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The History of Geneseo's Churches


This history of the Churches of Geneseo, Henry County, Illinois was originally published in the "Portrait and Biographical Album of Henry County Illinois," written in 1885. Copies provided by Linda Lang and transcribed by Susie Martin-Rott.


As stated elsewhere, the oldest Church connected with the history of Geneseo, is the Congregationalist, as it was organized by the Colonists before they left New York--Sept 13, 1836. The ecclesiastical council was in Bergen, Genesee County, Rev. Messrs Wilcox, Hull and Bridgeman, acting. The two Cones, C.K. Bartlett, J.C. Ward and Harry Manville (the last the old survivor, now a venerated citizen of Geneseo) and Mary E. and Amanda E. Bartlett, daughters of C.T. Bartlett, and Harriet Cone, constituted the original Church members. Elisha Cone and J.C. Ward were ordained deacons. The Church thus came with the first Colonists.

At first religious services were held in the different members, rude and small log cabins, but when the primitive school-house for Miss Stewart's school was erected on the public square, it was also used as a place of public worship.

The first communion was held in the house of Deacon Ward, April 18, 1838. It was a day well remembered, by a hail-storm, which broke nearly all the windows in the settlement. The officiating minister was Rev. Ithamar Pillsbury, of Andover. In 1838 another school building was erected, which was subsequently removed to the site of the present Congregational Church. This was used for Church purposes til 1848, when the seminary building was completed, and was thence forward used as a house of worship till the erection of the church, in 1855. The church was dedicated May 28, 1856, the sermon being preached by the pastor, Rev. S. H. Waldo. The church was the one still occupied by the Congregational body of this city. As the time it was built it was considered the finest church building west of Chicago. The first regular pastor was Rev. Jairus Wilcox, who in May, 1838, came to the colony with his family, and in June was elected pastor, upon a salary of $400. In 1845 he closed his labors here and removed to Chicago, to take charge of the Seaman's Bethel, in which service he was engaged until called to his reward. After him Rev. William T. Allan supplied the pulpit six or eight months. The next minister was Rev. Addison Lyman, from Connecticut, who began Oct 6, 1845. He served for two years, until he entered upon the principalship of the seminary. Rev. C.S. Cady served one year, from Oct. 1, 1848. Rev. A. J. Copeland then served from Dec. 1, 1849, to February, 1852. Rev. J. W. North occupied the pulpit for one year, from November, 1852. The next pastor was Rev. S. H. Waldo, who labored three years, from January, 1855. Under his pastorate this house of worship was erected, forming a new era in the history of the Church. Next comes the pastorate of Rev. Milo N. Miles, during the two years of 1858 and 1859. Then that of Rev. B. C. Ward for one year and a half. Rev. J. T. Cook, two years, those of 1862-3. During the year 1864, Rev. M. N. Miles served as supply. In May, 1865, Rev. Harry Brickett began his labors and remained seven years. He resigned in 1872, and was succeeded by H. G. McArthur, who occupied the pulpit two years and was followed by Rev. T.C. Jerome one year. At the expiration of that time Rev. O.W. Fay, was called.

The Sunday-school was begun in the rude building upon the square in 1837. Its first superintendent was Deacon Ward, who continued in this office until his removal from the place, in 1855, except that Rev. John T. Pierce held this office during 1852 and 1853. After him Mr. John G. Walker served two or three years. Then followed Deacon Huntington, Mr. A. M. Hubbard, and Mr. H. Thomas.


In March, 1860, Rev. W. G. Johnson visited this place on his way from Rock Island to Princeton. On the 20th of that month a meeting was held at the Seminary Hall, which was the initial movement to the organization of the Baptist Church of Geneseo. April 14, the organization was effected, the following 23 persons being present: Rev. and Mrs. W. G. Johnson, Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Topping, Mr. and Mrs. H. F. McCartney, Mr. and Mrs. D. N. Cole, Mr. and Mrs. D. C. Like, Mr. H. Like, Mr. R. V. Amsden, Miss Laura Ann Amsden, John and Matilda Vernon, Delia Frank, Emeline Goss, Sarah Lynch, F. McHose, C. L. Ainsworth, W. B. Johnson, Emma Taylor and Sarah Caulkins.

