History of Hebron Cumberland Presbyterian
Written by Wade Ellis, Elder of Hebron Cumberland Presbyterian Church
Donated By Kyle Schultz
Picture donated by Sylvia Hosler
In studying the religious and moral life of the people of pioneer Illinois, by T. C. Pease, he mentioned that one of the denominations that was very active in that period was the Cumberland Presbyterians. Hebron Cumberland Presbyterian Church was organized right here on my own farm, and just across the road from my present home. I thought here was a fertile field for some local Illinois history, which would be not only interesting and instructive to me, but to many others besides. With the help of some of the older residents, particularly Mr. W. D. Jones of Walpole, IL and what church records and minutes that were available, I have tried to give as clear a history of this grand old church during it's ninety years, as I could.
It is not the oldest church in Hamilton County, but it is the oldest one in the southern part of the county.
It was a hot dusty day in August 1860, when the Rev. J. L. Riley leisurely hitched his sunburned old horse to a tottering old fashioned hitchrack, kicked the dust off his shoes and walked into the Broyles grocery at Walpole, IL in the extreme southern part of Hamilton County. Upon entering the store he asked for a light lunch of cheese and crackers and finished with a glass of cold water.
While chatting with the proprietor, he was told that it was only a short distance to the nearest hotel, or tavern as they called it, and to follow the trail north until he came to the fork of the trail and turn to the left.
The Rev. Riley went as directed and reached the McTeer Tavern in late afternoon, and was received with the greatest hospitality, and was refreshed by a bountiful meal, which was always a treat to a weary traveler.
After supper the Rev. Riley and Mrs. McTeer soon entered into a friendly conversation, which included the current news of the day and finally came around to the subject of religion.
Brother Riley inquired about the churches in the community, and was informed that there were no churches in this community and that moral conditions were very bad, so Brother Riley announced that on his return trip, he would try to preach if they could get a suitable place to meet in.
After the departure of the Reverend Riley the people in the community who were interested in religion, busied themselves with the task of looking for a place for church services. They got permission to use the Jones School House, a log building located one mile west of Walpole. When the time came for Brother Riley to preach, he was not disappointed for the small log building was filled to its capacity.
The congregation met several times in the Jones School House, but as the crowds increased they built a brush arbor about two hundred yards northeast of the school house and during the eight days and nights of the revival meeting about forty people were converted.
Picture donated by Kyle Schultz
A church was then organized with fifty-one members, and they purchased two acres of ground for a church site that is located one-half mile north of the old brush arbor. The land was purchased from S. C. Ritchey; the Ritchey farm is now owned by Mr. L. F. Douglass.
When the question of naming the church was brought up Mr. Chalon Towle suggested the name Hebron, and as no other suggestions were offered this name was unanimously adopted.
The first church building was of logs, and with its spacious fireplace, its large opening on each side for light and a crackling hickory wood fire on Sunday mornings when the cold weather came, afforded the old pioneer Cumberland Presbyterians a pleasant and cozy place to attend church services.
The old log church was used until 1870 but as it was too small, a larger frame building was erected, which had better accommodations.
The new building had glass windows, coal oil lamps, a new box wood heater, and an old fashioned organ. This building was used until 1886. When it became too small, and was sold to Wesley Hall, who moved it one half mile west and converted it into a dwelling house.
Hebron Church and Cemetery
donated by Kyle Schultz
The present church building was erected in 1886 on the site of the two older buildings, but in 1910 it was moved about fifty yards east of its former site to the place where it stands today. The first minutes were dated Feb. 20, 1875/. J. C. Wilson was moderator; George W. Johnson, clerk and H. R. Jones, Thomas Wooldridge and S. H. Ritchey were present. I am informed that many of the earlier minutes were lost because of not having a suitable place for keeping them, the minutes however that were recorded at this early date were plainly readable and in perfect shape. The Minutes of the Session of Sept. 19, 1886, the year the present church building was erected, show that an assessment of one dollar on each male member, and fifty cents on each female member. It was made for the purpose of paying the pastor's salary, however, this was an unusual circumstance.
The following ministers have served the church as pastor during its ninety years as an organized church: Rev. J. L. Riley, Rev. Frank Wilson, Rev. Robert Davis, Rev. Steven Ritchey, Rev. Frank Gray, Rev. D. M. Prior, Rev. George Williams, Rev. J. L. Hudgins, Rev. George Hill, Rev. Joe Crabtree, Rev. Penfold, Rev. Gus Organ, Rev. John McLean, Rev. Burgess, Rev. Metcalf, Rev. William Davis, Rev. W. A. Cowgur, Rev. Lowell Ernheart, Rev. C. E. Hedges, Rev. Evitts, Rev. John Phipps, Rev. John Deen and Rev. S. C. Blackard.
The records show that there have been over five hundred admissions to the church. They also show that Alexander Gray was the first person admitted to the church by experience September 16, 1860.
In the year 1860 there were forty-four additions to the church, and in the year of 1885, there were fifty-six additions. These years stand out as banner years for the church.
In the month of September, in the year 1908, Rev. W. A. Cowgur's name appears for the first time on the Minutes as Moderator. He was called at that time to serve the church as pastor and he served until August 1928; his was the longest pastorate in the church's history. Rev. Cowgur died in July 1950 at the age of 83.
Hebron Church is still active, the house is in good condition, it is surrounded by a large cemetery of three acres, and you can still hear the church bell calling the people to worship, the present pastor (1966) is Rev. S. C. Blackard of Omaha, IL.
Certainly, Hebron Cumberland Presbyterian Church has played a great part in Illinois History as far as this locality is concerned. I believe that its influence has spread from southern Illinois to many of the other states of the union, as well as across the sea.
Today I received a clipping from the Harrisburg Register, published in March 1938, which gives an interesting account of an interview with Dr. William A. Riley of Ridgway, IL. He was at that time eighty-two years of age. He told the reporter that he was the son of James Louis Riley, an early Cumberland Presbyterian preacher, and that he was the first child born in Harrisburg, IL, He also told of being a playmate of William Jennings Bryan during a short sojourn by the Riley family near Bryan's home at Salem.
He also told of his family leaving Harrisburg in 1864 and moving to a farm near the village of Walpole, IL where his father had helped organize Hebron Cumberland Presbyterian Church. In speaking of his father he said he also founded the Cumberland Presbyterian Church east of Omaha, IL, and that his picture still hangs in the building.
Written by Wade Ellis, Elder of Hebron Cumberland Presbyterian Church.