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History of Kewanee Churches

This history of Kewanee's churches was originally published in the "Portrait and Biographical Album of Henry County Illinois," written in 1885 and published by The Biographical Publishing Company of Chicago. Copies provided by Linda Lang and transcribed by Susie Martin-Rott.


The oldest of the thirteen regularly organized Churches at Kewanee is the Congregational, whose organization was effected Aug. 7, 1855, in a school-house. During the winter previous meetings were held in the Kewanee House and at a few private residences. Flavel Bascom, D.D., presided at the meeting of organization. Forty-four persons united, many of whom had been members of the same Church at Wethersfield. The church edifice was completed in 1858, having been built the year previous. It was very much enlarged and beautified in the year 1871. The Rev. Charles H. Pierce was preaching to the congregation at the time of organization, and remained until January, 1858. He was succeeded, as the next Pastor, by Mr. Charles C. Salter, who was ordained and installed April 20, 1859, and was regularly dismissed March 11, 1861. Rev. James M. Van Wagner was called in to the pastorate of the Church in February, 1864, installed June 6. He remained until April 6, 1868. Rev. James Tompkins was called June 1, 1872, installed September 10. During the intervals between any of these pastorates the pulpit was filled by supplies. The congregation is now in good condition. The present pastor is A. N. Hitchcock. The membership is 300. The Sunday-school has an attendance of 400.


The Free-Will Baptist Church was organized April 29, 1865, in the Protestant Methodist Church, with eleven members. The following is a list of the original membership: Rev. William Bonar, Mrs. Mary Ann Bonar, A. B. Palmer, Mrs. Mary Ann Palmer, D.W. Payne, Henry Malone, Mary Malone, S.W. Warner, A. B. Gurney, Caroline E. Gurney and C.H. Gurney---eleven persons. Prior to the organization services were held in the Swedish Methodist Church, and next in the Protestant Methodist---now the Free Methodist Church. They worshipped in this latter place until November, 1865, when they removed to Cutter's Hall, where they remained until January, 1866, when they again removed, this time to the Christian Church. This building is now a dwelling. Here they met for religious exercises until Jan. 16, 1870, when they worshipped a few months again in Cutter's Hall. about May, 1869, they commenced the erection of a church building. It was completed June 1, 1870, when they immediately occupied it. It is a very comfortable structure, and cost, including the lot, $6,800.

Among the pastors serving this congregation are: Revs. William Bonar, O.D. Patch, J.J. Weage and H. J. Brown.


The Free Methodist Church was organized in a private residence in Wethersfield about the year 1866 or 1867. Meetings had been held for some time previous in the residences of different persons, and in the Swedish Methodist house of worship; also in a store-room in Wethersfield. About the year 1870 they purchased their present church edifice of the Protestant Methodists, and have since occupied it. At the organization some five or six persons were admitted as members. They have, at different times, enjoyed good seasons of revival, and now number some 35 members. The first minister was Rev. Jonathan Dick; next, William Cooley, whose wife occasionally officiated at divine service. He was followed by J.G. Terrell, during whose ministry the church was purchased, at a cost of $1,000. Next, George Coffee, followed by W.W. Kelley; he by John Whiting; he by James Thaxter, then James Kelso took charge. The present Pastor is E.M. Smashy. The Sunday-school numbers about 25 pupils.


The Presbyterian Church was organized in the Baptist Church by the Rock Island Presbytery, March 26, 1872. A preliminary meeting had been held to invoke the Presbytery to this action at the house of S. M. Hurd on February 21 previous. At the organization the following persons were received as members: Daniel and Mrs. Eunice Baldwin, William E. and Mrs. Sarah A. Haxtun, R.A. and Mrs. L. Little, Jacob W. and Mrs. Hannah Jones, S. M and Mrs. Emily Hurd, N.H. and Mrs. Lura Blakely, Effie Blakely, Mrs. C. H. Graves, George H. Lincoln, George Kliner, Mrs. J. Powers, Mrs. P. Wright, Mrs. John Wiffen, Clark Bradish, William W. Winter and Mrs. Virginia L. Winter, and ------- Shanahan.

During the summer the church was erected. Including the lot, it cost $5,000. The Rev. N. D. Graves was Pastor of the Church about three years. Rev. Josiah Milligan, of Princeton, preached for them for some time, when Rev. J. D. Howey was called. He occupied the pulpit over one year. The Church has no pastor at present. There are now 95 members, and a Sunday-school of 100 scholars.


This congregation was organized at Wethersfield, and on May 9, 1856, it was decided by a vote of its members to remove their place of holding service to Kewanee. There were at that time over 100 members. They worshipped for some time in different halls, and in some of the other churches. On Dec. 21, 1865, a building committee was appointed, and steps taken toward the erection of a suitable church edifice. This was completed and occupied July 7, 1867, and cost, including the site, over $8,000. There are now about 235 members, and a Sunday-school of 115 scholars. The present Pastor is Rev. J. M. Titterington.

