The Presbyterian church is the pioneer faith of Danville. The organization of this denomination into a church in Danville was effected in 1829. There had been service in the place before this time, however. This organization had been begun and completed by Rev. Samuel Baldridge. The original members of this church were Dr. Asa R. Palmer, Josiah Alexander, Mary Ann Alexander, Elizabeth Alexander, Solomon Gilbert, Submit Gilbert, Lucy Gilbert and Parmele Tomlinson. Dr. Palmer was selected as first ruling elder. Rev. Baldbridge organized this church and was for a few months the pastor.
It was very early in the life of the church that Rev. Enoch Kingsbury was made the pastor. This was in 1831, and his was the pastorate which insured the life of the society, and to which all writers of the early history of Vermilion county give greatest credit. His first year here was rather uncertain, but the following year he settled permanently in Danville. Rev. Enoch Kingsbary was a power in Vermilion County in its early development, and without him the history would have been very different. He was always a great force for progress and his was a life well worthy emulation. He was a tall fine looking man with a powerful frame and a decided manner which made it impossible for his conviction to be questioned.
Rev. Kingsbury has been described briefly in the following words : He was a hero, a patriot, a philanthropist, a Christian and an enthusiast in the work chosen by him. He served the Presbyterian church of Danville faithfully for twenty years and then left the active work only because of failing health and strength. Rev. A. L. Brooks, a man of the old school style of manners and viewpoint of matters and things, came to the pastorate in 1870 in December. He remained for several years and was followed by Charles Little.
Mr. Brooks was a man of unusual ability in the way of loving ministering to his flock and at the same time he was a logical and convincing preacher, winning souls to his Master and friends to himself by his gentle manner of thought and action. His pastorate ended by his death. Rev. Brooks was buried in Springhill cemetery.
Rev. A. L. Brooks was born in Madison County, New York, the son of Jesse and Olivia (Lyons) Brooks. His father was a native of Connecticut, and in his early life, was a merchant, but in the latter part of his life he was postmaster and magistrate of Mayville, New York. His mother was a native of Vermont. The principal part of Mr. Brooks' education was had at Trenton, New York, where he graduated in 1844. He continued his studies and graduated at Auburn two years later. He was ordained a minister of the Gospel in 1846 and settled at Hamilton, in the state of his birth. Ten years after he was first ordained he came west and accepted a call to the Third Presbyterian church, where he remained minister of that church for seven years. From Chicago he answered a call to Peoria, as pastor of the Fulton Street Presbyterian church; thence to Decatur as pastor of the New School Presbyterian church of that place for three years. The next move he made was to the Presbyterian church at Danville. He left a New School Presbyterian church in Decatur to come to Danville, but he came to a New School church when he made the change of location. During the war the Presbyterian church split on the matter of slavery. Those of the south and some localities of the north held with the larger number in an attitude of, if not sanction, then tolerance, of the institution, while the more radical went to themselves and established a communion, which was called the New School Presbyterian church. In the country through the central and southern part of Illinois and Indiana, that political borderland of the northern and the southern sentiments, there were many of these new churches and in some of even the smaller villages a church of both the regular and the New School were to be found. In Covington, Indiana, the village on the other side of the state line, this was the case and the two churches were supported until some time after the war, when the New School church, no longer needing to exist, disbanded and the membership sought other homes. In Decatur the New School church was the stronger than was the regular church, and it held its own. In Danville there was but the one church and it was of the New School. This church was, as it is now, located on the corner of Franklin and North streets.
The church building was a frame house and yet remains standing on S. Walnut Street. During the first six years of the life of the Presbyterian church at Danville the meetings were held at the old log court house, in private houses, and in vacant rooms wherever circumstances made it best to go. In 1835 by means of much personal sacrifice, a church building was put up on the site of the present location of the stone church. This building is supposed to be the second Presbyterian church building in eastern Illinois.
This church building became really historic; it was used for everything that needed a hall in which to hold meetings. It was used for many years for almost all public gatherings, Sunday schools and other schools. On account of the prosperity of the church, a new house of worship was needed and built in 1858. This house was dedicated to the worship of God, December 24, 1865, the sermon on that day being preached by the Rev. Joseph Tuttle, president of Wabash College. The cost of that building was $12,000. In 1879, the Presbyterian church celebrated the semi-centennial of the organization of the society. In 1904 the Presbyterian church of Danville celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary.
