First

Baptist

Church


Dixon, Lee County IL



    First Baptist Church in 1907


(From the files of the Telegraph of September 17, 1853 - "As we write the workmen have just finished their work of fixing in its place the new bell, upon the Baptist church, and are sounding its first peal. Loud, clear, sonorous and musical come its rich, full tones upon the evening air.")

Today the same bell still sounds its tidings in the First Baptist church of Dixon as a reminder to the faithful that it is time for worship.

The history of the First Baptist church began eight years after Dixon was founded when a group of immigrant Baptists from Dixon and Buffalo Grove gathered to organize as the First Baptist church of Dixon and Buffalo Grove on May 28, 1838.

The Dixon congregation included seven members; Howland Bicknell, and Sisters Rebecca Dixon, Elizabeth Bellows, Jerusha Hammond, Sarah Kellog, Martha Parks and Ann Clarley. The group was organized by the Rev. Thomas Powell of the Home Missionary society and he was pastor for two years. The only other religious organization was the Methodist group at the time. At this early date members of the little church gathered in the homes of its members, and met in the school building later, where it alternated on Sundays with other churches. Business meetings were held on Saturday.

By April 16, 1842, the congregation of the two settlements had reached 75 and decided to separate into two groups, the Dixon congregation taking its present name. The first church constructed by the Baptists was adjacent to the present Black Hawk hotel, where the lot was purchased from Nancy Chapman for $100 on June 28, 1843. The $3,000 cost of the church was raised by selling stock in the building and selling and assigning parishioners certain pews.

Upon completion of the building, it was dedicated May 5, 1849, at dedication services held by the Rev. Jacob Knapp of Rockford. The church now had 44 members and the Rev. E.t. Manning was serving as pastor with a salary of $300 per year, plus house rent and firewood. In 20 years the congregation had grown and the need for another church was evident. Subscriptions were solicited and plans made and approved for the present home of the First Baptist church. The cornerstone of the church was laid Oct. 1, 1869 and the building was dedicated July 28, 1872 with the Rev. N.F. Ravlin officiating. The Rev. J.H. Pratt was serving as pastor of the church whose congregation numbered 162 at the dedication. He was succeeded May 1, 1873 by the Rev. D.F. Carnahan.

Under the new minister's leadership during his pastorate of three years a plan was devised which liquidated most of the costs of the church. When the church celebrated its 40th anniversary it had 171 active members, having had a total of 545 names on the register since organization. The church withdrew from the Illinois River Association May 27, 1873 and was admitted to the Rock River Association of which it is still a member. It was during baptismal services of the church at the Rock River on May 4, 1873 that the terrible Truesdell bridge disaster occurred, resulting in the deaths of 42 persons and serious injuries to 47, when the bridge collapsed from the weight of a large crowd watching the ceremonies.

The Rev. J.H. Pratt had just baptized two candidates and the third was ready to receive baptism when the bridge fell. The church lost five members and the Sunday School, nine, among the deaths. Afterwards no baptisms occurred until April 1876 when the church records indicate that "then a way was open for more to follow," apparently referring to the Baptistry which was installed in the present church building. Organizations of the church have functioned under varying names; The Lend a Hand Club, the Christian Endeavor Society, the Women's Home adn Foreign Mission Circle and the Ladies Aid. Today the organizations are; Women's Missionary Society if which Mrs. J.R. McDaniels is president; the Youth Fellowship, sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Alvin Qualls; the Sunday School and its several departments, with Ansel Youngblood as general superintendent; the Christian Education Department, with Mrs. J.R. McDaniels as president and officers and teachers as members; the Cradle Roll, with P.G. Watters and Mrs. Robert Ball as workers; and the Anoma class of the Sunday aschool, one of the larger groups of the church, with Mrs. W.D. Millikan as teacher and Mrs. Hoover Kelly as president. William Bond directs the senior choir, Mrs. J.H. Hughes the intermediate choir and Walt Rice the junior choir.

The church has been served by 28 ministers, with the present pastor, the Rev. J.H. Hughes, having served the longest period, 13 years. The Rev. W.W. Marshall served 12 years. Present resident membership is 350, with 40 non-resident members, for a total of 390 members. The church is inadequate at present and a building fund has been growing for a number of years. Tentativeplans have been made and include enlargement of the building when necessary materials are available. Organizations of the church have functioned under varying names; The Lend a Hand Club, the Christian Endeavor Society, the Women's Home adn Foreign Mission Circle and the Ladies Aid. Today the organizations are; Women's Missionary Society if which Mrs. J.R. McDaniels is president; the Youth Fellowship, sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Alvin Qualls; the Sunday School and its several departments, with Ansel Youngblood as general superintendent; the Christian Education Department, with Mrs. J.R. McDaniels as president and officers and teachers as members; the Cradle Roll, with P.G. Watters and Mrs. Robert Ball as workers; and the Anoma class of the Sunday aschool, one of the larger groups of the church, with Mrs. W.D. Millikan as teacher and Mrs. Hoover Kelly as president. William Bond directs the senior choir, Mrs. J.H. Hughes the intermediate choir and Walt Rice the junior choir.

