“Wesley Methodist Church (M.E.), of Dover, was organized on Sept. 13, 1778. Freeborn Garrettson, the missionary, had preached from the steps of the old Academy on the day before. He was subjected to indignities as were so many of the early Methodist preachers. Preaching was also held at Mr. Hilliard’s home above Dover, at Gum Swamp and at Little Creek. The first church was built at North and Queen Streets, Richard Bassett, afterwards Governor of Delaware, contributing one-half of the cost of the building. Vincent Loockerman had donated the land for that purpose to a board of trustees, on June 1, 1782. Incorporated in 1799, the church was given the name “Wesley.”
Francis Asbury preached in the new chapel on Oct. 2, 1784. On May 25, 1801, he preached in the Court House while Bishop Whatcoat preached in the chapel.
Bishop Whatcoat died on July 5, 1806, at the home of Richard Bassett in Dover. He was buried beneath the altar of the church. When the old church was removed a stone monument was erected over Bishop Whatcoat’s grave, the entire plot being used as a cemetery. The oldest tombstone that the writer could find is over the grave of Elizabeth Chandler who died on Dec. 1, 1807. Among the prominent men buried here are former Governors Cornelius P. Comegys and Gove Saulsbury.
In 1850, a new church was built on State Street, salvaged bricks from the old church being used in the new building. The corner-stone was laid on Sept. 23, 1850. The church was dedicated on Feb. 9, 1851, by the Rev. Charles I. Thompson. The brick dwelling adjoining the church was purchased for a parsonage on Jan. 6, 1851, from James L. Smith.
A reopening service was held on July 17, 1859, after extensive improvements not the least of which was the installation of gas lighting. Two new harmoniums, one in the church and the other in the Sunday School room were used for the first time on June 3, 1866. On Oct. 22, 1869, Wesley Church purchased five acres of land beside the lake upon which to establish a cemetery.
The corner-stone of an addition was laid on Fri., July 22, 1870, by Pres. Elder T. J. Thompson, assisted by the Revs. James H. Lightbourne and Henry Sutton. The church was rededicated on Jan. 8, 1871. The Rev. Dr. D. W. Bartine preached in the morning, the Rev. Wm, Corbett in the afternoon and the Rev. J. S. Willis in the evening. The new organ was first used at a musical entertainment on Fri., May 12, 1871. The church was enlarged in 1884. An addition was erected in 1892.
In 1897, the entire church was rebuilt, only the side walls being used. The organ, which was retained, was equipped with a water motor. Six new memorial windows were installed. The rededication service was held on Feb. 20, 1898. Among those assisting were the Revs. S. F. Beiler, T. E. Terry, W. L. S. Murray and Alfred Smith, the pastor. The church was dedicated by Pres. Elder R. H. Adams. In 1903, the church was beautified after which it was reopened on Wed., Sept. 9, 1903, by the Rev. L. E. Barrett, the pastor.
In 1907, Andrew Carnegie contributed $1500.00 toward a second organ which was installed. An addition was built in 1924 and in 1938 a new parsonage was completed.
The Sunday School was started in 1830 by Mrs. Ann Clark Sipple. On Sept. 27, 1800, Berroni Harris, a trustee, was ordered to free a girl slave whom he owned and, in 1803, the Quarterly Conference ordered another member to free several slaves. It was 1866 before music was approved and an organ installed. It was 1912 before church suppers were approved.” (1)
1. Frank R. Zebley, The Churches of Delaware, Wilmington, Delaware, 1947, p. 214 and 216.
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