The ministers of this church can easily be numbered, so few changes have been made. Beginning at the first there are: Rev. Samuel Baldridge, the first minister who was employed to serve but half the time, he being a man of other employment. He was a physician. Rev. Kingsbury was engaged in 1831 and served the church continuously for twenty years. After that he continued his service as supply for seven years more. After so acceptable a service as was rendered by Rev. Kingsbury it was not to be expected that the next pastorates would be as extended. So it is that the years between 1850 and 1870 the church was served by Nathaniel Kingsbury (a brother of "Father" Kingsbury) and Orrin Cooley, Chas. H. Palmer (son of the first elder Palmer and brother of Mr. Eben Palmer), Wm. R. Palmer, James W. Stark, W. A. Hendrickson (who supplied two months in the summer of 1864), David R. Love, Charles P. Felch and William R. Powers.
In 1870 Rev. Asahel Brooks came to the pastorate of this church and was the beloved minister until his death in 1879. Rev. Brooks was peculiarly fitted to be a minister in this locality and a citizen of Danville, at that time. In 1880 Rev. Chas. H. Little was called to this charge and served the church until 1893. During the term of his service the Presbyterian church extended the bounds of its charge by doing some local missionary work which resulted in the forming of the Bethany church and Kingsbury chapel.
In 1907, by act of the higher organizations of this denomination, the Cumberland Presbyterian churches were united with the regular Presbyterian church and the churches of that, at one time, distinct church in Vermilion county, must be considered under the same general head. There was a large number of accessions to the First Presbyterian church in Danville, from the Cumberland church before this union, however. That was during the pastorate of Rev. Little.
Rev. Little was followed in his pastorate by Rev. Willis E. Parsons who was installed pastor in 1893. Under his leadership the interest in Foreign Missions which this church had always held, was extended to the calling of a missionary to the field, the church had decided to take under particular care. It was then Rev. Wittemore was put in charge of the church in Korea which the Danville church supported. Rev. Parsons left the pastorate of the church in Danville to become president of the Parson's College in Iowa, a school established by his grandfather. Rev. Parsons was followed to the church in Danville by Rev. H. H. Shawhan. The first sermon was preached by the new pastor on Christmas day, 1904.
The Cumberland Presbyterian church has always been a strong church in Vermilion county, particularly within the southern part, owing more than in any other way to the energy and unceasing efforts of Rev. Ashmore. This branch of the Presbyterian faith appealed to the needs of the pioneer more forcefully than did that of the regular church. The greatest difference in the two Loading...Loading...churches were always the question of fatality in the Westminster Confession of faith, and the objection to an educated clergy. Believing that a man should preach whether he was educated or not, brought a class of preachers to the front who in no way were calculated to awe the people, and the early settlers of Vermilion county, excepting those of the Society of Friends, many of them felt the power of this church and many chose the Cumberland church, so that large congregations were ready to go into the Presbyterian church where the union was affected in 1907.
Through the untiring efforts of Rev. Ashmore in the early days, the Cumberland Presbyterian church had a phenomenal growth in the southern part of Vermilion County. It was not long after he began his work in Vermilion County that Rev. Ashmore was invited to preach in the northeast part of Elwood township. He was a powerful preacher and formed a church there in 1842, which took the name of Liberty church.
Foster Elliott and wife, Alexander Campbell and wife, Andrew Davis and wife, Mrs. Kiturah Whitlock, Mrs. Baldwin and James Walls were among the first members. Elliott, Campbell and Davis were the first elders. The old log meeting house was built on Foster Elliott's land in 1843 and stood about a half mile southwest of the building, afterward put up for the same purpose. In 1871 there was a more pretentious church built. The man who served this church as pastors during the early days of the life of this church were Rev. James Ashmore, Rev. A. Whitlock, Mr. Vandeventer, J. W. Jordon, James McFerrin, H. Vandyne and again Rev. Ashmore. This church is at present on the circuit with the church at Georgetown.
The Yankee Point Cumberland Presbyterian church was organized by Rev. Ashmore, November 5, 1853. The beginning of this church was interesting. Rev. Ashmore was in the midst of a series of fervent meetings which he was holding in the school house, and having them at the noon hour so as not to disturb the school, when one of the directors forbade the continuance of the meetings. The evangelist and his congregation were in no wise daunted but went to the house of James Thompson and had their meetings. The next day Rev. Ashmore had a deed for a lot put into his hand upon which to put up a house of worship, and a subscription with which to build it. The people made quick work both in organizing a society and in building a church in which to have their meetings. William Shark, William Golden, Arthur Patterson and James Long, were chosen elders and Isaac McPherson and William Carmichael, deacons. The membership was fifty to begin with, and comprised many names of the prominent early settlers. Of these, five went into the ministry. Allen Whitlock and his two brothers, (James and Thomas), Elam Golden and J. H. Milholland.
