"Impact" is probably the best way to describe the life and work of Rev. David Ewing Minerd. He spent 60 years in Christian ministry in Methodist churches of Fayette County, PA. He's one of a handful of our cousins whose obituary was printed in the New York Times.
During his career, David officiated at a record number of funerals and weddings. He started several churches which still exist today. He was a self-made man and made many sacrifices for his ministry. He suffered much pain, outliving three wives, two adult children and two young children. He also celebrated many joys, and saw his adult children and grandchildren lead active, productive lives.
David's entire life was spent in Fayette County. He was born at Hopwood, Fayette County in 1855, the son of Andrew and Sarah (Devan) Minerd, and died in 1943 in Connellsville at the age of 88.
During his career, David oversaw about 6,500 funerals and married about 3,500 couples. Counted together, that's about 10,000 events in 60 years of work. Thus he oversaw a funeral or wedding almost every other day. That doesn't even count church services he led. Enjoying tremendously positive press coverage, he was praised by the Connellsville Courier as "a very useful man, especially among the poor and working classes, and he enjoys the respect of everybody in the community."
~ First Marriage, to Emma Speer ~
David was married three times, first to Emma Speer (1854-1881). They had two children -- George E. Minerd and Margaret Minerd. In a tragic twist of fate, both of the children died young, followed to the grave almost immediately by their mother, who was afflicted with tuberculosis. At little Maggie's death, on Oct. 26, 1880, the Uniontown Republican Standard said "This is the second time death has invaded this household within a short time. The parents are now bereaved indeed, having lost both their children."
David's grief was compounded early in 1881, when Emma passed away, shortly after her children. David was 26 at the time, and the Uniontown newspaper reported that he was "wifeless and childless" in his grief. The epitaph on her grave at the Hopwood Cemetery reads: "Safe at home we trust, with Jesus at rest..."
~ David's Second Wife, Sarah Catherine Williams ~
In 1883, at the age of 28, David married 27-year-old Sarah Catherine Williams (1856-1916), the daughter of Abraham and Rachel (Cunningham) Williams of Mill Run, Fayette County. Through this marriage, David became kin to his wife's cousin Reuben and Martha (Cunningham) Leonard.
Tragedy almost struck the family once more in December 1897 when son William, "while playing about an open grate fire," said the Pittsburgh Daily Post, "was seriously burned." Tortunately, he survived.
In the photo seen here, David is seated at far right with sons Dan, Bill and Ewing, left to right, who all were World War I veterans. (See an enlarged view which was our "Photo of the Month" in July 2000.)
~ Patriotism and Political Service ~
David was very patriotic, rooted in boyhood. When he was just seven, his father went off to serve as a cavalry blacksmith in the Civil War. The young boy must have known the day-to-day anxiety that his father was risking his life far away. Later, as a parent himself, he felt the same anxiety when three of his own sons -- William, Dan and Ewing -- served in World War I. Upon his sons' safe return from the Army, in June 1919, David held "a family reunion and informal public reception" at his home in Dunbar, said the Courier. The house "was beautifully decorated in the national colors and a fine flag ornamented the front of the house. The dining room was especially handsome, large streamers being carried from the chandelier in the center to all parts of the room." The number of visitors numbered 300.
David's enthusiasm for his community showed, among other things, during his service as a vice president during Uniontown's "Old Home Week" in August 1912. He also was on the Entertainment Committee for Dunbar's Old Home Week Celebration on Oct. 6-9, 1915. Nearly three decades later, less than a week before he died, in 1943, further demonstrating his patriotism, he attended a World War II fundraising parade in Connellsville.
David was politically active throughout his life, a value he passed down to his children. In 1883, at age 28, he signed a petition to incorporate Dunbar as a borough. In the late 1880s and in the early 1900s, he served on the Dunbar School Board.
At some point, he ran for the office of Treasurer of Fayette County, and in a "sharp contest polled 1,500 votes" in a losing cause, said a local newspaper. Nine years later, at "the earnest request of many friends," he threw his hat again into the ring for the same office. "His fine qualifications will make him decidedly strong as a candidate for the nomination, and if successful his host of friends outside of his own party will make his election practically certain," said the article. "Nothing could be better for the people than if all candidates of all parties were as honest, upright and conscientious as the blacksmith preacher."