The pastor Rev. W. G. Johnson, remained some time, and was succeeded by Rev. E.D. Dickerson. Others who have filled the pulpit are Rev. W. P. Pattison, Rev. A. R. Newton, Rev. Mr. Sharpe and Rev. L. J. Langridge.

The meeting for organization was held in the Methodist Episcopal Church; afterwards they occupied the Seminary Hall till the present church was completed in 1864. The building cost $4,000.


The First Presbyterian Church of Geneseo, was organized Nov. 2, 1863, by the Rev. S. T. Wilson and Rev. David Kelly, both of the Rock River Presbytery. The building in which the first meeting was held was on the corner of Pearl and Mechanic Streets, where the Baptist church now stands. This building is now on the opposite side of the street from the present church and is owned by the Swedish Methodists. These churches, the Presbyterian, the Baptist and the Swedish Methodist have originated in this little chapel.

The membership of the First Presbyterian Church were Andrew McLain, Geo. W. and Elizabeth Goshorn, M. S. Boice, R. M. Boice, James N. McCracken, Mary McCracken, Chas. W. and Freelove Long, Geo. Rekards, Ann C. Rekards, Mrs. Almira P. Morton, Mrs. Francis Gale, Mrs. C. McCutcheon and Mrs. Bracken. Four of these are dead, viz.: Mrs. McCracken, Mrs. McLain, Mrs. Bracken and Mrs. Rekards. Six have moved away, leaving six of the original members here, as follows; Mr. and Mrs. Goshorn, Mr. and Mrs. Long, Mrs. Morton and Mrs. Rekards.

I. W. McCracken was elected first Elder. There was no regular preaching until 1864, when Rev. I. C. Burr, of Malden, came, and he was called in 1865. At the first communion after his call six persons joined, and the growth of the Church was then quite rapid. During his pastorate 126 were received into the Church. It was determined to build a new church in 1866, and the new church was dedicated Feb. 24, 1867, by Rev. S. T. Wilson. The most efficient worker in the building of the new church was Geo. Rekards. This building was 38 x 60 feet and cost about $10,000. Rev. Burr closed his pastorate Sept. 2, 1871, and went to Alexandria, Pa., where he resides at present. Rev. E. H. Curtis came in 1871, and continued until 1873, when he went to Waukegan; is now in Lincoln, Nebraska. After he left the Church was without a pastor for one year and six months, when Rev. A. J. Stead came. He continued until September 1878. There was then a loss of membership from removals, and gloomy prospects were before it. No regular pastor was with the Church again for a few months. Rev. C. H. Purmost was installed May 6, 1879, and at once the interests revived. The Art Loan Exhibition was held and was very successful, the receipts being over $500. With this fund to aid, the building was raised and a lecture room underneath provided. This was completed in 1880. The cost of this improvement was about $2000.

Mr. Purmost resigned and went to Dakota March 12, 1882. After a few months' candidacy, on Aug. 1, 1882, the present worthy Pastor, Rev. E. L. Williams was installed.

The six Elders elected at different times are, ---A. White, J.B. Moderwell, N. F. Small, I. K. Rekards, George Rekards, dead; and J.W McCracken resides in Colorado. The total membership is 245.

Present church officers--Elders, J. K. Rekards, Alex. White, J. B. Moderwell, Wm. F. Small; Trustees, Wm. F. Small, J. C. Entrikin, J. B. Moderwell; Treasurer, Wm. F. Small; Sunday-school Superintendent, Alex. White; Assistant, J. B. Moderwell.

The Sunday-school was organized in 1865, J. F. Carle, Superintendent.


In 1856 meetings were held by persons embracing this faith, and in the following year the parish was organized. The first Wardens were: Perry Ransom and George Condish, and the Vestrymen John T. Young, Benj. Graham, William Saunders and John Huestes. Divine services were held in various places until the year 1863, when the present house of worship was constructed after the English style of architecture, costing $2,500.

The following have served the Church as pastors: Revs. Alanson Welton, Samuel Goodale, William Green, P.B. Morrison, Geo. C. Griswold, Dr. Walker, F. B. Nash and T. N. Benedict.


