Two references for the record.

All 111 burials in Salem Cemetery are described at the website Some descriptions are so complete that they can be used as reference materials. A lot of care has gone into that website. The entry on Lydia Lucinda Potter Coon Moberly is especially interesting (as is the gravestone itself). Widowed by the death of Elisha Coon in the Civil War, she raised their two children, remarried to a Moberly, and they had a son Arthur Eugene. He and Clara Edith had nine children, three of whom were adult bachelor brothers that I worked with as a boy on communal projects such as making hay.

Salem Church of God in Washington County is quite separate from Salem, Iowa a small Quaker town in Henry County southwest of Mt. Pleasant. That town is about 20 miles north of the Missouri line and in the 1840s runaway slaves from the slave state were attempting to take refuge in the North. Salem was among the minority of Friends settlements where numerous members (though not all) were willing to take direct action against the institution of slavery. This story is told in full in the article “Salem’s Radical Quakers” in the summer 2009 issue of Iowa Heritage Illustrated Salem Church of God started as Winebrennerian, not Quaker. Washington Evening Journal Nov 11, 1950 by Martha Skubal

Martha Skubal wrote the article accompanying this photo; it appeared in the Washington Evening Journal August 21, 1951. This section is based upon that article, an article written by Mike Zahs on the centennial celebration held Christmas Eve, 1977, and upon comments by my great-aunt Myra Coon Cross who left the congregation in 1909 but whose memories remained clear 70 years later.

According to the centennial article, the Church of God denomination began in Highland Township in the l850s, probably in the town of Harrisburg (on the site of Lewis Coon’s and Melvin Soukup’s farms about a mile or two south of where I grew up). Harrisburg was started in 1855 and was almost completely gone by the end of the Civil War. The failure of Harrisburg was attributed to the financial failure of Nathan Burris who had also started Burris City at the mouth of the Iowa River in Louisa County. Heavy rains in the fall of 1858 flooded the Iowa River and the streets of Burris City with six to eight feet of water. Burris city died and so did Harrisburg. Lindley Coon told Martha Skubal that he heard that the town was literally blown off the map by a tornado (from her story about Harrisburg in WEJ of November 11, 1950). Dave Skubal told me this year that in his younger days he hired out to
Melvin Soukup to farm the Soukup land. He would find, with a plow or other equipment, foundations etc. of the 100 or so houses and public buildings of Harrisburg. The Harrisburg cemetery is still on Willow Avenue just south of the 1950s home of Lewis, Pearl, and Eula Mae Coon when I was growing up.

Sidney Coon (born 1858) wrote to the WEJ (June 4, 1923) that he remembers attending services in the Harrisburg school house as a lad. He heard a man attack his father Preserved Brownell, calling him a Copperhead. Sidney remembers Nate McVicar saying that he would suffer his throat to be cut from ear to ear before he would worship with a Copperhead. In the 1860s, the Copperheads (after the poisonous snake), also known as Peace Democrats, were a
faction of Democrats in the Union who opposed the American Civil War and wanted an immediate peace settlement with the Confederates. P.B. was a Democrat and a Quaker so the charge may have been accurate, if intemperate. Perhaps this is what Raymond Coon was alluding to in his eulogy for my father “Most of the Coon family were Quakers. This caused some controversy in the Harrisburg Church before the Civil War”.

Salem in the Old Testament is the town of king Melchizedek. According to Psalm 76.2 God’s
tabernacle is in Salem. The town was later renamed and became Jerusalem. Transliterated this name concurs with the Hebrew verb “shalem” meaning made whole or complete and noun “shalom” meaning peace.

The church prospered. Martha Skubal interviewed Charlie Hendrickson who was about 11 when the church was built. He vividly remembers attending a New Years Eve watch service at Salem December 31, 1893 with the girl who was later to become his wife. “Country churches in those days were often filled to the doors.” Mike Zahs points out in his history of Highland (1971) that “this doesn’t mean however that everyone was present for the spiritual uplift of the service. There were very few places for the farmers to go except church and being with other people often was more moving than the 1920 plat map Goose Creek and Salem satellite photo of Salem Church and cemetery 2013 Salem bell message.” He cites the case of five young men who in the late 1890s were fined for disturbing the meeting held at the church. They sat at the rear of the communion foot-washing ordinance service and decided to throw their caps for entertainment. Paradine Alfred walked to the back of the church, picked up the caps that were being thrown, took them to the front of the church, placed them on the pulpit and returned to her seat. After the service, the young men who went to the front to retrieve their caps were taken before the Justice of the Peace, Squire Pearson at that time, and fined $5 and costs each. I missed the foot-washing ordinance during my 1950s attendance at Salem and even missed the total immersion baptism traditionally held in the Iowa River. For my baptism, we motored into Washington and were dunked in a tank inside a church building there, probably by Reverend Richard Godsey.

