ARBA, Ind. — Though the original pioneers have long since passed, their settler spirit is remembered with fondness in the little burg of Arba, Indiana.
Arba, a small, unincorporated community southeast of Lynn in southern Randolph County, Indiana, celebrated the 200th anniversary of its founding October 10-11.
The first white person to settle permanently in the spot known today as Arba was Quaker Thomas W. Parker. Like many of the Society of Friends denomination who sought to distance themselves from the institution of slavery in the South, Parker and his family began the northward trek to the Indiana Territory in April 1814.
Other Quaker families followed. By the fall of 1815, a pole cabin was constructed, which served as both a school and Friends meetinghouse for the fledgling settlement. This was eventually replaced by a hewed-log meetinghouse, which served the community for about 39 years.
The first two meetinghouses originally sat atop a hill surrounded by a cemetery, which still exists, and in which the gravestones of many of the original settlers and their descendents can still be seen.
Further down the hill, a permanent brick structure was built in 1854, which still stands, albeit with many additions and improvements over the years.
In the Quaker tradition, the original Arba congregation had no minister. As well, the meetinghouse itself segregated between men and women, who not only sat apart from each other inside, but entered and exited through two separate doorways.
Though this practice has long been abandoned, the separate entrances for women and men can still be seen at the church today.
Saturday’s bicentennial festivities in Arba centered on the community as a whole, with games, tours, historical exhibits, rummage sales, food, and music. Visitors hiked to “Hoosier Hill,” the highest point in Indiana — 1,257 feet above sea level — at a spot located between Arba and Bethel, Indiana, then rode back to town in a tractor-drawn haywagon.
Sunday’s celebration, however, was focused primarily on the church. As one of the oldest continuously operating churches in Indiana, established even before the admission of Indiana as a state in 1816, Arba Friends Church served as the center of the community at its founding and remains the focal point of the village today.
Following a morning church service and carry-in dinner, congregants and special guests gathered in the church sanctuary for a program to remember past times and look forward to the future of the congregation, which remains a vibrant presence in the area.
Prayers were said, scripture recited and hymns sung. A mock Quaker wedding service, traditionally consisting of a man and woman reciting short, simple vows without the aid of a minister, was held. A letter from Indiana Governor Mike Pence, congratulating the town on its bicentennial, was also read to the congregation.
Reverend Brooks Martin, who has served as pastor of the church since 2001, said he felt the weekend’s bicentennial festivities were a great success.
“I’m very pleased with the turnout,” he said. “The church was full. I’m estimating we had at least 100 in attendance during our morning service and at least that many for the after-church program.”
“This is a very close-knit congregation,” Martin added. “They really appreciate the longevity of the the town and church.”