Church History


The Founding of Our Church in Dayton, Indiana


Father James_A_CarnahanRev. James A. Carnahan (1802-1879)

When Rev. James A. Carnahan (1802-1879) first preached in the Dayton area in the early1830s, the town was only a few years old and was surrounded by wilderness. Rev. Carnahan was a missionary sponsored by the American Home Missionary Society and pastor at the Lafayette Presbyterian church (now Central Presbyterian). One of his first sermons is said to have been preached on the site of an unfinished building with the audience sitting on the sills and sleepers to hear the message. He also spoke under the Old Oak Tree on the site of the future church building. In 1834, Dayton Presbyterian Church was founded by Rev. Carnahan.  All the charter members at Dayton  were members at Lafayette who transferred to the new church. The first session was composed of three ruling elders with the first name of Samuel: Samuel Favorite, Samuel Elliott, and Samuel Fullenwider. "Father" Carnahan wrote in the Session minutes that they were a "Band of Samuels."


sower window

The Sower Window: “Sowing Seeds of Love”

The Sower window is an arched stained-glass window that rests high on the front of our church and filters light into our sanctuary, in the third church building on this site, erected in 1899. The window is dedicated to the memory of the Reverend James Aikman Carnahan, the founder of our church and its pastor for 40 of its first 44 years.  He also founded other churches in the "Wabash country" and was one of the men who knelt in the snow to pray at the founding of Wabash College at Crawfordsville. After his death in Dayton in 1876, Rev. J. F. Tuttle, president of Wabash College, delivered the eulogy at his funeral here. At a Congregational Meeting held on March 2, 1916, a motion passed to change the name of the Dayton Presbyterian Church to Memorial Presbyterian Church of Dayton, in honor of  "Father" Carnahan, as he was affectionately known. In the early 1990s our congregation, as a symbol or logo for our church, selected a depiction of this “Sower” above the phrase “Sowing Seeds of Love.”  It has appeared in many of our newspaper advertisements, brochures, and flyers.


“The Church with a Purpose”

Sometime in the early 1900s the phrase “A Church with a Purpose” was added to the description of our church.  Seven purposes were listed:

  • To know our Father and glorify Him

  • To know Christ and obey Him

  • To know the Scriptures and Practice them

  • To know our Community and serve it

  • To know our Neighbor and love him as our self

  • To shun Sin and find a Savior

  • To lose Self and find eternal life 

The Old Oak Tree

OldOakTreeFather James A. Carnahan, founder of Dayton Memorial Presbyterian Church, preached his first sermons in the area under its branches in the early 1830s. Pioneers and native Indians worshiped together beneath it. Next to the tree, the first church building was erected in 1834, facing west. After Sunday School, boys would fill their pockets with nuts from the tree to take home to roast and enjoy.   When the second church was built in 1852, this tree alone remained of the native forest that had once covered the ground.

In the 1856 presidential campaign, a small black boy climbed the tree and tied a flag to a dead limb at the top, where it remained for years. In 1899, amid great anxiety, the tree was trimmed so the second building could be moved to make way for the present structure. The education wing was added in 1958.

About 1995, it became apparent that the beloved old tree was nearing the end of its life span. It was identified as a chinquapin oak, and several seedlings were obtained and planted to stand in for it when the time came. In 2004, the church building and the tree were damaged in a tornado. The building was repaired, but the old tree had to be cut down. Its young replacement should stand by the church for years to come.

 A copy of this text is in place at the foot of the new tree at the southeast corner of the church.


Bits From the Past

Samuel and Sarah Peter Brand Bequest
The tremendous growth of the Sunday School with an average attendance of 154 in 1894 meeting in the sanctuary created a need for additional space. A plan was drawn up to build an addition. When Samuel Brand, who had served the Sunday School as secretary/treasurer, died on Jan 7, 1895, at the age of 57, he left a bequest to the church of $1,000 to be used for a new building with the request that his wife, Sarah Peter Brand, contribute the same amount. She did, and the church members began to work in earnest to raise money for a new building. One project was the publication of a church history. By 1899 they had a new building, the brick building we use today. The stained-glass window in the front vestibule is dedicated to the memory of Samuel and Sarah Brand,  who provided the seed money and tipped the decision in the direction of a new building


Sabbath School

In the 1890s, when the drive was underway to raise money for the new church building, the Sabbath School met in the sanctuary but was independent of the church. It was part of a national, inter-denominational organization called the Sunday School Union. The organization was very popular, and the high attendance was one of the reasons the need was felt for a new building. Twelve classes with a total of 150 or more pupils were meeting in a one-room church. The Sabbath School raised a large donation for the new building. The large stained-glass window on the west side of the sanctuary recognizes the donation made by the Sabbath School toward the new building.

Ladies Aid Society

In February 1896, the Ladies Aid Society was formed to raise money for the new building, especially for its furnishings. One of the first projects was to have a photograph taken of the 1852 building then in use. The organization continued to function until about 1909. A window in the sanctuary bears the name of the Ladies Aid Society.

The Industrial Society

On March 21, 1923, the women of the church organized the Industrial Society for the purpose of raising money to be used for upkeep of the church and especially for the Manse. Serving thrashing dinners and quilting were important sources of income for this group.

Women's Foreign Missionary Society: Annual Chicken and Biscuit Supper

The Women’s Foreign Missionary Society was organized in 1877 with emphasis on missions. In 1931 the group began the annual Chicken and Biscuit Supper to raise money. This has developed into the Smorgasbord and Bazaar still held each fall. The name of the sponsoring organization has changed over the years: in 1941 the women organized as the Women’s Fellowship. Later it was known as the Presbyterian Women’s Organization (PWO), the United Presbyterian Women (UPW), and presently Dayton Presbyterian Women (DPW). The money raised in this annual project has benefited both missions and the local church in many ways. A window in the sanctuary bears the name of the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society. 

The Tither's League

In the early 1900s the Tither's League was formed to promote tithing. The money received was divided among the general fund, the local fund, and the missionary fund. In 1919 the organization purchased a new bulletin board that was fastened to the front of the church.

The Trustee Fund Association

On September 28, 1930, the Trustee Fund Association was formed to raise funds for use in maintaining, repairing, and insuring  the church properties. The money raised was given directly to the trustees for use for these purposes.


The church receives many memorials, funds given in memory of deceased members. Items purchased with these funds often bear a plaque listing the name of the honoree. A book is maintained listing those who have given funds in memory of others. This book is found in the parlor. The stained glass windows also bear the names of members honored when the present building was built. Windows were donated in honor and memory of the following individuals: Father James A. Carnahan (the large Sower window), Samuel Favorite, David H. Crouse, Asa Andrew, Robert Elliott, Calvin Dill, Noah Sharp, and Rev. C. A. Kanouse.

The Nesbitt Memorial Fund

In 1976 Dr. William S. and Esther E. Nesbitt donated their house at 734 Walnut St. to the church in memory of family members. The church had to decide whether to use the house, rent it, or sell it. The decision was made to sell the house and invest the money. This money has served us well over the years as the Nesbitt Memorial Fund. Dr. Nesbitt was especially interested in providing land for church expansion. Monies from this fund were used, along with donations and a Synod loan, when the Ricks property was purchased in 1996.

The ADAM Fund

The ADAM Fund was established in 1998 in memory of Adam Dexter, a twenty-year -old deacon of the church who was killed in a car accident. His family asked that the fund be used for projects to benefit the elderly and the handicapped, areas of special interest to Adam. The new handicapped accessible bathrooms were constructed using monies from the ADAM fund and other sources.

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