The members comprising this religious society met at first for divine worship in Sawyer's Hall, where in the month of November, 1868, they were organized into a Church. They continued to meet in this hall until 1874, when they erected their present house of worship, costing about $6,000. Rev. M. J. Miller presided at the organization, when 18 members were admitted.


In January, 1860, the first meetings of the Germans belonging to the Methodist Episcopal Church were held in private houses. Shortly after they were organized into an ecclesiastical body by Rev. William Kammermeyer, and 23 persons united. The same year a church and parsonage were erected. This church was used until 1874, when another edifice was erected. Among those who served as pastors are, Revs. Kammermeyer, Charles Schneider, Henry Withorn, William Winter, W. Zappen, Gustav Zolman, Frederick Arensperger, William Bulke, William Schoerig and Louis Kunz. The number of members is now about 50 and the number of Sunday-school scholars about the same.


This Church was organized in 1863, with the following named members: A. Eichhorn, W. Kittenzer, G. Wiegand, A. Wiele, J. Young, L. Hilmer, M. Schuh and J. Hitzer.

The church building was erected in 1864 and cost $1,500. The following are among the pastors: E Sunfstueck, C. W. Ernst, S. Hamm and P. Hanson.


Zion's Church of the Evangelical Association was organized in the spring of 1857. At that time about 15 people united, and until the erection of their first church edifice, in 1860, held divine service in the houses of its members. That year they erected a house of worship, costing $1,000. This they occupied ten years, when, the growth of the congregation demanding more room, the church was sold and the present larger and more commodious house was erected. The latter cost nearly $6,000.

The Rev. Conrad Speilmann presided at the organization and occasionally preached here, the charge being until 1870 a mission. Among those who served as pastors are: Revs. John Dengel, Amos Gackley, Enoch V. Freeden, S.E. Heilmann, Conrad Speilmann, John Kurz, Michael Heyl and Martin Stamm. The services were held in the German language, almost the entire congregation being of that nationality.


The Swedish Lutheran Church was organized at the house of John Gustus, June 27,1856, with 12 members. Meeting were held in the residences of its members until the church was erected, which was completed and occupied about the year 1859. It cost $700. In 1874 it was remodeled and enlarged at an expense of $800. The first regular pastor was Rev Nils Anderson, who came in 1865 and remained until 1869. The following year the Rev. C. J. Malmberg was called, who filled the pulpit six years.


This Church was organized in 1864, by Rev. V. Wittig. Services were held at that time in the German Church, and the next year at Moderwell's Hall. After the Rev. Witting left, Rev. A. L. Erickson became pastor. The congregation built a church in 1866. Among the faithful pastors of this Church we find besides the above the names of Revs. O. Gunderson, John Lind, John Wigren and H. W. Ekland.


The Methodist Episcopal Church held its first meetings in the Seminary building. The first organization was effected in 1854 (six members) by Rev. H. J. Humphrey. The first quarterly conference was at the house of the preacher in charge, Rev. Humphrey, Nov. 3, 1856; Rev. R. N. Morse, Presiding Elder; Caleb Ransom, Recording Steward; Rev. G. C. Woodruff, Secretary. The Pastor's salary was fixed at $436. The original members were: Rev. H. Van Order, Levi Hamilton, G.A. Luvin, D.B. Brown, S.S. Throop and J.A. McConnell.

The first Methodist Episcopal church was on State Street, south, and became afterwards Teutonia Hall. The second and present church is on North State Street, was commenced in 1865, under Rev. H. Ritchie, and completed in 1872, under Rev. Worthington, and dedicated by Bishop Bowman in September, 1873. It cost $22,000.

Rev. Humphrey served one year, Rev. A. D. McCool one year, Rev. J. Soule two years, Rev. E. Ransom two years, N.C. Lewis one year, E. Wasmuth three years, H. Ritchie two years, Rev. A.P. Christ two years, S.G.J. Worthington three years, W. P. Graves two years, M. Spurlock two years and G. W. Arnold, present Pastor.


In 1863 this congregation was organized with about 40 families, the officiating Priest for at time being located in Rock Island. Immediately after the organization the building of a church was begun, costing about $3,000.