James Ashmore and Allen Whitlock preached for this church twenty years, and were followed by Revs. W. O. Smith, L. P. Detheridge, Jonathan Cooley, Mr. Groves and G. W. Montgomery. This church was built almost in the exact geographical center of Elwood township as it was before its division. Another church in this township was the old Gilead.
It was organized about the year after that at Yankee Point. The Fairmount Cumberland Presbyterian church was organized by Rev. G. W. Jordon in 1866.This church was largely made up of those who came to this place to live from the neighborhood of Mt. Vernon church. The church was built in 1871. It had both Rev. Ashmore and his son as preachers.
The Olive Branch Cumberland church was first built at old Homer, but when that town moved the church was located on the state road on what was then Wm. Hardin's land. All these Cumberland Presbyterian churches are united in circuits under the management of the regular Presbyterian government.
Rev. Enoch Kingsbury was the pioneer Presbyterian preacher in Vermilion County, and Ross township reports his preaching from the time of its first settlement. In the southern part of the county the Cumberland Presbyterians had possession of the field, and no early communions of the regular Presbyterian church were established. It was in Danville and Ross township and Newell township that they are to be found.
When Alvin Gilbert went to Ross township he carried the devotion to the Presbyterian church and to Rev. Kingsbury which came from personal knowledge. The Presbyterian church was organized at his house in 1850 by Rev. Kingsbury. There were six members united to form the church: Joseph Hains, Millie Bicknell, Eliza Kingsbury, David and Elizabeth Strain and Mrs. Nancy Gilbert. Mr. Gilbert did not himself join the church until some months afterward. Services were held in Mr. Gilbert's house until the Odd Fellows built
their hall when, in common with all other denominations, services were held there. Rev. Kingsbury's long service was terminated in 1868, when Rev. W. N. Steele was employed, and continued to minister to the church until 1874. At this time Rev. John H. Dillingham, who had been for several years city missionary in St. Louis, was employed in this Rossville church, where he remained for some years. The church building was erected in about 1869. It was a neat frame building 32x54, and cost $3,000. It had a vestibule at the comer surmounted by a belfry. It was dedicated October, 1870.
The first appointment made by the Methodist Episcopal church in Danville was in 1829, although probably some meetings had been held a year earlier. Danville was a part of the Eugene circuit, and covered also appointments in Indiana, and all of what is now known as Vermilion County and Champaign County. It was a four weeks' circuit, the preachers on it holding service every day in the week. Rev. James McKain and Rev. J. E. French were the first preachers in this circuit. After them came Rev. William Harshy and Rev. Cotton James.
In 1836 G. W. Wallace made a warranty deed to the county commissioners (in trust) for the lot on corner of North and Vermilion streets. There seems to have been no trustees at that time, hence the deed being made to the commissioners. In the interim, service was held in private houses, the school house, and in the groves. Among the first class leaders was Isaac McKinney, who lived near Kyger's mill. He would walk to town and back again for the purpose of holding the meetings. Among the members of the first class were Samuel Whitman and wife, Harvey Luddington and wife, James Hulce and wife, Mrs. Mary Sconce, and a few others. The first church building was put up soon after the deed was made and cost $800. Later a new house of worship was built on the same lot at a cost of $13,500, which served the North street church as long as it remained on that location. When this church was built, it was called the finest house of worship in eastern Illinois.
In 1869 a division of the North Street church was effected, and a new society formed. This was in February of this year, and by the following month Rev. Enoch Jones was officially appointed by the presiding elder as preacher in this charge. Rev. Sampson Shinn was the presiding elder. Rev. Jones continued in this relation until the following April, when he was succeeded by Rev. Nelson R. Whitehead, who was the preacher until the meeting of conference the following fall, when Rev. James Rucker assumed the pastorate. At the date of its formal organization, this society had twenty members. Its first quarterly conference was held June 7, 1869. The first board of trustees comprised John McMahan, John M. Mann, Jacob L. Hill, George W. Hooton, Thomas Neely and J. G. English. The board of stewards were : Thomas McKibben, E. C. Abdill, G. W. Hooton, T. Neely, J. L. Hill, J. M. Lamm, J. G. English and J. Moody. Mr. English was appointed recording steward. As soon as the society was organized, the building of a house of worship was undertaken, and the dedication was November 18, 1869. The sermon was preached by Rev. Granville Moody of Kentucky. This church was named soon after its organization, in honor of Rev. I. C. Kimber. The pastors of Kimber church has been as follows : Rev. J. C. Rucker, Rev. George Stevens, Rev. William S. Hooper, Rev. Wm. S. Musgrove.