Among those serving as pastors are: Revs. S. P. Ives, H. B. Foskett, J. LaGrange, A. D. Freeman, William Storrs, A. Jones, K. W. Benton, Carlos Swift, R. L Colwell and P.P. Shirley. The Church is now in a flourishing condition, and enjoying evident signs of prosperity.


This congregation at first met for some time in a school-house, about one mile east of Kewanee, in a hall over the store of J. D. Schriver, and in private houses. Some of the members had been connected with the same religious body in Wethersfield, but desirous of building up a Church in Kewanee, came here to worship. They organized a class of 30 persons, Dec. 15, 1855, in the school-house referred to; being then under the pastoral care of Rev. J.O. Gilbert. The principal members were A. Thornton, Wm. King, J. Shipley, Erastus Johnson, W. S. Olver, William Bowen, W. C. Kent and John Schriver. The corner-stone of their church was laid Oct. 23, 1856.

This building becoming old an inadequate to the growing demands of the congregation, in the summer of 1877 a new one was constructed, which cost $10,000. The parsonage was purchased in 1856. June following the organization of the Church, a Sunday-school was organized. There were 60 pupils in attendance.

Among the Pastors who have served this Church are: Revs. J.O. Gilbert, John Chandler, E. Ransom, one year, J.S. Cummings, W. P. Graves, U.J. Giddings, W. J. Beck, Benjamin Applebee, John P. Brooks, M. P. Armstrong, G. W. Arnold, B. C. Dennis, M. Spurlock. The minister in charge at present is Rev. F. H. Cumming.


On Sunday, May 13, 1855, a Protestant Episcopal Sunday-school was organized in the Kewanee-House. This was the first religious organization in Kewanee, and the school met the following Sunday for the first time at Odd Fellows Hall. There were 20 scholars, and R. P. Parish was Superintendent.

The first full Episcopal service, with sermon, was in the summer following, by Rev. Porter, of Jubilee college. In October, Bishop Whitehouse made a visit, and held two services in the unfinished Methodist Protestant Church. During the summer and autumn of 1856, Rev Philander Chase officiated occasionally in the same church. July 13, 1856, the Church was organized. The first Rector was Rev. George E. Peters, who commenced his labors in 1857 and remained two years. A church edifice was constructed in 1857, at a cost of about $5,000. The first church-bell of the town was rung from the belfry of St. John's.


The organization of this Church was effected in 1865. The principal members then were Joseph Garland, John Bennison, John Bradbury, John Bamford, Moses Jones, William Bennison and J. Breckon. They met for a while prior to organization in Cutler's Hall and in the Methodist Episcopal Church. The church edifice was erected in 1873, at a cost of $2,000. Among those serving as Pastors, are as follows: Revs. J. Hewitt, Charles Dawson, Thomas Butterwick, William Jacks, Jr., Charles Dawson. Minister in charge is Rev. T. M. Harris. There are now 90 members and a Sunday-school of 87 scholars.


About 1866, some of the German people living in this vicinity and professing belief in the doctrines of this religious body, organized a Church. For a short time they met in a school-house, but at once commenced the erection of a church edifice. Nineteen persons united at the organization-- the Pastor being Rev. Hilmer, who remained about one year. Their church cost some $2,500. The majority of the members, now about 75, live in the country. In 1875, another church was organized, three miles northeast of Kewanee. It is for the accommodation of those living in that locality.


The first meetings were held at Amboy in 1859. An organization was affected here of probably 100 members. From this place they were sent out to preach and in 1862 the establishment of the Church here.

In 1868 they erected their present church edifice, locating it nearly one mile north of town. Regular activities are maintained here, the membership being about 100, with an attendance of about 50 in the Sunday-school. They are distinct in their faith and practices from the Utah Mormons, and have no connection whatsoever with them.

(Typist's note: The correct name of this church was the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, abbreviated as RLDS)


Was organized into a regular Church in 1869. Prior to that time they held meetings at private residences , and occasionally in the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1870, they completed their church building, at a cost of $3,000. There was about 50 members, and a flourishing Sunday-school has been kept up from the first organization. The first minister in charge was Rev. Lendholm, followed by Rev. N. Neurgren; then the Rev. John Wingstrom.


The Swedish Methodist Church was organized at an early day. It was and is quite small and has not been able to sustain a local minister or build a house of worship.


Father Lyons now in charge, first met at the house of Matthew Joyce, in 1854. There were 35 heads of families belonging to the Church, among them being Lawrence Hunt, Patrick Cavanaugh, Matthew Joyce, James Hunt (deceased), James Gallagher, Thomas Caton, Edward Hunt (deceased). In 1855, a small church was erected, --since much enlarged and remodeled.

The first priest in charge was Father Lynch, then O'Gara, Powers, Dulhuntz, Duggan, Hannigan, Kilkerney, J. M. Ryan and John Ryan. It now has the largest membership in town.