Volume 8, Number 11 - Spring 1985

"I Will Build My Church…"
A History of Yeakley Chapel United Methodist Church
by Alan Schmitt

In the early days of cross-country automobile travel, one of the main east-west highway arteries of the midwest was Route 66. For many travelers, it was the concrete equivalent to the steel ribboned tracks of the transcontinental railroad of earlier days of transportation, an important and necessary link between where they were going and where they had come from. One of the most interesting things about traveling along the route was the variety of sites one might encounter along the way. Interspersed among the rolling hills and vast prairies of middle American were a unique assortment of gas stations, roadside diners, cottage motels, and little towns that were often known only as another "wide spot in the road."

With the development of faster and more efficient auto transportation, the original Route 66 has gradually been replaced with a network of modern interstate highway systems. Much of the original route has been absorbed into the new roads and were a portion of the old road remains, its classification number has been changed to a state or county road. The end result of this march of progress has been the disappearance of those familiar sites along the way and the demise of many of those unique "wide-spot" communities. However, along a stretch of the original Route 66, now designated as Missouri 266, between Springfield, and Halltown, there remains a quaint structure that has occupied its present location since 1887. The sign on the front reads "YEAKLEY CHAPEL M.E. (Methodist-Episcopal) CHURCH." and this is its history.

Yeakley Chapel. (now United Methodist) Church is the beneficiary of three notable and significant traditions. It is a part of the rich history of American Methodism, celebrating two-hundred years of ministry in the United States. It can proudly take its place in the history of the early development of religion in Greene County, and it is a living memorial to the dedication of farsightedness of its pioneer founders.

In their Past and Present of Greene County Missouri, published in 1915, Jonathan Fairbanks and Clyde Edwin Tuck make the following observation. "As is often the case in the newer portions of our country, the history of churches in Greene County...begins with the travels and activities of the man on horseback. A truly militant character he, carrying on in the name of his exalted master an aggressive warefare on the hosts of sin and satan... All honor to the humble, faithful soldier of the cross, pioneer knight errant of salvation, armed with Bible and hymn book, the Methodist itinerant!" The beginning of ecclesiastical history in Greene County belongs to that of the Southern Methodist Church. A small congregation was formed at Ebenezer, north of Springfield, in 1831, and there is evidence that the first sermon preached in Greene County was delivered prior to that date by a Rev. James H. Slavens, himself an elder in the Methodist church.

The history of Yeakley Chapel can be traced back to November 15, 1908. It was on that date that Henry and Susanna Yeakley celebrated the birth of a son, John, one of thirteen children born to this early pioneer couple. For the first thirty years of his life, John grew up on the old homestead in Tennessee. When a young man, he learned the blacksmith trade which he followed as his main vocation throughout the subsequent years of his active life. In 1829, John married Matilda Grills and ten years later this young couple following


the westward migration of the nations, leaving their native Greene County, Tennessee, for a home in the wild and sparsely settled country of southwest Missouri. Traveling in a small, two-horse wagon, the Yeakley’s spent their first Missouri winter in Polk County. In the spring of 1940, they moved south and settled on eighty acres in West Center Township of Greene County, Missouri.

Although his mother was a Quaker and his father a devout Lutheran, John Yeakley’s religious beliefs always seemed to be Methodist. He was a tolerant man, and his study of the holy word and his dedication to the church were guiding forces in his life and the lives of his family and friends. It was his strong belief in the Almighty, coupled with his pioneering spirit, that inspired Yeakley to join with five other families in establishing the first Methodist Church in West Center Township.

Organized in 1865 as Yeakley Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church South, the small congregation worshiped together in many locations. In 1870, the church celebrated the dedication of their first house of worship, a 37 x 50 ft. frame structure, built at a cost of $2,000.00, PAID IN FULL! The register of charter members included Mr. & Mrs. John Yeakley and Mr. & Mrs. A. A. Lawson. The Lawsons were also influential in the organization of the Center Methodist Church, chartered in 1875. This congregation later became the Elwood Methodist Episcopal Church South, officially named in 1902. Mr. Lawson also served as pastor of many small congregations located in the surrounding area, including Yeakley Chapel. Also included in the first register of Yeakley members were J.N. & Martha Jones, Mr. & Mrs. B. Johnson, and J.C. Richardson.

On January 29, 1883, the original church building was destroyed by fire, the victim of a stray spark from an old wood stove. Feeling a deep sense of personal loss, John Yeakley gave the land for a new church and assisted in the construction of a new building, built in 1887 west of the original location, in connection with a small local cemetery. Except for being turned to face the north, the addition of a basement, and periodic maintenance, this building still serves the congregation today and the grave of John Yeakley is located in the cemetery nearby.

The oldest existing records of the church are in an old register dated 1890-93. The first entry is the minutes of "The First Quarterly Conference for the year 1890-1891," conducted at Pearce Chapel on December 6, 1890. At the time, Yeakley chapel was a part of the Bois D’Arc circuit that also included the Bois D'Arc Church, Pearce Chapel, and the church at a small settlement known as Wyandott. The preacher in charge of this early meeting was Jacob Shook, a name that has meant a great deal to the Yeakley congregation for many years.

While over the years Yeakley Chapel has experienced many changes, both in leadership and membership, it has always stood firm in its dedication to proclaiming the Gospel and ministering to the needs of its people. No one knows what John Yeakley envisioned the church that bears his name might become. However, one cannot help but suspect that he deeply believed in the words of Jesus when he said, "...I will build my church and the powers of death shall not prevail against it."


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