The Methodist Episcopal church is preeminently the popular pioneer society. In Vermilion County, Illinois, the Society of Friends and the Cumberland Presbyterian church divided territory in the southern part of it, and the Christian church competed for ground in Blount and Pilot townships, yet the Methodists were by no means crowded out. Elijah Yager went from Tennessee to teach in a family of Friends in Elwood township, and held regular meetings of those leaning to this other faith, before there was any circuit made in connection with any conference. The first regular meetings of this church in connection with any conference, were conducted by Rev. James McKain and his assistant, Rev. John E. French. These men had charge of the Eugene circuit. Services were held in the house of Samuel Graham. This was in 1828. These two men divided the circuit, thereby going to every charge once each fortnight. Each of the two preachers preached every day. They preached at Georgetown and at Cassadys. A class was formed at Mr. Grahams house, consisting of Mr. and Mrs. Graham, Mr. and Mrs. Thos. Shires, Mr. and Mrs. Thos. Standfield, and Miss Graham. Mr. Shires was the first class leader. Mr. French was an Englishman. The circuit rider has become a thing of the past; his sufferings would seem more unendurable these days of luxury, but at that time were taken but as a matter of course. Constantly on the go to meet appointment, never considering the meager wage, his life is a marvel of unselfish helpfulness, almost beyond the understanding of a young person of the present day.
Among the local preachers who kept up the work in this community were Joseph Allison, Mr. Cassady, Patrick Cowan, Arthur J. Jackson, and Wm. Stowers. Of the traveling preachers, those on record are Mr. Bradshaw, Asa and John McMoultry, and Mr. Anderson and others. There was a class formed at Ridge Farm in 1852. This grew out of the class formed four years before this, about a mile to the south. At the time the class was moved, Rev. G. W. Fairbanks was the presiding elder, and Rev. R. C. Horton was the preacher in charge. J. J. Donavan was class leader. Rev. Horton was a man of more than usual fearlessness of speech, and it is said that when he found that many of the class, did not attend class meeting, he expressed himself in a characteristic way. At the end of the quarter he found that but 17 of the 35 whose names were on the class book had attended, he set forward the 17 names and made this entry in the book: "I have only set forward the names of those people who have been to meeting; this is the best I can do. N. B. If any more of the members wish to be considered members, they must show their wish by their coming forward and claiming their membership, and being Methodists." At this time Ridge Farm belonged to Georgetown circuit. The first meetings were held in the Hardscrabble school house. Among the early members were David Ankrum, Israel Patton. Joseph Kuns, Thos. Robinson, William Foster, J. R. Green, Jesse Smith, David Little, Jonah Hole, Thos. Henderson, and Cyrus Douglas. Old father Robinson never failed to be on hand when it was meeting time, and if there were no others there, would sing and pray as though the house was full. The first church was built in 1856, at which time S. Elliott was presiding elder, and Simpson Shinn was preacher in charge. The building was 35 by 55, and was a very comfortable house. In 1859 Levi C. Peters was presiding elder and Rev. G. W. Fairbanks, preacher. J. Hole and Thomas Henderson were class leaders. In 1863 it became Ridge Farm circuit. It was at this time that the church was burned, and the society bought a store building, where they worshiped until 1872, when another church was built. This church was built 35 by 60, at a cost of $3,000.
Another Methodist church was organized at the house of Joseph Allison, who lived on section 25, at Quaker Point as early as 1831 or 1832. The preachers of the Danville circuit preached here with considerable regularity, and this was the beginning of the Bethel church. A log church was built near the state line in 1842, by Mr. Allison, Wm. Kendell and others. Mr. Galladay wished to build it further north, and had some logs hewn for that purpose.
A Methodist church was built in Rossville in 1869. It was built of brick and cost $5,500. It was dedicated by elder Moody, who was called the "fighting parson." This reputation he made in the army when he would fight all day and pray all night, with equal power and faith. There was a union church building put up on section 34, about two miles from the south and two from the eastern line of the township, in which any Christian denomination was free to worship. The Methodist class made use of this, having the preachers who
belonged to the Hoopeston circuit to be their pastors.
