NORTH CANTON  Churches are private organizations, but they can have a significant impact on the public spaces in which they exist.

A new exhibit coming to the North Canton Heritage Society at 185 Ream St. NW will showcase the history of city's four oldest churches: Zion Lutheran, Zion United Church of Christ, Community Christian and St. Paul Catholic.

Back when towns were little more than settlements carved out of the wilderness, churches were not just places of worship, but also communal gathering places and a means by which a community's values could be identified and established.

NCHS Executive Director Amanda Sedlak-Hevener said the idea for the exhibit, which will run April 5 to May 30, began with a donated Bible, "that turned into a little bit of research."

The German-language scriptures printed in 1798 belonged to Polly Meyers, an 1843 charter member of the New Uniontown German Reformed Church, which today is Grace United Church of Christ. A handwritten genealogy chart is found in the back.

Items to be featured in the exhibit include a tabernacle, clergy vestments, chalices, baptismal certificates and other documents, a model of an early log-cabin church, and dozens of other artifacts. Several pieces are on loan from the churches.

"I hope people understand exactly how society is shaped by its churches," Sedlak-Hevener said.

Visitors to the exhibit will learn that at one time, eight churches in North Canton shared a single building.

"You don't hear a lot about (sharing)," Sedlak-Hevener said.

The two oldest, Zion Lutheran at 349 Lindy Lane Ave. NW, and Zion United Church of Christ at 415 S. Main St., originally were two German-speaking congregations born under a single roof; a log cabin on Pittsburg Road NW in June 1814. The site later would become the North Canton Cemetery.

Zion Reformed was overseen by the Rev. Peter Herbruck, the state's premier Protestant clergyman.

Moving to town

Following a fire, the cabin was replaced by a traditional church building in 1838, but the two churches would part company.

Led by the Rev. John H. Beck, Zion Reformed and its 44 members moved to the center town, known then as "New Berlin" in 1881. A new church was completed in 1910, followed by the current edifice in 1955. In 1957, a merger of the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Church resulted in the United Church of Christ.

Zion Lutheran left the church on Pittsburg in 1905 to build in town. The two congregations split the $500 proceeds from its sale of the shared building. In 1955, Zion Lutheran purchased 10.25 acres on Lindy Lane. In 1960, the church sold its original building to the Presbyterians and built its current edifice in 1961.

The roots of Community Christian Church at 210 N. Main St. can be traced to a merger between the Union Church and the Society of Christians in the 1800s. They were one of nine churches meeting in the  New Berlin Free Meeting House, built on the site in 1845. After a fire, the building was rebuilt in 1871. During the 1850s and 1860s, the Disciples of Christ grew to prominence. Its members included William H. Hoover, who would launch the Hoover Co. in 1908.

By 1890, the Disciples of Christ acquired sole possession of the structure, adding a wing in 1889. A third building was completed in 1908 and christened Union Christian Church. The congregation officially became Community Christian Church, Disciples of Christ on May 25, 1925. A three-story education wing was added in 1953. A new edifice was built 1976.

Established by 30 pioneering families in 1845 under the auspices of the Cleveland Diocese, St. Paul, at 241 S. Main St. is the city's only Catholic parish. The first church was constructed in 1847.

Lecture April 18

Land for a new church was obtained in 1909. The current, Romanesque-style building was dedicated on May 7, 1911. The original St. Paul was transformed into a school opened in 1919, with an enrollment of 100 children. It was used until 1929, when the current school was built. The Holy Humility of Mary convent was demolished in 1987 to make room for a school addition.

In 2006, the parish undertook a $3.5 million upgrade, which doubled its sanctuary seating capacity to 900.

Sedlak-Hevener said the four churches were generous and helpful in NCHS' efforts to put together the exhibit, which also is receiving support from Ohio Humanities.

As part of the exhibit, Kevin Kern, an associate professor of history at the University of Akron will give a free presentation, "Ohio, Religion and Reform in the Third Great Awakening," at 6:30 p.m. April 18 at the North Canton Public Library at 185 N. Main St.

There will be a grand opening for the NCHS exhibit from 6 to 9 p.m. April 5, followed by extended weekend hours from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 6 and noon to 4 p.m. April 7.

A companion book will be available for $10. To learn more visit www.northcantonheritage.org.