taken an active part in Christian leadership and membership in the community.
Worship services were held at Cassell School eight years until the time of the erection of Young’s Chapel in 1859. The Cassell School house later became known as Chapel Grade School which was located at 51st Street and Blue Ridge Boulevard.
The charter members consisted principally of the families of Josia Walton, David Cassell Dr. Samuel B. Hobbs, Thomas Wallace, John M. Wallace, Robert Whitlock and J. P. Barnaby, a local preacher (not licensed). The pastor who first served this congregation in 1851 was S.S. Colburn.
After worshipping in the schoolhouse for eight years, church members decided that they should have a building of their own. One of the members, Dr. Samuel B. Hobbs, a prominent physician in the county, wanted to give one-half acre of his farm for the church. A group of members walked down the narrow lane which is now Blue Ridge Boulevard and chose a spot at 51st Street and Blue Ridge Boulevard, which they thought best for a church site.
Reverend J. F. Trustlow was on the circuit when the first church building was planned and built. Thomas Ashby, D. A. Leeper, and Robert A. Young were the presiding Elders (now known as District Superintendents) for this period of 1851 to 1859.
A brick building was erected in 1859 on the chosen site, four and one-half miles south of Independence on the Old Santa Fe Trail. The bricks were molded and fired near the building site by a Mr. Paul, an Englishman, and Mr. Baker, a Dutchman. The outside wall was built by William Young of Clay County, Kentucky; and the inside wall was laid by David Cassell, native of the same County and State and one of the original members of this congregation. The bricks were carried from the kiln, located one-fourth mile east of the church, and lifted upon the wall by Thomas and Theodore Cassell, 14- and 16-year-old sons of David Cassell, and Josiah G. Hobbs, 16. Aaron, a slave belonging to Rodney Hinde, mixed and carried mortar to the masons. The carpenter work was done by Yeager and Ruffner of Independence, and Jerry, a slave belonging to David Cassell, did the plastering. It was called Young’s Chapel in honor of Reverend Robert A. Young, presiding Elder of the St. Louis District, who dedicated the church building. Reverend Young, a native of Tennessee and in the prime of life, was a gifted and popular pulpit orator. Physically he was perhaps without a peer in the St. Louis Conference, of which he was a member, standing six feet eight inches in his bare feet.
Reverend Young was a frequent guest in the Cassell home and Mr. Cassell said, “I shall always remember a circumstance related by the Reverend Robert Young himself.” Among his father’s flocks was a noted buck sheep which had been taught by the boys to butt a bucket, basket or anything the boys chose to put up as a banter. Upon this occasion Robert and several Negro boys would one at a time appear on all fours around the corner of the barn. As soon as noticed, the buck would instantly accept the challenger. The boys, of course, always depended on being missed by dodging around the corner. The buck would back up twenty or thirty steps and wait for his challenger. When it came Robert’s turn, he proved a mite too slow in dodging, resulting in several backward somersaults for him, and he was left limp and unconscious on the field of battle after the first round. For many days the odds were against his recovery. After gaining his senses he was so informed by the physician to whom he replied, “If I had to die, I’d hate to be killed by a sheep.”
Dr. Hobbs, who attended him after the injury, predicted that he would someday grow up to be a man of stature and be a Methodist minister. Both came true as predicted.
Young’s Chapel was now on the Circuit of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, sharing a preacher with three or four other churches. The Civil War divisions within the Kansas City area churches mirrored what was going on nationally. In fact, American churches had split along sectional lines long before the Civil War. Northern and Southern Methodists went their separate ways in 1844, dividing into the Methodist Episcopal Church, North, and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The split was alarming because Methodists were the largest religious body in the country and had a membership distributed throughout the nation.
The first pastor appointed to the new church was W. C. Godbey in 1860, followed by his brother, J. E. Godbey in 1861. No other appointments were made until the close of the Civil War and no services were held from 1862 to 1866.
In 1861, two years after the church had been built, the trustees decided they needed a few shade trees, so they planted five maple trees, which stood until 1963. Needing some ground around the church, Dr. Hobbs said to “step off” whatever ground from his farm they needed.
Since there was no deed, the trustees and members decided in 1861 it would be a good idea to have a deed drawn up, although Dr. Hobbs’ word was considered as good as his bond. So, on August 16, 1861, the deed was drawn up but was not filed in the Recorder’s Office in Independence at this time. The deed calls for ten feet of ground on the north, south, and east and twenty feet on the west or front of the church building. Somehow this deed was preserved by his wife through the dark Civil War days, through the ravages of war even though her home was burned, and everything was taken. Since Dr. Hobbs, a captain in the Confederate Army, was killed in the War, his wife filed this deed at the Independence Courthouse on February 12, 1869, ten years after the church was built. This document, which was misplaced for years, was found by Mrs. Bessie Redford in the old family Bible where her grandmother, Mrs. Samuel Hobbs, had put it away for safe-keeping years ago.
It was necessary to frame this fragile document to preserve it. Mr. Henry P. Chiles, former treasurer of Jackson County, became interested and offered to make a frame. His grandparents had been close friends of the Hobbs and their family. He made the frame from a piece of walnut timber that had been taken from a hand-hewn sill of a barn built in l850 and owned by Mr. and Mrs. Solomon Young of Hickman Mills, Missouri, grandparents of President Harry S. Truman. Mrs. Redford presented this original deed to the church on May 28, 1954, when the third church was consecrated. (At the writing of this present history, in 2001, the above document cannot be located.)
Slaves of the first families of the church occupied the back pews of the church. Since the church did not have hymnals, words of the hymns were taught by the women of each family to her own slaves. This was a period of demonstrative religion and great music in the worship services.
The church was one of the few buildings left intact for miles around when most buildings in this community were destroyed during the Civil War. Mrs. Eliza Wallace, wife of John M. Wallace and mother of Reverend Charles T. Wallace of the Southwest Missouri Conference, was a great-granddaughter of Daniel Boone. She drove her horse and buggy to church almost every Sunday until she was nearly ninety years old. Her great-grandchildren, Wallace M. Yocum and Mrs. Mary Kelley, were also former members.
Catholic young people attended the church and also worked with the women at the socials and quiltings following the Civil War.
Worship services were becoming less spontaneous, and the Methodists were taking steps to introduce more formal worship. They gave central importance to the sermon, which was becoming more polished.
They had more things to listen to in church, but they also had more things to avoid in the world. Methodists in 1872 were told to stay clear of dancing, playing games of chance, attending theaters, horse races and circuses. By the mid-1880’s they stressed total abstinence from all intoxicants. By 1908 no one quibbled when it was said that the Methodist Episcopal Church was a temperance society.