The Methodist church of Hoopeston was organized in 1872, by Rev. B. F. Hyde, of Rossville, and with Rev. Preston Wood as presiding elder. The preaching was first in McCracken's store. The circuit at that time included Schwartz, East Lynne, and Antioch, Rev. A. H. Alkire being pastor. In 1873 Rev. W. L. Lang was pastor, J. W. Phillips was presiding elder. Dick school house and Bridgemans school house were added as regular appointments. In 1874 Rev. Muirhead was pastor, and it was during his pastorate that the church was built The first class in Middle Fork was organized at the house of John Johns in 1829. It was in this year that Mr. Reuben Partlow went with John Johns, who lived ten miles southeast of the Partlow neighborhood to Danville to attend meeting and to ask the preacher, Rev. McKain to send an appointment to their neighborhood. They were successful, perhaps to the extent of having the circuit extended to the Partlow neighborhood. That, however, is a question not fully settled at this time. At the time the circuit was extended to Johns, it was the Eugene circuit, and extended to Big Grove in Champaign County. Rev. Hershey, it is remembered, followed Rev. McKain and during his pastorate the circuit did extend to the Partlow neighborhood. Ten years later this class grew to be the Partlow church. During the pastorate of the preacher next following these classes became a part of the Danville circuit. For at least ten years there were no church buildings, but preaching was held in homes. Where there were two rooms in a house, the preacher could stand so as to be heard in both rooms. The preaching points were Blue Grass, Part- lows and Moreheads. The list of preachers were identical with those of Danville, which are given on another page. Of these, Mr. Risley was a good man, but he got into trouble through a desire to see one party win the election; he was too much of a partisan to suit his people. Mr. Little was a talented preacher and a very acceptable pastor, but got into debt and did not have the courage to face it out. Few of these preachers if any, had any education, but were popular with their people. Rev. Harshey lived and died in Danville, and has always been spoken of with respect and praise.
In 1840 Mr. Partlow begged to contribute land upon which a church could be built. This added one more reason for the gratitude of the people to this pioneer in Methodism in the country included in Middle Fork township. This little church on the Middle Fork bottoms was a rude affair. The studding, beams and rafters were poles ; the laths were rived out and the shingles were home made ; in fact it was all homemade material except the door, windows and siding. The seats were slabs with legs stuck in them. This building was used for the first school held in town. In 1865, another church was built and called the Partlow chapel. For a long time this was a part of the Vermilion circuit, but in 1865 the four appointments were set off and became Blue Grass appointment.
In 1877 the parsonage at Myersville was built. The church at what was called Blue Grass, was built in 1854 during the administration of Rev. Wallace, and was named for him, being called Wallace chapel. It stands in section 28, one- half mile south of Blue Grass post office. The first church built at Marys- vine was put up in 1870. An old Methodist Episcopal church which stood about one-half mile south of Newtown, was built in 1835 or 1836. It was later called old Bethel. A class had been formed some time before this time and met in private homes. The prominent members of this society at that time were Eli Helmick, Stephen Griffith, Mr. Haston, and many others. The Bethel circuit included a vast territory. People came for remote points in order to go to church. Twenty miles was not considered a great distance to go to quarterly meeting. In 1873 a new church was built in Newtown. The New- town circuit included the stations of Pilot, Chapel, Emberry, Finley and Bethel. Nearly all the first organized societies of Oakwood township were the outgrowth of the church at Bethel. In Blount township the first Methodist Episcopal church was at the home of John Johns, and for seven years this society held their service at that place. About 1839 a small frame church was built near Mr. Johns home.
The Fairchilds church, usually called the brick, was built in 1849. It was built under the supervision of Daniel Fairchild, but all the people gladly helped to put up their house. The Lewman church was built in 1858. Mr. James Lewman and John Wattles were interested in getting the work along. Old Peter Hastings, an itinerant preacher, whose life was consecrated to his work, used to hold services in the Lewman home, organized the first class here and urged the building of "Lebanon."
On day, in 1826, a Methodist Episcopal preacher was passing the house of William Delay, in Newell township, and Mr. Delay invited him to stop. Before he left he preached a sermon to the neighbors who had collected to hear him. The Delay class was immediately organized and the circuit preaching begun. Mr. Delay and his wife Susan were first members of this class. At different times between this date and 1835 the following with many others whose names have not been kept, went into this class: Mary Boston, Anthony Howard, John Brewer and his wife Lavina, Aunt Polly Makemson and her husband, James Makemson, Christina Brewer, Sarah Roderick, Jane and Jacob Delay, Aunt Polly Current, and her husband, William Current. This was the first Methodist class organized in Newell township, and indeed the first preaching as well. The next place was Peter Starr's. This was a stated place for worship for several years. The genuine piety and hospitality of Mr. and Mrs. Starr endeared them to all the class. The services were begun there in the fall of 1829. The Eckler school house was used for services of not only this denomination, but of all others. The Methodist Episcopal preachers were the same as those in Danville. The Methodist Episcopal church at Myersville did not organize until about 1840. Meetings were held at Henry Wood's, John Humphrey's James Davison's and the Kerr school house. In about 1854 the meeting house at Myers mill was built and called Wesley chapel. This church has met the fate of the town of Myersville.
