Island Heights

Historical   Site




History of the Methodist Church in Island Heights

    The Island Heights Association, founded by the Reverend Jacob B. Graw, an important member of the Jersey Annual Conference of the Methodist Church, came into being to fulfill a need for a camp meeting ground for the Methodist Church. The Rev. Graw, several ministers, laymen, and prominent businessmen of Philadelphia, Camden, Trenton, Mount Holly, and Toms River felt that the island location on the Toms River was suitable for camp meeting purposes. There were 172 acres in the original tract. The newly-formed Association purchased the 172 acres in July of 1878.

    After the purchase of the property, improvements were needed and the Association offered lots for sale to individuals who might be interested in locating in Island Heights. Prices of lots were from $39 to $390 per lot. The sale brought in $10,000, all of which went for improvements. After much work, the Camp Meeting was opened in 1879 on a cite overlooking the Toms River--the same cite which is still designated as the "Camp Meeting Grounds" and is located on the south side of Ocean Avenue. On camp meeting nights worshippers numbering from 500 to 2,000 could be seen around the large meeting hall, which was a crude building with a roof but no sides.

    By 1880 Island Heights still did not have a church of its own so Elder Van Sant placed Island Heights under the pastoral care of George C. Strang, pastor of the Toms River Methodist Church. Rev. Strang, preached here once a month, while the Rev. John Simpson, Superintendent of  the Island Heights Association, supervised the intervening Sundays. Early church services were held in various places, including a tent; the Island House (hotel); later in the Mathis Building on Central Avenue.

    These temporary arrangements continued until March of 1882 when the Annual Conference placed Island Heights on a circuit with Cedar Grove, with John Simpson in charge as pastor. At the next Annual Conference, Island Heights became a separate charge and The Reverend J. E. Sawn was appointed pastor; in 1883 Cedar Grove was again added to Island Heights, making a two- town circuit. This arrangement continued until the spring of 1890 when Island Heights again became a separate charge with a membership of 43.

    By 1882 lots on the corner of Van Sant and Simpson Avenues had been donated to the members of the Methodist Church. A small structure which had been used for religious services on the Camp Meeting Square was secured by the church, moved to the new lots, was renovated and became the nucleus of the first Methodist Church building in Island Heights. This temporary building was used as a church until enough money could be raised to build a real church building.    

   The corner stone for the first permanent Methodist Church building was laid on the donated lots at the corner of Van Sant & Simpson Avenues on August 29, 1882. The completed building was dedicated on August 17, 1884. The lots where this first building stood have changed hands many times since 1925 when the church was torn down, but in the 1960s the lots were sold back to the Methodist Church and now serve as a much-needed parking lot.

    This first church building served the growing congregation until 1925 when the present structure was erected by C. Oliver, Jr. on two lots that were purchased on the corner of Simpson & Ocean Avenues at a cost of $600. Our present church is a copy of a New England church seen by the Rev. Alfonso Dare and Charles K. Haddon, summer residents, who offered to raise the funds to build the church if the congregation would agree to having the structure made in the likeness of the New England church seen by Rev. Dare and Mr. Haddon.  The congregation approved, and the building we now call our church home is the result of that agreement. A parsonage had already been built on land next door to these lots and was later replaced by the present parsonage.

    In 1961 under the pastorate of Donald L. Holt, many active laymen launched a building program to erect our present parsonage, a seven-room colonial home that replaced the original parsonage; the garage was built in the 1970s.

    Three major and much-needed changes occurred in the church building during the 1970s while The Rev. James Biggs was pastor. The old kitchen under the sanctuary was torn out and new modern facilities installed through the generosity of the women of the church who raised several thousand dollars for the project. The old fellowship hall, which was also downstairs under the sanctuary, was redecorated, paneled and a fire exit was added. The large room behind the sanctuary was divided for additional Sunday school rooms and a pastor's office. That same area was to undergo an additional transformation in later years as will be seen later.

    During the time The Rev. William Abrams was our pastor, a growing membership required more space, so in the mid 1980s a building committee was formed for the purpose of planning a new addition to our existing structure. The final results of this committee can be seen in our Fellowship Hall and Sunday School rooms that exist today.  The new Fellowship Hall was completed and consecrated on May 21, 1989.

    Since Dr. Donald Marks came to our church as pastor in 1995 we have seen many improvements to our church and parsonage. He has worked with contractors in every area to achieve the best possible results. The two most outstanding projects are the enlargement of our sanctuary and the installation of a new pipe organ.

    The first project was to enlarge the seating capacity by renovating an area behind the sanctuary which once contained the pastor's office, a meeting room, and the secretary's office. Walls were removed and wood ceilings and wails that matched the decor in the original sanctuary were installed. After new lighting   fixtures and other improvements were made, oak pews matching the original ones were installed. This new area is called the West Nave; it accommodates an additional 66 worshippers. An updated P.A. system brings very natural-sounding voices and music into the room.  The space was dedicated on November 15, 1998.

    In  1997 an organ committee was formed to investigate the purchase of a new organ to replace the old, tired electronic organ   that had given good service for many years but was now ready for retirement. The committee, with the approval of the congregation, hired a consultant, Cj Sambach, an organ expert, to advise us and arrange for visits to various churches in Ocean County so that we could hear the sounds of both pipe and electronic organs.

    After numerous visits, the committee decided to present the recommendation to the congregation that we have a pipe organ built and installed. The congregation accepted the committee's recommendation and we proceeded to contact three builders to get their estimates.  The committee, pastor, and our consultant met with these builders and finally decided to recommend Jacob Gerger & Son.  The congregation approved our choice and that firm was hired to build the organ and arrange for all construction work involved in the installation. Pastor Marks worked tirelessly with all phases of this project to ensure the best possible results. We have a wonderful instrument, which will give us many years of service.  The cost of the organ was $90,000, a large part of that cost coming from donations and bequeaths. The organ was dedicated at a special ceremony on October 29, 2000.

    Our membership numbered 43 in 1890--today (2001) there are 420 members, and we are growing. We are proud of our beautiful church and parsonage that have come to us through efforts and generosity of past and present church people. We are grateful to all members and non-members who support our many activities to help us maintain our facilities and give to the glory of God.  

Written by William A. King, First Methodist Church of Island Heights historian, reprinted with his permission.