When I was young, my grandparents had a small Bible that sat on a table in their living room. It was, and still remains, one of the most unusual Bibles I have ever seen. It had a gold-colored, metal cover with raised lettering. Inside, my grandmother had lovingly filled in the names and birthdates of her children and grandchildren. There were a few other pages filled in, one of those being the "Marriages" page. In pencil was written, "Henry M. Routsong and Clerinda Swadner was married March 27, 1851 by Reverend D. Winters." I have no idea in whose handwriting the words were written, but I remember seeing it time and time again. It was to help me immensely when I began my research. As a matter of fact, it took me directly to the Montgomery County Archives where I easily found the marriage license record for my great great grandparents. But, the name of "Reverend D. Winters" excited me. I knew that the church which I attended until the age of nine was named in his honor. David's United Church of Christ, originally, David's German Reformed Church, is located in Kettering, Montgomery County, Ohio. It is almost surrounded by David's Cemetery, now a privately owned entity, but one that is forever linked to the church and to it's history. Who was this man that had performed the marriage of these two people and, I was to learn, about 5000 other couples during his lifetime?
In what has become somewhat a routine occurence for me, while researching for something else, I stumbled upon a very unexpected find. On the website of the Montgomery County Genealogical Society, I discovered a copy of a newspaper article about Rev. Winters. Not only was it an in-depth article about the man and his life as a minister, it contained many photographs of Rev. Winters, including a sketch of him on horseback. I also remembered a church directory we had had from 1966 which included a small history of the church as well as the portrait I have included at the top of this post.
The article was titled "The Gospel in Horseback Days" and it was written by Howard Burba for The Dayton Daily News magazine section. It began by spelling out that Rev. Winters had baptized 2400 people and had given Holy Communion to over 22,000. It was also believed that he had performed more than 5000 marriages. (One of those being that of my great grandparents. ) His father, Rev. Thomas Winters, was obviously his role model. When David was only 8 years old, (he was born 9 May, 1885) his family began the voyage west from Martinsburg, WV. They settled here in Montgomery County, Ohio, near the Mad River in what was to become known as Mad River Township and in 1815 Rev. Thomas became the pastor of the Germantown Reformed Church. During this period of time, services were often preached in both English and German.
It wasn't long before David felt the call to the ministry of the Lord and he began studying with his father as his mentor. There was certainly not a shortage of souls to be led in the Dayton area and after his ordination, Rev. David was instrumental in the formation of the German Reformed Church. This little church in the middle of Dayton grew rapidly and on 18 April, 1837 an attractive church was built on Ludlow Street.
At the same time, other German Reformed churches were being built in outlying areas of Montgomery and Greene Counties. Rev. Thomas Winters helped create the Zion Reformed Church, which is located in what is now Moraine, Ohio at the corner of W Stroop Rd. and S. Dixie Drive.
Farther east, on what was then the Lebanon Pike and what is now Far Hills Ave., a group of German settlers who found it difficult to travel to the previously established churches hoped to have one of their own and Rev. Winters helped to establish one here. They named it David's Reformed Church in his honor. It still stands as well, surrounded by a spacious and beautiful cemetery which also shares his name.
Rev. Winters served these multiple congregations well. On horseback, he would travel back and forth for services and he visited homes seeing to the needs of his flock, both spiritual and physical.
Even with all his duties, he felt that the portion of the county then called "Beavertown" needed a place to worship. It was then that the Mt Zion Reformed Church was created. This congregation is still in existence as well, although they recently moved to a newer building. The original Mt. Zion church building still stands, however. It is located on Indian Ripple Road in Beavercreek and it also is surrounded by a lovely cemetery.
Three out of four Sundays every month, Rev. Winters traveled to one of the outlying churches to preach. He also often preached in the homes of members of the congregations. He must have gotten weary at times, but he remained faithful to his flock. One of his closest friends was Christian Creager. Mr. Creager donated much of his land for the burial grounds that became David's Cemetery. Many Creager descendants remain in the David's United Church of Christ congregation.
It eventually became too difficult for Rev. Winters to continue preaching at all four churches he helped to form. He stayed very involved with the Zion and Mt. Zion congregations up until his death. He was still performing marriage ceremonies a month before his death. He loved not only his own congregation, but he believed in bringing different denominations together in worship. So loved and respected was Rev. Winters that Heidelberg College bestowed upon him the degree of Doctor of Divinity. He had served so many people for the 61 years in which he had preached that it was difficult for the German Reformed Church downtown to hold all those who wished to pay their respects. During his funeral on May 13, 1885, the church was packed, as were the sidewalks from Second St. to Third St..
Rev. Winters truly left his mark upon this city. As my husband and I traveled to the churches you see photographed here, I couldn't help but feel Rev. Winters presence.
Now, he is so much more to me than just a name in the Bible. I can almost see him, sitting atop his horse, his Bible in his hand, ready to share the gospel with all those searching.
A Side note: Rev. David Winters is a relative of comedian, Jonathan Winters.