While he again lost the election for the county treasurer spot, his son Dan later captured the office in the 1930s.
Later, in the years leading up to World War I, he served as the Fayette County Poor Director, overseeing the County Home. In the 1930s, he was sealer of weights and measures and health officer in Connellsville.
~ Early Blacksmithing and an "Inner Urge" to Preach ~
During the Civil War, David's father, Andrew returned home safely from the Army, went back into the blacksmith business and moved the family to Broadford, where new coke ovens were being built. That's where he taught David how to handle a hammer and anvil. He later attributed his longevity to his early years as a blacksmith. This skill later put food on his family's table when he was earning only a meager salary as a minister.
As a boy, David received his Christian training at home and at church. When in his early teens, he sensed an "inner urge" to do mission work and become a minister. Converted in 1868 under the pastorate of Rev. P.T. Conway of Hickory Square Methodist Church near Broadford, he soonafter was baptized by Rev. Henry Lucas in the Youghiogheny River.
In 1868, when he was 13, his father bought the James Smiley blacksmith shop in Dunbar, Fayette County, and moved the family to the premises. Upon arriving, David began helping his father in the blacksmith shop; "yet he continued going to school as much as possible in the winter time until he was 15, when he crossed the doorstep of the old Harper stone school house for the last time," reported the Connellsville Courier. "Although his last teacher, Miss Mary Herron, is now deceased, still the old stone school house near the furnace store remains as a place of instruction for the boys and girls of the present."
Dunbar is where he spent most of the remainder of his life, except the 1890s when he was at Uniontown and his last years in Connellsville.
When he was only 19, David received a license to exhort -- which allowed him to lead meetings and oversee funerals. "Honest, conscientious, upright, a good exhorter, and a good lay worker at revivals, the transition from the anvil to the pulpit was only natural," said the Courier.
Yet he suffered an eye injury in the forge, made worse by the intense heat. His physician Dr. R.W. Clark advised him to "quit the trade for awhile," said the Courier, and so in 1893 he moved to Uniontown. At the invitation of "Mrs. Bittle," David began preaching in the school house in Uniontown's East End. He "was busy in the mission work nearly every Sunday in some of the surrounding towns," said the Courier. He conducted his first revival in the coal mining town of Oliver, Fayette County, and "the result of his two weeks' labor was 18 converts."
For the next 19 years, David worked with the status of a lay pastor. It was not until age 38 that he was officially ordained. He was tall, and thin, and wore a mustache. His trademark was a black hat, black suit, black tie and white vest. Finding white vests for him was difficult, and that he sometimes had to go to Pittsburgh to get them.
David liked to act out the Bible passages when preaching. If he were telling about Joseph being stripped of his coat of many colors and cast into a pit by his brothers, he would reach out his arm and swoop it down low.
For his first years of ministry, David held mission meetings at the Dunbar Methodist Church. When the Dunbar church was first built, it was "very weak," but after he became involved, it grew to 250 members.
The early years were not easy. David called it an era of "trials and tribulations." To make ends meet, he ministered by day and blacksmithed by night, and was nicknamed the "blacksmith preacher" or the "anvil preacher." The Courier once recounted that "although he gets paid for very few [funerals], yet he leaves the anvil sometimes at a loss of several dollars to preach the funeral service of any person for which he has been called. it matters not who the person is or how far the distance."
He was such an up-and-comer that in 1889, when the book Biographical and Portrait Cylopedia of Fayette County was published, by John M. Gresham, David was profiled in one of the short chapters. The full text of the chapter is online at RootsWeb.