Sometime between 1908 and 1911 a vestibule and bell tower were added to the building. Those helping build the tower were A. L. McGuire, Sidney Coon and William Swailes. The bell was purchased from Montgomery Ward at the cost of $85. Lewis Coon, who at several times has helped put new axles and supports under the bell, estimated that it is at least 4 feet in diameter at the largest part and must weigh at least a ton. I loved ringing that bell—after Sunday School we children vied to pull the bell rope and hear it ring out over the countryside. Folks said that the bell can be heard as far away as Conesville twelve miles away. After I went away to university in 1959 the spire was found to be in a weakened condition and the former reinforcements would no longer work. The bell was removed and mounted on the ground in 1967. For me, seeing the shortened bell tower is always a shock as I remember as it was when I was a child and as it is shown in the 1950s photo at the beginning of this section.

Children's Day at Salem Church of God in the decades 1890-1910 when Myra was a child

1957-58 (?) Rev. Godsey, Helen (Mrs. Hilton) Coon, Pearl
(Mrs. Lewis) Coon, Elvie Raymond (Mrs. Mellie) Coon

Salem Church of God History

The first service in the Salem Church of God was on Christmas Day 1877.

Over the years, there have been at least 15 other church congregations within about five miles of Salem.  Of these, Salem is the only surviving congregation.  Four of the buildings remain, but are not used for church services.

Listing of congregations in the area:

  • Harrisburg Church of God, about 1855-1877 in town of Harrisburg, Section 14 of Highland Township.
  • White Ash Church of God, 1873-1877 in town of White Ash, Section 1 of Highland Township.  Building remains.
  • Round Grove Mission (Church of God) 1875-1877 met in Round Grove School.  Building remains.  Meetings may have been held in the log school before 1875, Section 26 of Highland Township.
  • Davis Creek Baptist Church about 1858 to 1899.  Section 11 of Highland Township Union Dale United Brethren.  First services held January 29, 1843, congregation faded away but was revived in 1877.  A new building was built in 1880 in Section 9 of Highland Township.  There was a large congregation before WWI of about 200.  Services were sometimes held in Bohemian.  The congregation dwindled and the church closed in 1943.
  •  Bethel United Brethren began about 1840 in the town of Bethel which was in Section 24 of Highland Township and across the line in Union Township, Louisa County.  The church closed in 1911.
  • Davis Creek Methodist started about 1848 in town of Davis Creek in Section 5 of Highland Township.  It may have continued into the Civil War (1860’s).
  • Davis Creek United Brethren started about 1848 in town of Davis Creek in Section 5 of Highland Township.  It may have continued into the Civil War (1860’s).
  • Bethel Presbyterian Church began in 1863 in Jackson Township but moved to Section 30 of Highland Township in 1880.  Meetings ended in 2015 and the building was taken down in 2018.
  • Fairview Cumberland Presbyterian Church began in 1876 in Section 7 of Highland Township.  Meetings stopped in 1900.  The building burned in 1910.
  • East Prairie Methodist was organized in 1870 in the East Prairie Schoolhouse in Section 8 of Highland Township.  A new church was dedicated in 1881.  The church closed about 1895.
  • Haskins Presbyterian started in 1903 in the town of Haskins in Section 3 of Oregon Township.  The building burned in 1914.  A new church opened in 1916 and operated until 1958.
  • Gladwin Community Church opened in 1911 in the town of Gladwin in Union Township, Louisa County.  Services stopped in 1975.  The building was moved and is now a residence.
  • Xenia Chapel Methodist began in the town of Xenia, January 17, 1861 in Section 23 of Oregon Township.  Meetings stopped in the 1880’s.  The building survived as a barn until the straight-line winds in the 1990’s. 
  • Swank Church is in Johnson County.  The building survives, but meetings are no longer held.  Meetings may have started in the 1840’s. 

The three Church of God congregations joined to form Salem Church in 1877.  Apparently, a safe crossing had been made over Goose Creek.  Goose Creek had been a barrier getting to Harrisburg and White Ash services for people south of the creek. 

