Mann’s Chapel was the first church building of any denomination erected in the north east part of Vermilion County. A Methodist class, composed of eight members which included: Sarah, Sally, Harrison, and Joseph McHenry; James and Elizabeth (McHenry) Gilbert; and Albert and Rhoda Comstock, formed as early as 1837. Early services were held in homes, and just west of Mann’s Chapel, was the residence of Samuel Gilbert and his sons James H. and Alvan, and their families. Preaching services were held there until Samuel Gilbert donated ground for a school to be built in 1856. At this time, the school became the regular preaching place. During this time Thomas Bennett, Sr. served as class leader and the local preacher. But the need for a church was recognized by the congregation and plans were made to erect a real church building. Enthusiasm was so high that Henry Cortelyou, who lived just east of the church site, placed a clause in his will giving $500.00 to the church that “is contemplated being built at the burying ground near Gilbert school house.”
In 1855, Abraham Mann, Sr. had brick fired for building his residence. Mann offered them towards the erection of the church building. Additional bricks were brought from Attica, Indiana. They were large bricks being 4 1/2 x 2 1/4 x 8 1/2 inches. One brick with “1855” scratched into its face can be seen several rows above the north window on the east wall. The church when finished measured 34’4” x 46’4”. It was constructed in the prevailing style of English chapels, with a high pulpit reaching up several steps and windows high above the ground. The door was placed on the south side to catch the prevailing winds.
Controversy abounded among members when the chapel was built. The pros and cons were weighted concerning both the installation of pews and the inclusion of a bell. Alvan Gilbert wrote to his brother James in 1857, “I think it would be much better to have pews in a part of the church so a person wishing one could take his family into it and keep them behaving in time of meeting and he would always know where his seat was.”
The controversy of the bell was solved when Mr. Mann and the Gilberts agreed together to pay for the bell and cupola in which to hang it. The bell, solid bronze and about 30” across, was made in 1857 in West Try, New York, by Meneely’s, and was set on a Meneely’s Rotating Yoke. In August of 1857 Alvan wrote again to his brother, “The bell is hung and is a good one. I learn that it has been heard at Myersville (Bismarck today) and all up and down the East Fork.” The cost of the building was $3,000; the amount pledged on dedication day was $2,000. On September 20th it was agreed upon by the congregation, to call the new church “Mann’s Chapel.”
On Saturday, September 19, 1857, Samuel Elliott, an old circuit preacher, preached the first sermon in the church using as text John 12:43. On September 20th he preached the dedicatory sermon from Matthew 16:18…” and upon this rock I will build my church: and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The pastor at the time of building and dedication was Amos E. Garner. Elizabeth Gilbert attended the services but she was alone. Samuel Gilbert had died in 1855, but his dream of a new church had been realized.
By 1926 it became too expensive to maintain the chapel and during the ministry of Rev. J. A. Betcher, regular services were discontinued. The membership at that time was combined with the Rossville Methodist Church.
Mann’s Chapel is available to rent from April 1 through October 31.
Arrangements can be made by calling the Museum (217-442-2922), Tuesday through Saturday from 10 AM to 4 PM.
The chapel seats 125 to 150 comfortably. There is no electricity, heat, or restroom facilities. There is a pump organ that is operable.
Rent is $175.00, payable in advance to reserve.