Street Address
61041 Vermont St
Pokagon, MI 49047
Mailing Address
P.O. Box 41
Niles, MI 49120
phone: 269-683-4540
Our church/ museum isn't fully functional yet, but we do accept tours between mid-April and December 1.
The garden is open year round.
There is no charge for a tour of the church/museum, although donations are greatly appreciated.
Free. Donations Accepted.
Gift Shop
Group Tours
Bob Shaffer, President
phone: 269-683-4540
Molly Shaffer, Treasurer
phone: 269-683-4540


This is the church where Rev. George Bennard first introduced the final version of "The Old Rugged Cross" in 1913. It is being restored to its 1913 church era appearance & condition.


In 1997, the Pokagon United Methodist Church (PUMC) purchased the property behind the old church and began creating a garden. At the same time, they began planning a celebration of the 85th year since the hymn had made its debut in the old church, to be held in September 1998. Neighbors and friends began helping with both projects and soon formed The Old Rugged Cross Association (ORCA), an all-volunteer, multi-denominational group, with the purpose of creating and maintaining a garden as a tribute to Rev. George Bennard and his hymn "The Old Rugged Cross", but more importantly, honoring our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

As the property was being cleared for the new garden, the group received a letter from Stan Beikman, professor of urban landscape design at Andrews University, asking if he could use the garden as a class project. Upon hearing the garden committee's resounding "Yes!", he assigned the project to six senior students. Their assignment was to design a half-acre garden using the words of the hymn and any Biblical or spiritual symbolism they wished. Each student presented their designs to the committee, who chose things from the various designs. Stan Beikman then incorporated all the ideas into one plan, which was then followed in the creation of The Old Rugged Cross Memorial Garden.


The church was built in 1862 as a 28' x 60' hops barn. In 1876, when the hops industry had failed to thrive, the barn was sold to the local Methodist Episcopal congregation in Pokagon, who had previously been meeting in each other's homes. They took out a $3,000 loan and renovated the well-built barn into a church, adding a 30-foot, two story section which served as kitchen on the main floor and Sunday School classrooms upstairs. Painted glass windows and a bell tower with a large brass bell were also added. The church became The First Methodist Episcopal Church of Pokagon, Michigan.

In 1915, two years after "The Old Rugged Cross" made its public debut, the congregation purchased the Baptist Church across the street and sold the old church the following year to a local farmer, who returned it to its original barn status. He removed the rotting floor boards from the sanctuary, and used that once Holy place to house cattle. The raised platform, where the old pump organ and pulpit had once stood proudly, was then used as a hay mow, while the old kitchen was used for storage.

For the next 82 years, it remained privately owned and fell into a state of disrepair to the point of imminent collapse. The 9" x 9" oak sill beams rotted, allowing the walls to roll off their foundation onto the ground, where their 2" x 8" supports also began to rot. The combination brick and fieldstone foundation began to crumble and, under one wall, listed at a 15-degree angle, threatening to give way and pull the entire structure with it.

Reconstruction efforts began in September of 2000 by removing the old, crumbling foundation, replacing the rotten sill beams with new oak beams and cabling them to a series of underground concrete piers surrounding the perimeter of the building. The walls were straightened, the building squared, and a new temporary steel roof was installed to prevent further deterioration to the interior of the building. Many structural repairs were then made. The interior of the sanctuary and the kitchen were cross-braced to prepare the building for phase three, which was going to include temporarily moving the building onto the adjoining lot while a full basement was dug and poured. That phase was estimated to cost $237,000.

The cross-bracing steadied the building for the next six years while volunteers raised funds to continue with the restoration. In the Spring of 2007, the ORCF board decided to abandon the idea of the full basement, acknowledging it had been the board’s idea to have a full basement and not God’s plan. The board further decided to begin spending some of the funds raised toward the basement to create and install a new bell tower, to dig and pour a concrete crawlspace under the church, including a new permanent foundation, and to replace the wooden shutters with Lexan windows. All of these things were accomplished in 2007, with the exception of the foundation under the West wall, which will be completed in the Spring of 2008.

In addition to the above accomplishments, new wooden siding (duplicating the original wooden boards) was applied to the East and North exterior walls as needed. The siding for the West and South walls has been purchased and will be installed in 2008, as funding for the labor becomes available. Also, in 2008, if funding allows, a new wooden sub-floor will be installed in the sanctuary. This will be the first time since 1915 that the sanctuary has had a floor. The next major phase of restoration will include repairs to the soffit, fascia and roof, and will replace the temporary steel roof with cedar shingles, like the original church roof. There is currently no ceiling in the sanctuary and the steel sheets can be seen from inside the building, as the original roof boards deteriorated and disappeared over the years of neglect.

Artifacts Collections

  • Original pulpit
  • Pump organ and bell dating back to 1870's.
  • Replicated pews
  • Painted glass windows
  • Painted glass windows
  • Early Old Rugged Cross record

Research Collections

Most documents have to do with the history of the composer and his hymns. Some historical documents pertaining to the history of the Village of Pokagon.

Educational Programs

Tours are given by appointment. Groups (schools, churches, social) are invited to attend presentations



    Performance Areas


    A five-member board of directors of The Old Rugged Cross Foundation manages and maintains the church/ museum.


    We maintain a website, Twitter account, and Facebook page to keep the public informed of our progress and events.


      Wheelchair Accessible



      As people come from across the country and from countries all over the world to visit this historic site, they marvel at what Christians from many different churches and denominations can do when they join together to work on one of God's projects. We praise God for His people's generosity. As our grant requests have not been successful in raising large sums of money, we continue to depend on the generosity of our supporters. It seems to be God’s plan to have His people restore His church, but we continue to apply for grants and pray that someone will be touched by God with the spirit of giving to His project. Will you join us in this most worthy effort and partner with God on one of His projects where He is already at work? If you are able to give generously, we pray that you will do so. If you can only give a few dollars, it too will be appreciated. If you are unable to give any financial support, we ask you to please put this project on your daily prayer list.

      Gift Shop

      Group Tours