The Methodist Episcopal society was organized at State Line in 1857. In about 1865 they built their church. Samuel Beck, who afterward won distinction in the pulpits of Indiana, was preacher at that time. The first Methodist Episcopal class formed in Butler township was organized in 1855. It It was formed at the house of Eli Dobb. It was an interesting class and grew into three separate churches : that at Schwartz, at Rankin and at Pellsville. When this church was formed there were sixteen members. C. Atkinson was the preacher in charge, and John Vinson was his assistant. This church belonged to the Danville circuit, and there was no church in all the country but the Wallace chapel and the old church in the bottoms called Partlow's church. The preaching appointment was each alternate week, and as it was a very cold winter, Atkinson did not reach his appointments all during the winter. Mr. Vinson was faithful, however, and there was service at every appointed day. Greenbury Garner, Milo Butler, and W. H. McVey, were on the Danville circuit before 1861. Mr. Elliott was presiding elder and after him was L. Pilnor. The Blue Grass circuit was formed in 1865, and the Swartz school house was built. S. Shinn was presiding elder. The class was divided, and those living near here were provided with regular preaching at this school house, which appointment belonged to the Blue Grass circuit, and those over by Dobbs were in the Paxton circuit The class over at East Lynn was formed in 1869. The church was built in 1875, and although they had some help from Danville, the most of the expense was borne by the local church. It was built under the preaching of Rev. J. Muirhead. This was put into the Hoopeston circuit. The Methodist church at Rankin was built in 1874. The first preacher here was the Rev. W. H. Musgrove. This church really became the successor to the first class organized in the township, at Dobbs' house, which appointment was in the Paxton circuit.
The Methodist Episcopal church was built in 1873 and 1874. It was put into the Rankin circuit and served by the same preachers that were at Rankin. The Baptist church of Danville was organized in 1873, and held meetings for that purpose on the first Sabbath of the year named in Robert McDonald's hall, over Freese & Bayles store on Main street. After a sermon preached by the Rev. T; S. Graham, he advised those present who felt at all so inclined to organize a church, the following persons signed the covenant: Mrs. F. B. Freese, Mrs. M. F. C. Swilbur, M. K. Gayle, Mrs. H. L. Holton, Mrs. S. Kimball, J. W. Parker, E. Wilkinson, Mrs. E. Wilkinson and Mrs. Eliza Davis. The church then call Rev. Graham to be their pastor. This church built their house of worship on the corner of Walnut and Madison streets. They very much need a new church which they expect to build soon and, indeed have had the means to this end for several past years. The Baptist church of Hoopeston was organized by Rev. G. T. Willis from Champaign in 1873, with twelve members. The church was put into the Gilman Association, and for a long time was kept in connection without a pastor.
The old Middle Fork Baptist church was organized in 1834, by Elder Freeman Smalley, with about twenty members. Freeman, Benjamin and James Smalley and their wives, Mr. Herro and wife, Polly Stearns, Levi Asher and wife, Mr. Pursell and wife, Mr. Stevens (a licensed preacher of English birth) and wife, Mr. A. Sowders and wife, Mr. Pentecost and wife, Samuel Copeland and wife, and Mrs. White were early members of this church. This church was prosperous until the war times, when questions arose and the people took strong sides, which resulted in disaster. In 1852 a church was organized called Hopewell, and included as many as possible of the parent church, together with newcomers, in and about Blue Grass. The pastors of the old church succeeding Elder Smalley, were Revs. Dodson, A. C. Blankenship and Benjamin Harris.