In January 1894, he came to Uniontown to "conduct meetings" at the White Schoolhouse in the east end. Despite snow and rain, the meetings attracted large crowds. On Feb. 11, 1894, 48 people met to formally organize a congregation, and the trustees were formed the next day. Ground was broken on March 27th, the cornerstone laid on May 17th, and the building dedicated on July 29th...on his 39th birthday. The cost of the lot and building was about $4,000. He became the inaugural pastor of the church
At the start, Calvary was known as the East End Church, the Minerd Chapel or the Minerd Methodist Church. The Uniontown News Standard, of July 24, 1894, reported that "The Minerd church will be completed Saturday all except the seats which have been delayed by the railroad blockade. Services will be held in the new structure Sunday at 10:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m." The Connellsville Courier reported that a number of David's old friends from the Dunbar Methodist Church came to attend the big event.
A week after the church opened, David held special evening services to benefit Civil War veterans and their families, and the Ladies' Circle. In August, Sunday School was formed. During that time, there was a economic recession, or as it was called, "industrial difficulty." David was not paid a single cent for two whole years; he survived by income from his blacksmith work.
David spent nearly four years at Calvary. His son Dan was born during that time. In 1895, the church was officially received into the membership of the Pittsburgh Conference. In September 1897, he left to begin a year-long assignment at the White Rock mission. He went on to build more Methodist churches at Coolspring and Mount Braddock. He stayed at Mount Braddock for 12 years. The highest amount he was paid there was $300 a year.
After leaving Mount Braddock, David spent about 19 years in mission work. He wore out two buggies in the mission field in the Mount Braddock, Lemont, Coolspring and Uniontown areas during this time. When the Greenwood Methodist Church in Connellsville was founded in 1921, he became its first preacher and dug the first shovelful of dirt at the groundbreaking.
Preaching did provide fame, and he became a celebrity, especially popular with local newspapers. David's name was in the papers several times a week, for funerals or weddings or special services. The Connellsville Courier published "From Pulplit to Forge" in January 1902, and in May 1904, both the Courier and Uniontown Daily News Standard ran major feature stories -- "The Anvil Preacher" (Courier) and "100 Conversions" (Daily News Standard). One time, an obituary headline, instead of naming the deceased, read "Rev. Minerd Conducts Funeral." When he died in 1943, it was front-page news in the Connellsville Daily Courier, right next to the latest World War II update about the fighting in Europe and the Pacific.
The Philadelphia Inquirer published a short article about David's influence in April 1904. In the story, "Dying; Goes to Church," the Inquirer said that Mrs. John Adams of Mount Braddock, near Connellsville, "dying slowly from a tedious illness, was brought into church on a cot and gave testimony of her conversion to Christianity. She is one of eighty converted at a remarkable revival service led by Rev. D.E. Minerd, the famous blacksmith preacher."
~ Family Reunions ~
David enjoyed attending family gatherings, including the annual Minerd Reunions held in Fayette and Somerset Counties. Although the reunions were not organized by his "near" cousins, he became involved right away, and was elected secretary of the second reunion, held at Ohiopyle, Fayette County, on Sept. 12, 1914. He no doubt was one of the "several prominent speakers" who gave an address that day. He was the official guest speaker at the 1920 reunion, held on Aug. 12 at the Ferncliff Hotel, and at that reunion, he was photographed in the front row, far right, standing beside Joseph M. Luckey. By 1930, when the Minerd Reunions were still being held, his daughter Bess Lemon and son Dan Minerd were active organizers.
He also is known to have given an address at the Crossland family reunion in August 1927. When his cousin James Calvin Minerd Sr. held a reunion party at Bowood, near Smithfield, Fayette County in 1928, David and Rose Ella were counted among the guests.
Seen here, David poses at a family gathering in a four-generations photo. Left to right: daughter Mary Belle Riley, Rev. Minerd, granddaughter Virginia Snyder and great-granddaughter Judy Campbell.
David also liked to talk. One person has said the only thing needed for him to preach "was a tree stump and a congregation." Another cousin, once attended a funeral at which he preached on a hot day and feared the sermon would never end. He did not always remember the names of every member of his flock, but would greet them with "Hello brother" or "Good morning sister."
He was a workaholic. As an older man, he would come to his daughter's home for Sunday dinner, only to announce when the meal was over that he was ready to leave. It's not that he didn't enjoy the company. Rather, it was time for his next appointment. He never stopped.
