Let’s Talk Clovis: 1868 Academy Church – Part 2, Oldest Continuing Church in Fresno County

Contributed by Clovis Museum

We continue the history of the 1868 Academy Church pioneers who spiritually and financially supported their Church. In 1872, they built the Academy school on church grounds – the first secondary school in Fresno County.

We are sharing information from the 1892 Methodist Episcopal Church, South Quarterly Conference reports. Those in attendance on Nov. 1, 1892: Rev. A.L. Hunsaker was PC (presiding preacher), B.S. Birkhead, Secretary, J.W. Potter (his daughter Elizabeth would marry Rev. C. Todd Clark who served on the Fresno County Board of Supervisors) and Wm. T. Cole (sheep baron and father of 10 girls).

Wm. T. Cole reported there were no complaints, exhorts (to urge) or any application for license. The preacher was paid $650 and presiding elder $150. A total of $59.25 supported their foreign missions and $37.50 went toward local missions.

The conference was held at the 1883 Garfield school (Minnewawa and Shepherd). A committee was appointed to improve the church property and parsonage: Wm. Cole, J.M. Heiskell, W. Qualls, J.M. Potter and Thomas Lyall.

In addition to their Academy Church, they provided two other church and Sunday school locations. One was at the 1869 Mississippi School house. It was located on land that was donated by J.M. Heiskell (quarter mile north of Little Dry Creek, between Behymer and Perrin). In 1877, the original school house was replaced. J.M. Heiskell would eventually move it to Clovis (304 Harvard). It remains a home.

Tollhouse was the second location. Those services would eventually be relocated to Big Sandy.

Mrs. Ida Simpson was united by letter. Mr. George Howard was received by professions of faith a few days prior to his death. One infant was baptized.

The total value of the church was $2,548: church $1,200, parsonage $300, land $238 and improvements $810.

Rev. Neal would urge his congregation to plant trees on the seven-acre Academy property to make it “beautiful and romantic.” His trustees: W.H. Qualls, J.M. Heiskell, J.W. Potter and George Baley.

The siblings of the Academy pioneers continued their spiritual and financial support. In 1989, Al Schiavon (his son Dave and family remain actively involved) and Roberta Simpson Coons (great granddaughter of John and Sarah Simpson) organized a campaign to fund church and ground improvements. The major project was to replace the “old outhouse” with modern restrooms, add a pavilion and kitchen. Roberta’s two daughters (Jeanne and Joanne) and her grandson Gary Hill remain active members of the Academy Circle and the Academy Community Foundation.

The Academy Community Foundation was formed (public charity, 501©(3)) in 2012. It is a religious corporation that will operate the church, as well as administer and manage the affairs, property and temporalities of the church. In 2017, three members of the Simpson family provided funds ($50,000) to purchase the church from the Fresno District Missionary and Church Extension Society of the United Methodist Church.

In 2016, a licensed general contractor inspected the church and stated that the 150-year old church “appears to be sound.” He estimated that restoration would require $120,000. He cautioned it could easily exceed $200,000 if substantial upgrades/compliances were imposed.

The Academy Community Foundation has initiated a fund drive to secure $200,000. The success of that drive will insure the continuation of our historic Academy Church. It will remain a part of our rich heritage.

Academy Church 150th Anniversary Celebration

Oct. 21, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

10667 N. Madsen Ave, Clovis, CA 93619