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In 1801, a devout Methodist named William Williams moved to Missouri from Kentucky. He set aside two acres of his farm for use as a camp meeting, a new religious phenomenon on the frontier. Several years later, around 1806, such a meeting was first held on the site.

A Methodist class was formed in 1809, and Williams was the class leader until his death in 1838. A church edifice was built in 1819, and almost certainly named for Bishop William McKendree, who had attended a camp meeting there in 1818.

William McKendree (1757-1835) was the fourth Methodist bishop and the first born in the United States. He traveled extensively in what was then the west. The partial itinerary of one trip, as recorded in his journal, was as follows: “We passed through the south-west corner of Kentucky; crossed the Ohio River at Golconda; passed through the southern part of Illinois; crossed the Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau, visiting the frontier churches in Missouri.”

Missouri was named a Territory in 1816, and the Missouri Annual Conference was organized the same year. The Conference boundaries included Illinois, Arkansas, Missouri, and part of Indiana. The first annual conference session to be held on Missouri soil took place in the brand-new McKendree Chapel in 1819. The conference also met there in 1821, 1825, and 1831.

When the Methodist Episcopal Church split into northern and southern branches in 1844, McKendree’s pastor, Nelson Henry, a northern sympathizer, kept the church affiliated with the northern branch. Since the area was heavily southern, however, the church gradually weakened, until in 1890 it ceased to be an organized church.

Efforts to restore McKendree Chapel began in the 1920s. The church is now fully restored and is probably the oldest Protestant house of worship still standing west of the Mississippi.

“It was in this year [1819] that McKendree Chapel was built, a good hewed-log house, with a shingle roof, good plank floor, windows, etc. It was the first substantial and finished meeting house built for us in Missouri, by the hands of regular workmen…It stands…in a camp ground hallowed by the recollections of happy hundreds, who have there been born again to sing redeeming love.” John Scripps, quoted in W. S. Woodard’s Annals of Methodism in Missouri (1893).

Points of interest at this Heritage Landmark: Visitors will see the original 1819 structure, which sits on a three-acre site. Across the road is the cemetery with all original stones, restored within the last fifteen years.

Special events: The fourth Sunday in September is the annual meeting of the Board of Trustees of Old McKendree Chapel. There is outdoor preaching and a celebration at 2:00 p.m.

Area attractions: Nearby are the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri and the Shawnee National Forest in Illinois. The city of St. Louis is to the north.

To visit:   The Chapel is open every day during daylight hours. Arrangements for a guided tour may be made with the caretakers, David & Theresa Hopkins (see contact info below).

Location: Within the boundaries of the Missouri East Conference in the southeastern part of the state. The Chapel is in Cape Girardeau County, 2? miles from Jackson and six miles from Cape Girardeau.

Food and lodging: Restaurants and motels are available on Interstate 55 and in Jackson and Cape Girardeau.

Directions: Leave Interstate 55 at exit 102 West onto East Main. Go .3 miles and turn left at stoplight onto Old Orchard Road. Travel .5 miles on Old Orchard Road and Old McKendree Chapel will be on the right.  The cemetery is on the left.

For further information, contact: David & Theresa Hopkins, 573-204-3633; E-mail:; Website:

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

The State Historical Society of Missouri, 1020 Lowry Street, Columbia, MO 65201; Reba Meinershagen, depository contact.

Richard A. Seaton, ed., History of the United Methodist Churches of Missouri (St. Louis: Missouri Methodist Historical Society, 1984).

Frank C. Tucker, The Methodist Church in Missouri, 1798-1939 (Nashville: Parthenon Press, 1966).