The Point Pleasant church was organized in 1866 by Elder C. B. Seals, who was a licensed preacher. Under his pastorate, the church was built in 1867. A word should be said right here about the Smalley family. They came among the very first to the northwestern part of Blount township, and have exercised a beneficial influence on society, as leaders in religion and educational affairs. These earnest pioneer believers upheld the doctrine of the Baptist faith in and around Higginsville. They organized several churches in this vicinity. The good results of Freeman Smalley's labors are by no means forgotten, even to this day. The first Baptist church was formed at Mr. Smalley's house in about 1834. As no house used as a home could hold the people who wanted to hear him preach, the followers soon looked about to
find a place of better accommodations. In 1837 the church was built at Higginsville, a few rods west of where the store afterward stood. This church was the product of united labor. It was built as carefully as possible, and all the neighborhood was out ready and anxious to give of their best strength and skill. The siding was made of black walnut, and the floor was made of ash. This building stood in place until it went into such need of repair it was taken down. One of the preachers must have had great influence if he was as well rounded out as was his name. This was Elder Bartlett Dowell Crede Herro. Other preachers were Elder Smalley and the Blankenships. The regular Predestinarian Baptists were early in the field as a religious factor in Oakwood township. Their first meetings were in the neighborhood of Conkeytown. These meetings were in a school house near the old Aaron Dalby farm. Rhodes Smith was the principal man of influence in the church. At that time he was keeping a small store on the east side of Stoney Creek, on the state road. John Orr was the first preacher in this "hardshell Baptist" church. A little later Mr. Smith moved further up the creek near "Crab Apple Grove," and a society- was formed and met at his house regularly. This was in 1858. The organizer and minister was Rev. John Orr. After some time the meetings were held in the Gormon school house. They continued to be held in this school house until the building of their church, one and a half miles north of Oakwood station. This was put up in the spring of 1876.
About 1854 the Missionary Baptists established a church on Stoney Creek. The first preachers were Carter and Blankenship. One of the prominent members of this society was Seneca Stearns. The church was built in 1857. This denomination is not largely represented in the county, and although there may be other societies of them in the past, this is the only one discovered. Before attempting a history of the Church of Christ in this county, it is well to have the distinction made between what at first appears to be several denominations. The confusion of the churches, called the Church of Christ, the Christian, the Campbellites and the New Lights, all arise from there being real names and nicknames of the same societies. There are the two churches only: the one is the Church of Christ, which is sometimes called the "Campbellite" church, because its members are followers of the teachings of Alexander Campbell ; and the Christian church which is sometimes known as the "New Light" church.
In Danville, there are four of the Church of Christ, and one of the Christian church. These churches are both represented in Vermilion County. Until January, 1873, there were no churches of this denomination in Danville. John P. Rowe held service in the hall of the LeSeure block in that month, the result of which was the organization of a church of this denomination. Soon after this time, the church called the Rev. W. R. Jewell, as their pastor. He remained in charge for some time, being at the same time editor of the Danville News. During the time of his pastorate the church increased in numbers and put up a neat building. This beginning has resulted in establishing three churches of this denomination in Danville. These churches are not only strong in numbers, but are able to report much good, having been done by them. Rev. S. S. Jones came to the First Church of Christ in 1894, and has proven to be a man of unusual strength in his church. After a pastorate of several years, he severed his connection with that church, but not to leave Danville. A second Church of Christ had already been organized and had a pastor. So popular were both Rev. Jones and his wife, that a third church was formed and he was called to it as its pastor. That church has proven a force for great good in the community. It has supported a mission Sunday school in both Oaklawn and South Danville. Oaklawn school is under the charge of the Second Church, more fully than that of this church at present, but the Sunday school in South church.
The Church of Christ was made popular and extended in its usefulness through the work of Raleigh Martin. What Rev. Ashmore was to the Cumberland Presbyterian church, Rev. Martin was to the Church of Christ in Vermilion County. He located a church at Hoopeston in 1873. The Church of Christ was organized at Fairmount in 1877. Another church organized by elder Martin was at Marysville in 1860. Another of his successful churches was organized in a school house, north of Conkeytown, in about this time or earlier. The church organized at the Gormon school house, was yet another Elder Martin established. Several churches were early established in Blount township. The one which was formed in 1834 with Samuel Swisher, Samuel Bloomfield and James Magee, as the first officers, met from house to house for many years, and at last put up a building just east of Copelands. Elder Martin preached here once a month for fifteen years. This denomination was represented in Newell township as early as 1834. The church was called the Walnut Corners. When the meeting house was built in 1850, every denomination was made to feel free to use it. Pleasant View Church of Christ was located in the Leonard settlement. There are other churches of this denomination to be found throughout this section. This church had much to do in shaping the history of Vermilion County, particularly in the western part and the northern part.
The Christian church, or "New Lights" as they are often called, have societies throughout the county. There is one church of this denomination in Danville located on North Walnut street. The others which were formed at an early time in the history of the county are: the one at Tilton organized in 1872, the one at section 34, in Grant township, founded in 1870, the society at Finley chapel, the church at Conkeytown, and other parts of Oakwood township. Churches which have determined history in the eastern states, such as the Congregational the Unitarian, and the Universalist society, are found completely wanting in Vermilion County. The exception of the latter must be made, however, since there is a church of this denomination in Hoopeston. Up to the years 1863-64, there was no Protestant Episcopal church in Vermilion County. This is not such as strange thing as at first seems. Up to that time, the pioneer days had hardly passed and the church of this denomination did not appeal to the back woodsman or the hardy tradesman, or man of a trade, particularly as it was the church of a nation which this nation had hardly come to emulate. The habits of refined society rather than those of a new country builds up these churches, while those of the pioneer tend toward building up the churches as the Christian church, the Methodist Episcopal and the Cumberland Presbyterian churches. So it is that the county was thirty and more years old, before there was a demand for a church of this denomination. And even when there were enough newcomers to make an organization of this kind possible, the church came and remained as a mission rather than an independent church.
