A Memorial Day service will be held at 10 a.m. Monday, May 27 at the Old Bethel Church in East Fork State Park.
The old Bethel Methodist Church, which is no longer in regular use, was established in 1805 by Rev. John Collins. The church began as a log cabin, but was replaced in 1818. The current building dates to 1867. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Rick Crawford, Clermont County and Amelia Methodist Church historian, said the church was abandoned in 1968, due to the formation of East Fork State Park. The creation of this park displaced an entire community.
“Several hundred families were forced to leave,” Crawford said. Although homeowners were paid for their houses, Crawford said, “It’s still a bitter topic among former residents. They were made to leave the only home they ever knew.”
The state wanted to build the park for environmental conservation purposes, but had other plans as well. According to Crawford, the East Fork State Park was supposed to have a golf course, hotel, and a lodge, among other attractions. However, Columbus built a state park at the same time and, according to Crawford, ended up “getting all the goods.” The state decided to invest in its capital instead.
The park is now used largely for recreational activities such as swimming, boating, and camping, but the Old Bethel Church still sits inside the park’s borders. Its adjoining cemetery holds a few hundred graves of former church goers that used to live in a community that has since been destroyed.
“President U.S. Grant’s grandparents, the Simpsons, went to church there,” Crawford said. “They’re buried in the cemetery.”
Also buried in the cemetery are more than 50 unknown soldiers. Their graves are marked by rows of flat stones in the back of the graveyard with the word “Unknown” and a number inscribed on the top.
According to Margene Pride, the church is now only used twice each year, once for Memorial Day and a second time for a homecoming in the fall.
“The American Legion comes down to the cemetery after the church service to honor the veterans,” Pride said. She said around 30-50 people attend the service each year.
Rick Crawford will serve as this year’s keynote guest speaker, as he has done in previous years.
The church can be found on Elklick Road in East Fork State Park.