Essay on Salem Church of God on Goose Creek, Highland Township, Washington County, Iowa - By Sidney A. Coon

1920 plat map Goose Creek and Salem

Janet Coon & Greg Freeman married by Rev. Wilson Hyde in 1978

2013 Salem bell

As for geography, Highland is a high almost level plain that is cut up by Goose Creek and tributaries. The upland is about 150 feet above the level of the Iowa River and broad valley to the east. The Goose Creek watershed is fan shaped and quite rolling so heavy rainstorms produce severe floods in the valley [description by Raymond Coon]. The diary of Paradine Alfred records the difficulty in fording Goose Creek to attend the Harrisburg church in the late 1850s and ‘60s. She and her husband Thornton settled on Section 25 in the southeast corner of Highland Township, across Goose Creek from the Coon home place that P.B. settled in Section 11 up by the upper eastern part. See the 1920 plat map below which has the Harrisburg town site off the left edge on the Wenzel Soukup property, the P.B. Coon home place above the top edge, the positive slope diagonal of Goose Creek dividing the map, and the Azor Raymond farm just to the east of the farm settled by the Alfreds in the mid-1850s. Paradine and Thornton Alfred were the great-grandparents of Raymond Coon and contemporaries (and sometimes adversaries) of my father's great-grandparents P. B. and Rebecca Coon.

After the demise of Harrisburg, Church of God services were held in Round Grove school between 1875 and 1877. Another group was holding services in White Ash, a small town in the northeast corner of Highland. The two groups got together in 1877 and began construction of a new church building on a hill to the south overlooking Goose Creek on land donated by Fred Leffler. The oldest marked grave is that of Lydia, the one-year-old daughter of Michael and Lucinda McGuire who died in 1866, but the McGuire graves were later moved from the farm. Construction was finished in early winter after the harvest and the church was dedicated Christmas Day, 1877.

This photo from the article that Martha Skubalvwrote about Harrisburg shows the Soukup boys, Dick and Jim, standing on the approximate spot of the Harrisburg school where my great-grandfather Sidney heard his father P.B. vilified as a Copperhead during the Civil War. And now they are both in the ground at Salem Cemetery, Dick as recently as 2018. This circle back to the beginnings brings to an end this contribution.

1928 (?) includes Lucille (b. 1918), Eula Mae (b.1920), back row Everette (b.1908), Lewis (b. 1882), and my father (b.1910)

salem church of god

1970 Yucca Ave, Ainsworth, IA  52201


[From a letter Myra Coon Cross wrote to the congregation on the occasion of the centennial]

“I have never forgotten the excitement of Children's Day at Salem. Everybody cut
flowers from their gardens, even off of houseplants, to make it a gala occasion.
All the girls would assemble in Saturday afternoon to decorate the front of the
Children's Day at Salem Church of God in the decades 1890-1910 when Myra was a child
church. Luella Swailes, who was gifted in many ways, generally directed our
efforts. It made a deep impression of me as it did on the whole church likely.”

Fifty three persons braved the cold winter Christmas night of 1977 to attend the 100 anniversary celebration which featured a Christmas tree trimmed as it could have been 100 years earlier, candles and lamps for lighting and rousing hymn singing, undoubtedly led by Eula Mae Coon playing the piano.

satellite photo of Salem Church and cemetery

The continuity at Salem Church of God is strong. Observe these photos taken over the years.

1908 (?) Elvie and May were first cousins. They married men who were also cousins albeit more distant cousins.

Historian Mike Zahs at a Salem service May 2019

Or perhaps the controversy is exemplified by the letter P. B. wrote to Thornton Alfred:

April 5th 1866
To Bro[ther] T[hornton] Alfred
I received your very kind note informing me of the meeting of the Church [of] God at Harrisburg Washington Co Iowa. Now I enquire when did you hold your meeting and where
and who was present. You intimate as though I had walked disorderly and hold sentiments which don't harmonize with the spirit of Christ.

I want you to tell me wherever I have walked disorderly or held sentiment contrary to the spirit of Christ in the spirit of brotherly love. I ask you to tell me and also how far you want me to renounce my political principals. So far as to vote the Republican ticket or only to let talking and voting alone? Please answer the above.

Yours with due respect P B Coon
PS If I have done wrong show me that wrong and I will make
it right as far as is in my power.

I missed out on the revivals at Salem that Aunt Myra claims distressed my Quaker ancestors. There were, however, tent revivals in the greater neighborhood when I was growing up. I remember my father chortling at the supper table about the indiscretions revealed at a revival: some respected farmer came to the front and confessed that he had been sleeping with the hired girl while his wife was away. Revivals sounded like fun. The church I knew was kind and gentle and seems to have stayed that way. A program from 2009 lists “prayer concerns” for 19 individuals including folks I knew: Kyle Soukup family (guidance), Iris Soukup (health), Wilber Krotz (health), Alta Coon [widow of Everette] (health, no pain).

