Despite the lack of cold weather or snow, the sounds of a ringing bell and the site of the “red kettle” at various locations throughout the county signify the fact that the yuletide holiday is upon us. The Salvation Army, which is an international organization started in 1865 by a Methodist circuit-preacher in London, England, has played a significant role in aiding Logan Countians for many years, and continues to do so. The Army’s role has always been the advancement of the Christian religion, educating children, providing different types of relief for the poor, and by doing many other beneficial and charitable things. The organization has a worldwide membership of over 1.5 million people, many of whom are called “soldiers.” However, volunteer bell ringers and, more recently, paid bell ringers sometimes play or sing Christmas carols in hopes of inspiring passersby to place donations in the “red kettle.”
Nearly everyone in Logan County at one time or another has probably passed by the Salvation Army church building located at 544 Stratton Street in Logan. Part of the interesting history behind the brick structure, which was originally built as a Methodist church, is that the trustees of the church could not afford to pay for it as the depression hit Logan. The church organization wound up taking donations to help save it from Jefferson Standard Life Insurance Company of Greensboro, N.C. Of even more interest is the fact that one of the trustees, Logan Judge Naaman Jackson, who also was the presiding judge in the 1932 Mamie Thurman murder trial of Clarence Stephenson, was the first to sign on a deed to the Klu Klux Klan of Logan County for the former frame church that was also located on Stratton Street not far from the newer church.
On Jan. 11, 1927 The Logan Banner reported that the cornerstone laying ceremony would be conducted by Grand Master W.T. Browning of the local lodge of the Ancient, Free, and Accepted Masons. The Banner reported that, “This is the first step towards the splendid victory of the heroic congregation of Methodists. The new building, when completed, will be a most delightful architectural addition to the many buildings of the fast growing city of Logan.”
Though Nighbert Memorial Church had long been in existence in Logan, the Civil War had caused a rift in the Methodist religion because of political and sociological beliefs regarding certain issues, including slavery. Therefore, some churches were designated as Methodist Episcopal North or Methodist Episcopal South. Since Nighbert Memorial was named after James Nighbert, who fought for the southern forces, the Stratton street location was clearly a church with more “northern” beliefs. The white frame church, which stood where the former Salvation Army playground used to be, and where a storage building facility is now located on Stratton Street, was sold to the local KKK for $9,500. The deed was signed by trustees of the church Nov. 26, 1927 and the grantee was listed as “Logan County Klan No. 87 of the West Virginia Knights of the Klu Klux Klan, Inc.” The deed was signed about two months prior to the laying of the cornerstone of the new church. Just five years later, the Klan, with C.P. Hall listed as President, deeded the property to the Salvation Army on Aug. 4, 1932.
Prior to that transaction, the charitable organization was first located in the Aldredge Building on Stratton Street via a two-year $75 per month lease with Ella Aldredge. The lease was signed in 1929.
The Board of Home Missions and Church Extension of the Methodist Church sold the newest church to the Salvation Army Dec. 22, 1943. One month later, Judge Naaman Jackson’s picture appeared on The Banner’s front page where it was announced that Jackson was the treasurer of the Salvation Army Advisory Board, and that he had accepted the chairmanship to raise $6,500 to pay off an outstanding indebtedness on the structure. The story related that Jackson reported that in 1942 seventy-one “Senior street meetings” were conducted drawing a total of 8,247 people, while 102 Sunday indoor meetings attracted a total of 3,709 persons. In the Young People’s group, Sunday School had a yearly attendance of 3,342 and Young People’s Legion 1,522. A total of 758 transient individuals were aided including assistance to 100 homeless men and 46 transient women. A total of 85 lodgings were supplied and 1,657 meals were served.
Of relevance is the fact that the Sunday School attendance averaged about 70 for the year 1942, but many years prior as many as 150 attended each Sunday. The various movie theatres of the town were blamed for the attendance drop when movies started being shown on the Sabbath day.
During various coal mining layoffs and strikes prior to World War II, and especially during the Great Depression, the Salvation Army, churches, and Boy and Girl Scout organizations gathered such things as shoes and coats for the poor and needy, of which there were many in the coalfields of the county. The programs instituted by Franklin D. Roosevelt after he was elected in 1932 helped the Appalachian hill people tremendously, but the Salvation Army continued then, as it does now, to provide social aid, particularly in disaster relief. The non-governmental service has an operating cost of nearly $3 billion a year, and depends upon donations to continue its services.
In 2004, Joan B. Kroc, the third wife of former McDonald’s CE0 and founder Ray Croc, donated $1.6 billion in her will. The donation was among the largest philanthropic gifts ever given a single organization.
On the local level, it should soon be formerly announced that the Logan Salvation Army will open a “Thrift Store” at the newly remodeled location on downtown Stratton Street that used to operate as the “Ten and Under” store. Donated used items such as clothing, housewares and toys are sold, and the money is designated toward free rehabilitation from alcohol and drug abuse in various global locations.
During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, the Salvation Army served more than 5.7 million hot meals and 8.3 million sandwiches and snacks. The Salvation Army, along with the American Red Cross, also was one of the first agencies on the scene of the September 11 attacks on New York City. Pastoral and counseling was provided to comfort the spiritual and emotional needs of thousands of individuals.
So, with Christmas just around the corner, perhaps one can understand why the ringing of the bells and the site of the “red kettles” means so much, even on a local level— as Loganites over the years have always given their part. And we will continue to do so.
Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.