Hiram Crouch thought himself a failure. Thousands of people, over the last hundred-plus years, might disagree.
Hiram came to the Oil Creek valley in 1863 to invest in the oil boom. He lost his investment but found a home at Columbia Farm, just south of Petroleum Center.
Hiram and his wife belonged to the fledgling Free Methodist Church, started just three years before. They missed their church in Rochester, New York and began inviting neighbors to their home for bible study.
Camp meetings were popular in the late 1800’s, and often resulted in important spiritual movements. In 1871, a group from Hiram Crouch’s Columbia Farm bible study organized a successful camp meeting at the foot of Central Avenue in Oil City. New converts from that camp meeting formed the Oil City Circuit of the Free Methodist Church.
The new church met in rented buildings on South Side Oil City until 1881, when they bought property and built a church on East Fourth Street. That building still stands, although modified beyond recognition into an apartment house.
The church held popular revival meetings throughout the city and added new members regularly. One meeting took place in 1899, in a storeroom across the river among a scattered group of buildings known as Siverlyville. As usual, the meeting brought a new group of converts to Fourth Street. Unfortunately, for these parishioners, transportation
was limited to walking a dangerous route across the ties of the railroad bridge connecting Siverlyville to the East end of Oil City.
Recognizing the danger of crossing a railroad bridge, the Free Methodist Church of South Side Oil City, as it was now called, bought a Siverlyville lot and some used lumber, and planted their first church, the Siverly Second Church.
Eventually the Free Methodist Church of South Side Oil City dropped the South Side designation and became the First Free Methodist Church of Oil City. First church outgrew its Fourth Street location and built a brick building on Wilson Avenue that was dedicated in 1925. That’s the building we now call the Wilson Avenue location.
Shortly after, the Siverly Second Free Methodist Church replaced its decaying structure with the current brick building on Willow Street, dedicated in 1935, and known as the Second Free Methodist Church.
From the 1960’s to the 1980’s, both churches added fellowship halls and remodeled. The Second Free Methodist Church became Willow Street Free Methodist Church.
The real legacy of the Free Methodist churches in Oil City, however, is not found in buildings. It is found in the lives of Oil City residents changed over its history. It is found in the names that helped make Oil City a great place to live – doctors, laborers, homemakers, and businessmen. The combined attendance of both churches made them one of the larger congregations in Oil City. From these churches have come several pastors and missionaries that stretch the influence of Free Methodism in Oil City from coast to coast and around the world.
We appreciate the legacy, the heritage. But our history is not the final word.In 1998 the two churches, looking at the needs in the community, began sensing a new vision for ministry. They formed a cooperative task force to discuss the value of combining resources to better serve the needs of both locations and the Oil City area. That summer, after being separated for nearly a century, the churches reunited and, once again, became the Free Methodist Church of Oil City. Both locations are maintained to serve unique needs.