Seventy years after Martha Skubal’s historical article Salem Church of God continues to “withstand the trend of rural families of attending church services in city churches”. I attended the service on Memorial Day Sunday 2019 and saw old people and young kids—attendance was somewhat less than I remember as a child or the estimate of average attendance of about 20 in 1971 (from Mike Zah’s history). The township continues to maintain the burial ground (a century and a half after P.B. decided that the Ainsworth cemetery was more likely to survive and thus a better choice for his family) and local folks continue to be buried there. Recent burials include the Soukup boys that I grew up with and
Wilber Krotz who was a bit older than me but grew up on the farm just west of ours and married Mary Lou Coon the great-great granddaughter of Elisha and Lydia Lucinda. Wilber's father did not believe in education beyond eighth grade so we were not together at school, but Wilber's younger brother Walter and I made up two of the seven pupils at Union Dale country school in 1948.

Historians have mentioned that the interior of the church has changed little over the years. Certainly it has retained the same pews as those of the 19th century and perhaps the same altar. The present day pastel paneling was in place when I started there in the early 1950s. The instrument at the right of the later photos and missing from the 19th century photograph is an organ in a piano case added after the 1893 New Years Eve watch. “A church organ? Land no, people then sang so well they didn’t need an organ.” [Charlie Hendrickson again] We children used to beg Eula Mae to play the organ for hymn singing but the piano (not seen) was the usual accompaniment. According to Mike Zahs’ 1971 history only four weddings were performed at Salem since 1877, most of them recently. My sister’s wedding
was evidently one of the rare ones.

Let us go back to the people of Salem as remembered by Great-Aunt Myra in letters written when she was almost 90.

“I was so happy to receive the clipping of the Salem Church [1977 centennial] … So I
wrote to them several days ago to thank her (that's where I got “Paradine” – so familiar I
almost jumped when I read it.) Sure brought the past back with a bang.” Her formal letter
to the 1977 congregation included: “One of my earliest memories involves a grand old
lady who use to sit in the seat ahead of Mother and me. (Women on the east side of the
church – men on the west side, of course) She wore dangles on her little hat which
quivered with her every breath and I was entranced by such beauty, resolving to own such a
hat as soon as I was old enough. She was Mrs Alford, the mother of some of our best
church workers."

[Informally, Myra wrote to Lucille:] “Paradine (I love that name, very intriguing, never
heard it before or since) always sat by Maude [1882-1902] who was tall angular and very
much shaded by her mother’s stronger character. She always had sore eyes, red around the
lids. Little kids on hard seats for two or three hours, not a squirm or a noise, had to fill in
the time with something, watching the people in the seat ahead mostly. [I (SAC) was a
little kid on those same hard seats five decades later.] Old Mr Alfred was dead before I can
remember [died in 1891] … Thornton was active in Church work.” [Raymond Coon has
an article in 1997 WEJ about his ancestors in folder labeled “Elisha Coon and
descendants.” Paradine and Thornton were the grandparents of his mother Elvie Raymond
Coon. Raymond transcribed Paradine’s journals from 1870 to 1919.]

“My mother as Elmira Richardson helped organize Salem when she was a girl of 21 in 1877.
Salem's welfare was her constant concern.”

[Myra’s parents were crucial to the functioning of the church. The following explains how.]

“Generally Saturday p.m. some member of the family had to hitch up Fannie to the top buggy
and drive to meet the minister who came in [to Riverside] on the little train from Iowa City to
our home. He generally lived at some other Church of God parish and came every two weeks to Salem. He slept and ate and rode to church the next morning, often going to some other home for Sunday dinner [the noon meal], and then coming to our home after evening services to be taken to the train at Riverside again Monday morning. In revival times he would stay around in different homes and sometimes other homes met him at the train and kept him over Sunday. We lived the farthest corner of the parish northwest. Father generally drove a team of horses hitched to an open two seated buggy that had worked in the field all week and needed to rest. So he walked them 3 ¼ miles to Salem and 3 ¼ miles home. Regardless of weather, winter summer spring or fall, the program was the same. On one of our weekly trips to Salem, Father drove the sleigh. It was one of those beautiful little swan shaped vehicles. Over at the Charley Raymond corner Father's cutter failed to cut in a big snow drift. I still can see Father flying out over Mother and me as we all were thrown out. We all laughed over that upset for many years.

One more little item: our open buggy made a splendid ride for any children living on the way,
who otherwise would not get to Sunday School. One such little friend and I wrote to each other until her death about four years ago. Lifelong friendships from early childhood are best. None are firmer than those formed at church. Dear old Salem Church of God. It has given one hundred years of service to its neighborhood. May God bless you all.

