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Cox Memorial United Methodist Church

Hallowell, Maine
Heritage Landmark of The United Methodist Church

Methodism in Hallowell dates from October 13, 1793, when Jesse Lee preached in the town. This was probably the first Methodist sermon ever heard in the Kennebec region of Maine. In 1800, a revival was held by Epaphras Kibby, and the first two converts, Charles and Martha Cox, had their infant twins, Melville and Gershom, baptized.

The Cox family was active in the Methodist Society from its beginning. The Hallowell Church began as a Methodist chapel, constructed around 1802. Melville Cox grew up in the chapel and began preaching by the time he was twenty years old. In March 1821 he was licensed to preach by the Kennebec District Conference, and received his first appointment in 1822. Ill health, however, forced Cox to return to Hallowell in 1825.

During that same period, the church members decided to build a new sanctuary. Melville Cox became secretary of the group of men elected to find and purchase the land for the new church. His handwritten minutes and the deed (signed by Cox) still exist.

Cox moved south in November 1826 to avoid the Maine winter and hopefully recover his health. He preached off and on until 1828, when he married and located. During the next two years he was editor of The Itinerant in Baltimore, until his wife's death in December 1830. Cox returned to the ministry, although his health was still fragile.

By mid-1831 Cox had become interested in missions. The Methodist Episcopal Church had formed a Missionary Society in 1819, but no suitable foreign missionary had yet been found. Cox offered himself to Bishop Elijah Hedding for the South American field. Instead, Hedding asked if he would go to Liberia, established on Africa's west coast for freed American slaves.

Cox sailed from Norfolk on November 6, 1832, arriving in Monrovia on March 8, 1833. He held camp meeting, started regular worship and Sunday school, and developed mission strategies all within a few weeks of his arrival, but his health was simply not up to the task, and he died of malaria on July 21, 1833 after three months of decline.

Although his career was painfully brief, Cox's story inspired many in the early missions movement. Before he sailed for Liberia, Cox told a friend that should he die in Africa, the friend should write his epitaph. What, asked the friend, should the epitaph say? Cox replied, "Let a thousand die before Africa be given up."

Points of interest at this Heritage Landmark: The church features a large stained glass window (erected in 1912) showing Melville Cox preaching to Africans. Other Cox-related memorabilia, including minutes in his handwriting, are on display. A plaque on the lawn notes the church's historical importance.

Parking and restrooms are available at the church. The Cox Memorial church building is now completely handicapped accessible.

Special events: Old Hallowell Days are held annually on the 3rd Friday and Saturday of July and the church is usually open for one or more events during this time.

Area attractions: Hallowell is an early sea commerce center with many old homes of captains of both sea and commerce still standing. Directly uphill from the church, the 1813 powder house still stands atop a hill near the granite quarries that sent pre-carved building blocks and statuary to the growing cities of the east coast. The last remaining mill building is now a seniors’ residence. Hallowell was known as the antiques capital of Maine. Nearby Augusta is the state capital. Lewiston is to the southwest and Portland, Maine's largest city, is about eighty miles south of Hallowell. The rocky, Maine coast, including Acadia National Park, is a short drive to the east and south. Moosehead Lake is several hours north.  The Cox Memorial United Methodist Church is an active United Methodist congregation. It is open for regular worship. For tours, please contact the church at 207-751-0273 or Harvey and Melicent Versteeg (contact info below).

To visit: Cox Memorial United Methodist Church is an active United Methodist congregation. It is open for regular worship. For tours, please contact the church at 207-751-0273 or coxumc@myfairpoint.net or Harvey and Melicent Versteeg (contact info below).

Location: Within the boundaries of the New England Annual Conference, in Kennebec County, Maine. The church is on the corner of Middle and Central Streets in Hallowell which is two miles south of the state capital.

Food and lodging: There are restaurants in Hallowell, and motels and restaurants in Augusta, just north of Hallowell.

For further information, contact: Harvey & Melicent Versteeg, 81 Church Hill Road, Augusta, Maine 04330, 207-623-3793; E-mail: hversteg@yahoo.com.

To learn more about United Methodist church history in this area:

Contact Harvey & Melicent Versteeg (see address above).

Wade Crawford Barclay, History of Methodist Missions (New York: Board of Missions and Church Extension of The Methodist Church, 1949), volume 1.

Remains of Melville B. Cox, Late Missionary to Liberia (New York: Mason and Lane, 1839).