Sadly, after 33 years of marriage, Sarah was stricken with gangrene and septicimea in addition to heart valve problems, and died at age 60 on Sept. 25, 1916. She was laid to rest at Hill Grove Cemetery in Connellsville. Her funeral tribute card and photograph are seen here.
The later years of David's life brought him both great joy ... and deep, deep sorrow. He enjoyed seeing his grandchildren marry and begin their own families. He performed the weddings of his children, nieces, nephews and grandchildren, and baptized at least one of his great-grandchildren, maybe more.
~ A Third Marriage, to Rose Ella (Bunting) Hodgkins ~
After five years as a widower, David married his third wife, Rose Ella (Bunting) Hodgkins (1876-1931), in 1921. The ceremony took place in Ohio County, WV. He was age 66, and she 44, at the time of the nuptials.
The Minerds made their home during this period on South Eighth Street in Connellsville.
Rose Ella was the widow of Israel Hodgkins (1861-1918), and the daughter of Henry C. and Phoebe Jane Bunting, "who were among the most widely known residents of Dunbar," said the Daily Courier. Her first husband, who had died in 1918, owned and operated drug stores in Connellsville and Perryopolis, Fayette County. Said the Courier, "Having spent all of her married life at Perryopolis and Connellsville, [Rose Ella] had hundreds of friends in the community. A woman of Christian character and pleasing personality, she won the friendship and esteem of all with whom she came in contact."
Rose Ella had a daughter from the first marriage, Pauline Chalfant, wife of Charles F. Chalfant of Barnesville, OH. On another note, Rose Ella's brother, Harry Bunting, was married to David's cousin, Anna Hoye.
In 1930, son Dan was elected Mayor of Connellsville for the first of three terms. At age 33, he was already a leading dentist and was the youngest man ever to become mayor of Connellsville. David always attended his son's events and inauguration ceremonies.
In April 1931, however, a series of heartaches began anew. David's wife Rose Ella caught pneumonia, and unable to overcome its effects, died at the age of 55. Rev. T.R. Courtice of McKeesport, PA officiated, "assisted by a number of other ministers of Connellsville and nearby points," reported a newspaper. Burial was in Oak Grove Cemetery in Uniontown, with pallbearers including W.S. Behanna, W.E. DeBolt, James Cypher, Ray Ellenberger, C.K. Snyder and Frank McCairns, with A.W. Hart as lone honorary pallbearer.
Just four years later, in 1935, son Ed -- prospering owner of the Minerd funeral home -- died at the young age of 35. The very next year, in 1936, 48-year-old son, Ewing -- postmaster of Dunbar -- died suddenly in his sleep of a heart attack. That same year, David lost his daughter in law, Charlotte, Dan's wife, during a peak period in Dan's political popularity. She died after a long illness, and left three young children..
His last years were spent quietly. He lived on South Eighth Street in Connellsville. In April 1943, at the age of 88, he fell and was taken to the Connellsville State Hospital. He seemed to be doing fine, but suddenly lapsed into unconsciousness and never pulled out.
He died, fittingly, on a Sunday. He is buried at Hill Grove Cemetery in Connellsville, beside his second wife, Sarah, the mother of his adult children.
~ Many Legacies ~
As a mark of the distinction of his career, David is one of the very few of our cousins living outside of the New York City area to have an obituary published in the New York Times. The obit recognized him as the "Blacksmith Preacher" and noted his work to found many churches and officiate at 10,000 funerals and weddings.
Son Dan later purchased a stained glass window in his parents' memory, seen here, at the Calvary Church.
In 1994, the founder of this website presented remarks about David at the centennial celebration of the Calvary church in Uniontown.
On June 19, 2002, David was featured in an article about Dunbar in the Connellsville Daily Courier. The story later was republished in the book, There's No Place Like Dunbar! 2002-2004 - Historical Vignettes and Personal Reflections from The Daily Courier's Dunbar Column, authored by Donna R. Myers and Bonnie L. Zurick of the Dunbar (PA) Historical Society. A thumbnail image of the book is seen here.