The WESTERN SEAMEN'S FRIEND SOCIETY, the western branch of the American Seaman's Friend Society, organized in Cleveland on 10 Nov. 1830 and was chartered by the Ohio Senate on 9 Mar. 1850 "to promote the Intellectual, Social, Moral, and Spiritual condition of Sailors and Boatmen employed on the Western Waters." The society, which advocated TEMPERANCE, sponsored religious services, and provided relief to the poor and disabled, was among the first organizations in Cleveland to receive charitable donations. Rev. Gordon Winslow brought the American Seaman's Friend Society's evangelical mission westward in Oct. 1830 and soon established the headquarters of the western society in Cleveland, near the lighthouse on Water (W. 9th) St. In 1833 a chapel was erected near the canal basin; the Bethel Church, at 37 Superior St., was organized on 25 Oct. 1835 and incorporated on 20 Mar. 1841. By 1850 its original 9 members had grown to 137; by 1852 its Sunday school had an attendance of 120-150, with 15-20 teachers. Leading Clevelanders such as SAMUEL COWLES, JOHN A. FOOTE, and TRUMAN P. HANDY served as officers and directors of the society. Between 1830-50, its main work was "itinerant missionary service," carried on by such devices as the Gospel Ship, called the "Floating Bethel." From 1850-67 the society established chapels in other midwestern cities; its 1858 budget of $15,820 included donations from 10 states. Publications such as the Boatman's Magazine (begun Oct. 1834), Spirit of the Lakes & Boatmen's Magazine (1849-52), and the Western Pilot (begun Jan. 1853) helped spread the society's message. The early work was directed and financed by the Cleveland headquarters. Raymond H. Leonard guided the society from 1848-67.

In 1867 the Western Seamen's Friend Society adopted new policies to enhance efficiency. In Cleveland and other large cities, Bethel work was placed under complete local control. Large "Institutional Bethels" combined church work with secular relief. The BETHEL UNION, organized in 1867 as an auxiliary to the society, soon assumed many of the relief activities. In 1883 Bethel assigned all of its religious work to the Western Seamen's Friend Society and concentrated on non-sectarian relief. The final superintendent of the Cleveland mission at 1024 Superior Ave. was Clara E. Fall, widow of Rev. John O. Fall, who served as superintendent until his death in June 1912. The society closed in the early 1920s.


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