Historical Albion Michigan
By Frank Passic

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Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.

THE OLD RUGGED CROSS--A SEQUEL

Morning Star, April 13, 2003, pg. 7

Seeing how easily the Eslow Block “catwalk” collapsed on W. Porter St. during the evening of April 1, it makes us wonder about the structural integrity of the rest of the 134-year old building. Fortunately the adjacent Commercial Hotel building (which presently houses the Moose Lodge) suffered only superficial damage. We hope our tax dollars and/or insurance claim funds will be used wisely at this location during these times of austere community conditions.

We’ve previously written in this column about the story of Rev. George Bennard who lived in Albion for many years, and how he wrote the well-known hymn of the church, “The Old Rugged Cross” here in 1912. Rev. Bennard wrote in 1958 a few months before his death that he did indeed begin the song here, but worked on finishing it up during his travels when he was conducting evangelistic meetings. The song was completed in January, 1913 and first sung at the Pokagon Methodist Episcopal Church (near Niles) where Rev. Bennard was conducting services.

In recent years a non-profit group called “The Old Rugged Cross Association” has been raising funds and putting in volunteer work to restore the church building and grounds there in Pokagon where this hymn was first sung. The group has held numerous events, and publishes a newsletter. Restoration began in September, 2000. The site has been listed on the national registry of historic places. In April, 2000, a new State of Michigan historical site green marker was placed at the site. The title “The Old Rugged Cross” is the same as appears on Albion’s small historical marker at 1101 E. Michigan Avenue in front of where the old Delos Fall house once sat where Rev. Bennard wrote the first verse and chorus of the hymn.

The large marker in Pokagon mentions Albion, and contains a two-sided text. The first side is entitled “Methodist Episcopal Church” and gives the history of the building (erected in 1862) and its subsequent fate (it was used as a barn from 1913 until 1998). The other side is entitled “The Old Rugged Cross” and states as follows: “In January 1913 the Reverend Leroy O. Bostwick, assisted by the Reverend George Bennard of Albion, held a series of religious revivals at the Pokagon Methodist Episcopal Church. Before the event, the Dowagiac Daily News predicted a large attendance, announcing ‘Mr. Bennard is a sweet singer and a splendid gospel preacher.’ Bennard had begun composing the hymn ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ while in Albion the previous year. He completed the hymn here in preparation for the revival services. During the revival it was sung publically for the first time by the Pokagon Methodist Episcopal Church choir. Impressed by Bennard’s hymn, the Reverend and Mrs. Bostwick financed its first printing. The ‘Old Rugged Cross’ quickly became one of the most popular hymns in the United States.”

From our Historical Notebook this week courtesy of Marta Dodd of Jackson (granddaughter of the church choir violinist who played the hymn that first time) we present a photograph of the Old Rugged Cross marker in Pokagon that mentions Albion twice. Anyone interested in further information about the group and its mission may contact them at: The Old Rugged Cross Association, P.O. Box 41, Niles, MI 49120. E-mail: orcf@aol.com. Chairman of the Association is Dr. Melchizedek Ponniah of Andrews University, who visited Albion and the E. Michigan Avenue site a couple of years ago when filming a documentary about the history of the Old Rugged Cross.

Is your church singing the written-in-Albion hymn “The Old Rugged Cross” this Easter season?


Old Rugged Cross marker in Pokagon

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