Eight years after "Father" John Dixon arrived at Ogee's Ferry, a group of immigrant Baptists from Dixon and Buffalo Grove gathered to organize the First Baptist Church May 28, 1838. The group of seven was organized by the Rev. Thomas Powell of the Home Missionary Society who remained in Dixon for two years to serve as pastor for the group; the only religious body in the tiny village by the Rock River with the exception of the Methodists.

First meetings of the church organization were held in the homes of members and later in Dixon's first school building where the Baptists alternated SUndays with not only the Methodist but with other groups that were formed later. By April 14, 1842, the congregation had reached a total of 75 people and it was decided to separate into two groups with the Dixon members taking the name First Baptist. The first Baptist church building in Dixon was located adjacent tot he presentBlackhawk Hotel where a lot had been purchased from Nancy Chapman for $100 on June 28, 1843.

The $3,000 necessary to build the church structure was raised by selling stock in the building to members of the congregation and by selling and assigning parishioners certain pews in the church.The church building was completed and dedicated May 5, 1849, with services being conducted by the Rev. Jacob Knap of Rockford. The Baptist Church at that time numbered 44 and had as its permanent minister the Rev. E.T. Manning, who received a salary of $300 per year in addition to his house rent and firewood.

There had been no extra money available to install a bell in the church when it was built but one was put in at a later date, according to Sept. 17, 1853 issue of the Telegraph. SOe 20 years later,the church had grown to such an extent that it became necessary to construct a larger building that was surely needed. Subscriptions were solicited from contregation members and plans were made for the present home of the FIrst Baptist Chruch at 111 E. 2nd.

Cornerstone ceremonies were conducted Oct. 1, 1896 and the building was dedicated Juy 28, 1872 with the Rev. N. F. Ravlin officiating. The membership at this time totaled 162 people. It was during a baptismal service of the church at the Rock River on Sunday, May 4, 1873 that the Truesdell bridge disaster occured resulting in the death of over 40 persons. The Rev. Pratt had just baptized two members of his congregation when the bridge fell from the weight of the large crowd watching the ceremony.

The church lost five members and the Sunday School, nine among the deaths counted on that Black Sunday in early Dixon. Afterwards no baptisms took place until April 1876, when the church records indicate that "then a way was open for more to follow," apparently referring to teh baptistry which was installed in the present church building.

Dixon Evening Telegraph Feb. 28, 1976

Clarence and Esther Seagren have taught Sunday school, served on every board the First Baptist Church of Dixon had to offer and sung in its choir - well, Esther did. Clarence wasn't invited, he jokes. The couple, who were baptized together 54 years ago, exemplify why the Baptist church has survived all these years: its dedicated members. It is fitting they will celebrate their 62nd wedding anniversary Saturday, the same day their church celebrates its 165th anniversary.

The church began with a meeting of eight people on May 28, 1838 in Buffalo Grove - what is now Polo. It was called at the request of Rebecca Dixon, wife of Dixon's founder, John, and her sister, Sarah Kellogg. The two asked the Rev. Thomas Powell, of the American Baptist Home Missionary Society, to moderate. This first church was called "The First Regular Church of Dixon and Buffalo Grove." Meetings were held in various homes, and later, in Dixon's first school building, where the Baptists alternated Sundays with other church groups that didn't have their own buildings, according to Lee County Historical Society documents. In 1842, the church divided into two - the Buffalo Grove and Dixon Baptist Churches - but soon after, most Buffalo Grove members joined the Dixon church. That was the first year the church was known as The First Baptist Church of Dixon. A building finally was built in 1849, for $3,000, on East First Street near Ottawa Avenue. The structure that stands today, on East Second Street between Galena and Ottawa avenues, was built in 1869 for $15,000. Perhaps the most well-known moment in the church's history came on May 4, 1873 with the Truesdell Bridge collapsed. Crowds had filled the span to witness the church perform baptisms in the Rock River. More than 45 people drowned when the bridge gave way, five from the church and seven from the Sunday School. The church then went through a time of mourning said the Rev. Bunyan Cocar, who, with his wife, Rachel, pastor the church. Baptisms did not start up again until April 1876, when the baptistery was installed in the church.

From then on, the church membership fluctuated and the building underwent many renovations, said Lois Appleman, church secretary. A pipe organ was installed in 1909, and a major addition was built during the early 1960s, along with a new set of stairs to the choir loft. Then, the church sustained a few families. "It's always been a community church. It's never doing the latest crazes," Cocar said. One remarkable fact is that it never has spilt more than once, which is pretty rare as far as Baptist churches go, Cocar said. The church has seen more shakeups in the way of its leaders, though. "We've had ups and downs," Appleman said. "I've seen a lot of preachers come and go - some good, some bad." The church's present membership hovers around 200, Appleman said, but average attendance is about 100. As of late, the congregation has been declining, which Appleman attributes to changing social patterns, in which younger people are busier and have a lot of alternative organizations to join instead. Fortunately for the church, it still has members like the Seagrens, who make sure to come every Sunday and sit in the same pew, on the end, four rows from the front. "It's a very old church, but it's very comfortable. You just feel at home when you go there. If you don't go one Sunday, you sure miss it," Esther said.

Contributed by Margaret Menager from a local newspaper artical November 2, 2007 written by Malinda Osborne Sauk Valley News Reporter

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