"Myra Coon Cross”

In private letters she was uninhibited about the relationship of the Coon family and Salem Church of God:

“About the Salem writeup—that sure was ancient history to me. I knew almost all the preachers and organizers named [up] to John Green in the list. Even remember how they looked in the pulpit –Angel, Van Horn, Osman, Schwenk ([ ?] was one of my dearest friends as long as she lived and I wrote to her daughter till she died and then to her granddaughter for awhile). Also new pastors Wilson, Hickman, Funk, Heltibridle who came down to Riverside from Grundy county (next of us west). Father hauled him out from Riverside Saturday pm to church Sunday am, Sunday night back to Riverside to train Monday am. Besides he slept at our house and ate there 9/10th of the time. So I had a good chance to watch Salem preachers. Until Schwenk came driving down from North Liberty, Father and Mother kept all preachers almost every Sunday they came, every two weeks I think, and always had to meet them at Ainsworth or Riverside. Eighteen miles team and buggy both ways. Mother washed for them if they were there longer, such as revivals. Believe me I already had a good education in the “ministry” before marrying one. And two-three years after marriage of sponging off people harder working and poorer than we were sure cooked that goose for me. I would not be a moocher on anybody, so we joined a church which didn’t do such stuff (and then it and we petered out entirely to my and Raymond’s great contentment). Old Heltibridle had a big farm of this finest land, three or four grown boys to do the work. And he’d come down to bleed Salem of a paltry few dollars and a chance to dress up and exhort somebody. I left home for school [in] 1909, so did not keep in touch with Salem after that. I knew Mother had helped organize it. She was a devout Christian – Father more like us three kids [Lindley, Ira, and Myra – Lewis was a devout  Christian].

And since there was no Quaker church closer than Iowa City or Mount Pleasant, Grandpa and Grandma Coon [P.B. and Rebecca] did not belong to Salem I don’t think. If they did, there was no acceptance of the Winebrennerian Church of God. But the new (then—Findley College was only established about 1880) Church of God missionary had come into the community (Salem). Mother [Elmira], who was quite progressive as a young woman, joined it as a girl when she lived in the old corner farm by Haskins. She and father went there as young folks, met and were married. But mother was the Church of God enthusiast. Father only tolerated the “hellfire” preachers and revival meetings and other noisy affirmations of religion. He was never a leader in church in any way shape or form. He didn’t believe in any demonstration—[in] anything but quiet decorous church worship. Mother accepted the habits of the church. In revival she could become quite emotionally worked up, but father, never. I was 10 when Grandma [Rebecca] died and I am sure she never rode to Salem church in all those years. She simply couldn’t stand emotionalism in any form. And so I’m sure Grandpa [P.B.] never went in the 7 years Mother had been there before he died. They may have had their membership there but were never Church of God people. Mother told me that Grandpa and Grandma used the Quaker salutation “thee, thy, thine etc” until 1886 when Grandma was left alone in a family “Church of Godians” and had to talk like the rest of the family.”

“The heart of their [Quaker] religion was worship of the Creator. Theirs was not a personal God who takes care of each individual. Father felt that way all his life. He could not bear songs like “God will take care of you” [Methodist hymn composed around 1905 ]. He
believed God made a man to stand on his own two feet and not yell for help when trouble
showed up. Mother’s religion was a God who helped each person, every day, every moment.
Father bred in each of us kids a healthy religion in which our correct worship of God was right living to the best of our knowledge. Anything less dishonored the Creator and was a sin against mankind.”

[For a fascinating discussion of the 17-century Quaker resistance to the singular “you” and its
relevance to contemporary linguist controversies over pronouns see Myra’s allusions to John Winebrenner’s Church of God missionaries, emphasis on revivals, etc are corroborated and amply documented in the Church of God website . The Quaker way of life is concisely described in "Herbert Hoover: Meetinghouse to White House." Iowa Heritage Illustrated]

Myra, in her letter to the congregation of the 1970s, mentions the “‘girls with whom I grew up’ – some of whom have relatives still attending Salem, I think.” They include Pearl Foster (who later became her brother’s wife [Lewis]) and May Drake (who later became her brother’s wife [Ira]), and Elvie Raymond [mother of Raymond and Hilton Coon]. Indeed these girls did have relatives still attending Salem in the 1970s and some of those alive in the
1970s are now buried in Salem Cemetery. Here is a list of those Coons (including women who married into the family) buried at Salem. They are descendants of Lydia Lucinda Porter and Elisha Coon, the brother of my ancestor P.B. My branch of the family is buried in Ainsworth, following the decision of P.B.