PENLAN — There is no shortage of history at the intersection of County Road 184 and Township Road 179.
This community began about 1898, but you won’t find it on a map. Today it’s among more than a dozen in the county listed as official Ghost Towns.
But Penlan Road (County Road 184) at the intersection of Township Road 179, once had a general store, East Salem School and Mount Pisgah Primitive Baptist Church, that was constituted in 1843.
The church still exists as does the school house, although the only outward sign of the latter is a weather-worn bell tower.
Nancy Collander moved here from Columbus in 1994 and bought the house across from the church.
“I always wanted to live in the country. As I drove up the road to it I said, ‘I want that house.’ It felt like I belonged there.”
The East Salem #1 School was built in 1865 and is now a barn on Collander’s property. She did extensive deed research when she bought the house and 15 acres.
She enjoys showing visitors the interior of the former school house, pointing out the remnants including a tray where the chalk was kept, a crumbling chimney and the word “Improve” partially visible on the south wall.
“Gen. James Taylor was one of the early residents. The house north of us was the general store. It’s empty now,” she said.
Directly across the road, Elder Jack Griffith Jr. continues to lead a small congregation at Mount Pisgah Baptist Church.
“We’re an enigma. We’re slow to change,” said Griffith, who joined the church in 1987.
About 25 people attend the service the third Sunday of each month, with only a handful being members.
His brother, Deacon James Griffith, calls it “an old-fashioned basic church.”
There is no paid minister and no Sunday school program. Hymns of praise and a sermon make up the 10:30 a.m. service.
The basement includes a kitchen and tables used for dining when meals are served. Old photographs on the walls remind members of the church’s history.
“We had one member who was 107 when she died and a man who was 102. We’ve always had older members all through the years,” James said.
At one time there were 18 churches in the Primitive Baptist Association. Now there are three, Owl Creek Harmony and Marlboro being the other two. The word primitive reflects the early teachings of Jesus Christ.
Penlan is the only community as such in Harmony Township’s history. It also had a post office and “was a thriving community during the late 1800s and early 1900s,” according to historical accounts.
Penlan Pike was one of the first paved roads in the county, records show, circa 1915 or 1916.
There are accounts of the popular “huckster wagon filled with merchandise” coming through the town, carrying merchandise from Dan Donovan’s store in Cardington.
Early business owners in Penlan bore the names of Lloyd, Evans, Winamute, Hildebrand, Steele, Cole, Lewis and Doughty.
The general store closed in the 1930s. The schools did likewise in 1934 and students transferred to neighboring districts.
Patty Van Dyke Mills lives on Township Road 179, west of the church.
“Our deed says it’s part of the original Penlan Farms. I’ve lived in the area since 1975.”
She isn’t alone as several relatives also reside within a quarter-mile of her place. Mills has two sisters and an uncle living there.
“There are lots of families who are related. Everybody knows everybody,” she said.
The rural location suits Mills.
“You can easily get to Marion, Mount Vernon or any of the burgs in the county,” she said. “And there is easy access to (Interstate) 71 and commute to work.”
In fact Harmony Township has 5.5 miles of I-71, the most in the county. And those motorists zooming along the interstate through Morrow County have no idea so much history is only a short distance away.
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