Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Lynn Handy’s History

 My name is Lynn Handy and I’m 75 years old. I have belonged to the Percival Community Church for all my years. I’ve been asked to write about the rich history of our community and of our church.

For some reason or other I have been having a little trouble sleeping of late so I am writing this from memory at one o’clock in the morning in my mother-in-law’s house. She is 101 years old and in the local health care center. Her house has been standing empty for several years so when my wife and I were forced off the Percival bottom we moved in here for temporary quarters figuring to renovate it while we wait to see when (or if) we can move back into our own home.

In 1846 Lester and Elvira Platt left Oberlin, Ohio and traveled down the Ohio River and then up the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers to St. Joseph, Missouri. There they rented a wagon and continued up along the Missouri to a large beautiful bend in the river in what is now Fremont, County, Iowa.

Elvira had attended Oberlin College and it is said she held a degree in Horticulture, making her one of the first college educated women in America. Oberlin College was somewhat unique for the time in that it admitted women as students and also members of all races.

Lester and Elvira had been employed by the government to help the Pawnee Indians become farmers.

They built their first log cabin on a sand knoll west of present day Percival and then continued on up river to an area near present day Bellevue, Nebraska to be with the Indians. When they got there they found that the Sioux had raided the Pawnee camp after the men had left on their annual buffalo hunt and many of the Pawnee women and children had been killed or carried off.

Lester and Elvira brought 8 or 9 of the Indian children back to their cabin near the big bend in the River to spend the winter and in the coming year several other pioneers came in from Oberlin. Also a Dr. Blandchard and his wife and daughter who had been working with the Kaw Indians south of Kansas City arrived about this time. The area soon came to be known as Civil Bend.

The settlers from Oberlin where Congregationalist and Dr. Blandchard and his family were Baptists, but they soon got together and formed the Union Church and a community building was built to serve as church and school.

George Gastin, a brother of Elvira Platt, had come to Civil Bend with a vision of building a college on the banks of the Missouri but after a couple of floods he and his family and some of the original group moved to Tabor in the hills North and East of Civil Bend and formed Tabor College. Floods have always played a prominent role in the history of the area.

The Union Church had two very strict by-laws when formed. One was against the consumption of alcohol and the other was anti-slavery.

The settlers of Civil Bend soon became very active in the Underground Railroad and there are many stories about this which tie in with the Todd House in Tabor and John Brown’s cave in Nebraska City, well known stations on the Underground Railroad.

But then two things happened that ended the Union Church. There were two black families living in Civil Bend, attending the Union Church and sending their children to school in the common building. Then one night the church/school building was burned by what was believed to be a pro-slavery mob from Nebraska City. The Lambert sawmill was also burned at the same time. No members of the mob were ever apprehended.

Secondly, about this same time three men left Civil Bend and joined the California Gold Rush and while they were gone one of the wives left behind became pregnant by Dr. Blanchard. Apparently he owned up to the fact and soon after that he was removed from the church. As can be imagined this caused a considerable rift in the church and the Union Church soon ceased to be.

Shortly after a Congregational Church was founded and then a Baptist Church under Dr. Blandchard. Finally a Methodist Church came on the scene.

In 1868 the railroad came down the bottom and most of the people of Civil Bend moved to the new town of Percival. Sometime around 1900 all three churches built new buildings in the town of Percival. Percival had about 300 people at that time and it proved to be very hard to support three churches with three separate buildings, so in 1920 the three churches were federated. This was the first triple federation in America.

And the first pastor of the new Percival Federated Church was a woman. Really quite amazing for the time.

You have to admit it was quite a stretch from Congregation to Baptist to Federated. I like to say it only took about 60 years to heal the wounds of the 1850’s and to forgive the various transgressions.

Somewhere along the line the “Federated” was dropped from our name and we are now known as the Percival Community Church. Even the three buildings have been merged into one and it is used as a community building as well as for a church though I think everyone thinks of it primarily as a Church.

Probably our worst flood came in 1881, but we were hit again in 1941-42 and especially hard in 1952. 1993 was also a bad year, but if the Corp of Engineers is right the flood of 2011 will dwarf everything before. They estimate 8 to 10 feet of water in Percival and if that is correct the water will come half way up on our stained glass windows. And it may be in there for a month or more.

But we want to keep our church and we’re, at this time, still awaiting God’s decision.

“Not our will, but Thine, O Lord.”

Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers.


  1. Very interesting article Lynn, thank you for sharing!

  2. Lynn,
    Great synopsis--telling a complex, detailed story in only a few paragraphs! Indeed, The Platts did come in 1846. There is documentation showing that Dr.Ira Blanchard, wife Mary, and 5 daughters arrived in what was to become Civil Bend in January 1848.
    Kay McAlexander Kinnan