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Full text of "Presbyterianism in Stephenson County, Illinois"

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193 



PRESBYTERIANISM IN STEPHENSON COUNTY, 

ILLINOIS. 

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. 



194 

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 



195 

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 
Rock Run. 



196 

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.