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PRESBYTERIANISM IN STEPHENSON COUNTY,
By Mrs. D. A. Knowlton.
The histories of the State of Illinois contain little accu-
rate information a^ to the early days in the northern tier of
counties, all the pioneers from the East choosing the central
and southern portions of the State for their settlements.
From the community formed around Fort Dearborn to the
town of Galena the country remained in its primitive condi-
tion, no attempt being made to cross directly from one point
to the other until after the Black Hawk War had freed the
region from hostile Indians.
The soft, rich soil was unsuitable for road building and
the lack of timber a drawback for home building. The rolling,
flower-starred prairies eventually attracted venturesome
pioneers, and as scattered settlements were formed, the home
missionaries found their way to them. The seeds of Presby-
terianism were sown in this region by Aratus Kent, a young
man of fine education and ardent spirit, sent from the East
to Galena, then a mining town, where after two years of
hard work a church was organized. While still making his
headquarters at Galena he was in charge of the missionary
work extending east from that point. The Methodists and
Baptists pursued their methods of missionary effort by hold-
ing camp meetings, the Presbyterians joining with theiH
whenever convenient. Father Kent spent his whole life in
arduous toil for the upbuilding of the Kingdom of Christ in
northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, and not only
helped to organize churches, but was instrumental in the
founding of Beloit College and Eockford Female Seminary,
now Eockford College. A beautiful tribute to him and his
devoted wife may be found in Dr. Norton's " History of Pres-
byterianism in Illinois. ' ' *
* In 111. State Historical Library and in McCormick Seminary Library.
Not long ago the older people of Stephenson County
spoke lovingly of Father Kent, whom they had entertained
when on his missionary journeys. Stephenson County, of
which Freeport is the county seat, had many New Eng-
enders and Pennsylvania Germans among the early set-
ters, while the immigrant population was at first largely
Irish Eoman Catholics, followed by Germans, both Roman
Catholic and Protestant, and also a number of rationalists.
The only Protestant religious services held in Freeport
before 1842 were such as a few Christian people of whatever
denomination prevailed could hold, either with or without a
home missionary present.
In 1842 a few of Freeport 's leading men determined to
start and sustain a Sunday evening prayer meeting, with a
view to organizing a church. Within six months a home
missionary was sent from Oswego, New York, and the First
Presbyterian Church of Freeport was organized with four-
teen members. Seven of these were of Freeport and seven
from Cedarville and Buena Vista. The growth of the church
was similar to many others of that period, their place of
worship being in the frame building used as a court house,
except when the weather became very cold they were obliged
to use the smaller school house. It took hard work and
faithfulness on the part of the members to overcome ob-
stacles and keep up interest enough to support the pastor,
even with the help of the Home Mission Board.
Eev. Calvin Waterbury was with this little band five
years, when he was obliged to leave on account of failing
health. Efforts to build a church had begun and a dark
time followed his departure, but the arrival of the Eev. J.
C. Downer revived the spirit of enterprise, and the church
building was completed and dedicated in December, 1849, a
bell being hung in the tower in time to ring out 1849 and
ring in 1850. It was the first church bell in town or county.
Presbyterianism secured a strong foothold in Stephen-
son County, as this First Church of Freeport grew con-
stantly in numbers and in proportionate influence. The able
pastors succeeding the earlier ones were the Revs. I. E
Carey, H. D. Jenkins, D. D., Edgar P. Hill, D. D., Charles
E. Dunn and David L. McNary, there being very short in-
tervals between the pastorates.
The first building was replaced by a large, substantial
stone edifice, which was dedicated in 1866. The fiftieth and
seventy-fifth anniversaries of the organization of the church
were appropriately observed. The membership is at present
(1918) about five hundred. A number of young men have
gone out from this body into the ministry, and a goodly
number were in the World War, several of whom gave their
lives for the great cause.
The Second Presbyterian Church of Freeport was
organized in 1847, fifteen members withdrawing from the
First Church, twelve others joining with them. This was
probably owing to the existence of old and new school doc-
trines, otherwise so small a community would have been
content with one church of that denomination. The Second
Church dedicated its first building in 1851, free of debt,
having been helped by the Board of Church Erection to the
extent of $125, the building costing $6,000.
During the pastorate of Rev. J. D. McCaughtry a new
building was erected and dedicated in 1896, costing $18,000.
This building was destroyed by fire in 1910, and replaced
by the present structure at the cost of $30,331, Rev. H. M.
Markley being pastor at that time. Since then a church
manse has been built, Rev. Marion Humphreys being the
first pastor to occupy it. Rev. R. E. Chandler is the present
pastor (1918) and the activity and growth of the church has
been excellent during the past decade. The two churches in
Freeport are some distance apart and the town grew rapidly
enough to justify the existence of the two organizations, after
their earliest years of struggle.
The organization of the sister churches of Cedarville
and Dakota was the outgrowth of a German Presbyterian
Society. The First Presbyterian Church of Cedarville be-
ing organized in 1851, the Rock Run Church in 1850,
afterward called the Dakota Church, having its First Pres-
byterian Church building in 1856 in Cedarville, was followed
by a building in Dakota village for that church, which had
previously held services in buildings between Dakota and
The two churches have been under the care of one pastor
since 1867, previous to that time the Dakota Church having
depended upon stated supplies. The Cedarville members of
the Freeport Church withdrew their letters to join the Cedar-
ville Church. In 1865 a few members of the Cedarville Church
withdrew their letters to form a church in Eidott, which did
not have a long life.
With the increase of railroad facilities and the coming
of several nationalities into Stephenson County, the smaller
churches did not grow as the Freeport churches did. Not-
withstanding the large proportion of Germans in Freeport
and on the surrounding farms, many of whom were Luther-
ans, Catholics and Eationalists, the Presbyterian Churches in
Freeport maintained a strong hold upon the well educated
and active members of the community. A German Presby-
terian Church existed for some years in the town, but was
given up as the old people passed away. The quaint town
of Cedarville, whose leading citizen for many years was
John H. Addams, father of our renowned Jane Addams, still
has no railroad station nearer than Red Oak, a mile or more
distant. The church has a good working force, and both
Cedarville and Dakota Churches sustain missionary socie-
ties and contribute to all the boards of the church. The
sister churches have been cared for by a succession of de-
voted pastors, among whom were Eev. J. M. Linn, son-in-
law of John H. Addams ; Eev. Henry Cullen, and others. The
present pastor is Eev. J. M. MacGowan.
While many other denominations have large and small
churches scattered over Stephenson County, there is prob-
ably no other Protestant denomination so deeply rooted as
the Presbyterian, except the Methodist. The membership of
the Presbyterian Churches is made up of the people from sev-
eral denominations, which bespeaks a growth of liberal
thought and Christian brotherhood. The restrictions as to
membership have been gradually removed, only the vital
points of faith being required.
The two churches of Freeport have an almost equal
number of members, approximately about 500 each.