First Avenue at Ninth Street, Avalon, NJ

The last 25 years

1992 to 2017 – In its 125th Year

In her 125 years of history many things have changed at Wells Memorial Presbyterian Church.  When the cornerstone was laid on August 28, 1892 you could buy a lot in Avalon for $50.  Today a lot may cost $2,000,000 or more.  When the manse was built in 1927, the total cost was $4,000.  In 2017 the median price of a home in Avalon was $1,195,400.  In the early years, collections averaged about $10 a week.  Currently our average collection is nearly $2,500.  In 1893 the expenses were $2,993.  Today’s expenses are $45,975.89.  In the early years, the attendance appeared to be between 30 and 50 worshippers on a Sunday morning.   Our largest attendance in 2016 was 263.  In 1925 the total summer attendance was 502.  In 2016 the total attendance was 2,825.  The number of services has grown as well, with only 9 or 10 services held in July and August during the early years.  Our services are at 10:00 AM with a hymn sing at 9:45 AM every Sunday and an additional service at 8:30 AM in the months of July and August due to a surge in attendance during those months.  Our current season extends from Mother’s Day through the first Sunday in October, which usually includes 22 Sundays.

Although many things have changed in the 125 years of Well’s history, one thing has remained constant.  Wells has continuously been a place where many give thanks to the Lord, call on His name, make known His deeds among the peoples.  It is ever a place where praises are sung to God and the story of all His wonderful works is told faithfully.  It is truly a Chapel where the strength and presence of the Lord is sought.  (Psalm 95)

The church is really more of a chapel, for no local membership has ever been constituted, no officers have ever been elected, no pastor has ever been installed and apart from the summer seasons, only sporadic worship services have been held.  Through the years, occasional weddings, Sunday School, baptisms, musical performances and memorial services have also been conducted.

“Initially it was to be a non-denominational church, and contributions were solicited and received from various of Avalon’s pioneer and summer families, no matter what their religious preferences.”

“In November of 1893 when the construction was completed, the church property and the deed of trust were transferred to the trustees of the Synod of New Jersey, who apparently took over primary responsibility for the church property and its mortgage.  At this point it became officially a Presbyterian Church,…”

“The early organizers of the church elected to name it the “Wells Memorial Presbyterian Church” after the island’s initial purchaser, developer, and overall visionary, the popular but late Joseph L. Wells.” (His widow, Margaret Wells is listed as a contributor to the building fund.)

“The “Mr. Dunham”, (He was also a contributor to the building fund.) was presumably the father of a little girl who drowned when the church was in its planning stage, Isabelle Annette Dunham.  A circular window in the church was dedicated to her memory.”

Early history summarized by Bob Ewart.  Quotations from Robert L. Penrose book, Avalon on the Seven Mile Beach.

From time to time, memorials have been placed in the building, and early records still available reveal that:

The Louisa Fifield Cooper Memorial Organ was donated in 1893.

The Bell Tower was donated by Mr. Adam Smith.

The Circular Window bears the inscription “Isabelle Annette Dunham – December 13, 1886 – October 21, 1892”.

Two offering plates were donated in memory of Florence L. Von Boynegurgh April 14, 1895.

Two offering plates were donated in memory of Dr. James T. Rugh.

The communion table was given by the Westminster Presbyterian Church of Trenton, New Jersey in 1960.

The manse next to the church was constructed in 1927 at a cost of $4,000 on a plot of ground given by the Avalon Land Company in 1907.

A pew had been signed by one of its painters – “Joe Stites – August 24, 1893”.

In more recent years, many generous worshippers have donated to the maintenance and enhancement of the property and ministry.  Plaques honoring specific gifts are located throughout the church.

As of 2017 all of the church property is free of debt and is in good condition.

Currently, retired and active ministers preach and provide pastoral care while vacationing at the manse with their families.  For the summer of 2021 these include:

The Rev. Bruce G. Boak

The Rev. John L. Dunlap, D. Min.

The Rev. Howard E. Friend, D. Min.

The Rev. Michael J. Imperiale, D. Min.

The Rev. Robert E. Larson, D. Min.

The Rev. Jay W. Lewis, Esq.

The Rev. Jonathan Miller, D. Min.

The Rev. Randolph T. Riggs, D. Min.

The Rev. Stuart H. Spencer

The Rev. Rachel A. Rhodes

The Rev. Katie Sundermeier

The Rev. Tony Sundermeier, D. Min.

At the 100th Anniversary a bronze plaque was placed at the main entrance to honor the deceased pastors who had served Wells for 10 years or more.  It currently includes:

Hugh B. McCrone                          1935-1955

Joseph MacCarroll, D.D.                1956-1976

Edward S. Golden, Ed. D.               1981-1994

George W. Henderson, D.D.          1962-1986

Gordon E. Boak, D.D.                     1965-2002

M. Edgar Datesman, D. Min.         1996-2005

Paul W. Stauning, M.Div.               1956-1992

Another plaque honoring “those faithful, deceased lay leaders who have served more than ten years as Committee Members” is displayed at the front of the church. (Their names have grown considerably in the past few years.)

Recent noteworthy events/information are as follows:

Committee members Dr. William Palin and his wife Frances donated the much appreciated air conditioning system in 1995.

On September 5, 1999, the largest Sunday service attendance in recorded history numbered 267.

The Elizabeth J. Ewart organ was donated on July 23, 2000 in Betty’s 42nd year as organist of Wells church.  Her husband, Robert W. Ewart, Jr., served as Chairman and Treasurer of the Wells Committee from 1971 to 2010.  Their combined service exceeded 90 years. Mr. Ewart passed away in 2012 and Mrs. Ewart passed away in January 2017, just shy of her 97th birthday.  This beloved, dedicated Christian couple is deeply missed.

In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy displaced the cross which sits atop the church.  We are grateful for the help of the Avalon Fire Department in providing their brand new ladder truck to re-establish it in place.  We are also grateful for Dave Knoche’s son-in-law for providing the manpower to replace the cross.

In 2003 Wells established an annual financial outreach to local community organizations as well as several Presbyterian entities.  In 2022 the following received a total of over $36,000 in financial support from Wells:

Cape May Presbyterian Church Food Pantry
Presbytery of West Jersey
The Coalition Against Rape & Abuse
Volunteers in Medicine in Cape May County
Cape May County Habitat for Humanity
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PCUSA)
Helen Diller Vacation Home for Blind Children
First United Methodist Church of Avalon
The Lazarus House Food Center – North Wildwood
First Baptist Church of Wildwood – Hot Lunch Prgm
Family Promise – Cape May
Ocean City Ecumenical Council Food Cupboard
Friend in Need – Avalon, NJ
The Branches Outreach Center – Rio Grande
Avalon Fire Department
Avalon Rescue Squad
Starfish Equine Rescue – Project Stride

The church property and the manse have been modernized and refurbished throughout the years.

Mr. John Curto, local guest house owner, was honored in 2015 for his generosity and hospitality in sponsoring musical talent.

The Wells Committee which runs the business of the church is comprised of the following loyal and dedicated lay people.  Without their devotion this little church might not be here today:

Tom Backenstose

Ray and June Batz

Scott (Chair) and Sharon Boyer

Wayne and Patty Collinson

Anne Cook

Richard and Kathy Corkhill

Bob Ewart

Susan Handy

Barbara Hendrickson

Dan and Cathy Kraft

Tom and Janice Mills

Steve and Robin Schall

Carol Shepherd

Ron and Ruth Workman

Compiled by Ross V. Weaver, Jr. September 2015

Updated by Ron Workman January 2023