Rev. Osborn of Chicago held service during the years of 1863 and 1864. December 10, 1865, E. J. Puryt, at that time late of Logansport, Indiana, was here holding service. The following evening a meeting was called with the purpose of definite work. It was at this time that the founding of a church was brought about. A committee of general extension was appointed and consisted of the following: Mrs. Wm. Hessey, Mrs. Henry S. Forbes, Mrs. Matilda Holton, and Messrs. John Donlon, J. C. Winslow, Charles Cotton, J. R. Baker and R. W. Hanford. At the organization of this church there was only one communicant in town. With so unpromising a beginning the Holy Trinity Episcopal church of Danville has grown into a flourishing institution which spared the number of communicants that swarmed from the hive, forming the St. Marks church. The Holy Trinity church is pleasantly housed in a small but very pleasing church on North Vermilion street. The church is as pleasingly furnished on the interior as on the outside, and shows good taste in every part of its building. Father Rochstroh has been the loved rector. St. Mark's church was organized in 1908. Their building is located in the northern part of Danville. A rectory was bought and service held in it while the building was in course of construction.
The policy of the Romish church is concentration. So it is there is no use in looking for this church in every village, while the great churches in a city are always of the Roman Catholic denomination. Danville has two Roman Catholic churches and they are both in the same part of town, and at the opposite end of Danville from where the largest church was organized. It was in 1852 that Father Ryan held service in the northwest of Danville at near what was the then I. B. and W. railroad bridge. In 1858 they built the first brick church, located on Chestnut near Elizabeth street. The cost of this building was about $1,500. The first priest was Father Lambert, and the first bishop who ever preached in Danville was Bishop Foley of Chicago. The congregation outgrew the church building by 1880, and another was put up on east Main street. The Catholic churches in Danville have been organized by nationality. The largest church was what was called the Irish Catholic and the other is the German Catholic church. The Irish Catholic church has included Americans, while the service in the German church has been in a strange tongue for the convenience of those from Germany, who have come to America. This church is located at the corner of Green and College streets. It was built in 1863. Previous to that date the congregation held service in the other Catholic church.
This building was put up at a cost of $4,570, and was formally dedicated by the Rt. Rev. John W. Luers, bishop of Fort Wayne. The first priest in charge was Rev. A. M. Reck. This church is responsible for the St. Elizabeth Hospital, which is considered more at length in the chapter that includes this subject. The Germans have other churches in Danville. The German Lutheran church is one of the strongest in the city. The first service of this denomination was held in November, 1862 at the house of J. Hacker. These meetings were continued from time to time until in February of the following year it was decided to organize a church. In 1865 they built a church and established a day school in which the elementary branches were to be taught together with the peculiar tenets of their religion. In 1857 Rev. G. Keiser was engaged in the Marshall Mission. His field included Marshall, Paris and Clarksville. He was the first one to be invited to come to Danville to preach to the Germans. He went from house to house of the Germans and ask them to go to the home of Mr. Jacob Shatz for a meeting. From the time of this first meeting Danville was considered as a regular appointment. In the course of time they built the brick church at the corner of Madison and Jackson streets. This was the second church they had built. It was dedicated on Sunday, November 30, by Dr. Fowler, then president of the Northwestern University. In 1862 the German United Brethern in Christ, built them a church at a Cost of $600, but later built a larger one at a cost of $3,033. This church had been organized some time before any steps were taken to build a house of worship. The first preaching service held by the U. B. church was in the old German church in 1870. A church was built in the following year. Four years later this building was taken down and removed to North Vermilion street, where a better one was erected. The Welsh Independent church was organized in South Danville, March 10, 1872. They bought the building formerly used and owned by the U. B. church. The former society disbanded and had no use for the building.
FRIENDS IN VERMILION COUNTY. (CONTRIBUTED BY BERTRAM REES.)
A society which has doubtless been the greatest factor in the development of Vermilion County, in the southern part of it is the Quakers or Friends. The Society of Friends was early established and from the very first start of the county its influence has been felt. Vermilion County, "Past and Present," contains a sketch of these peculiar people
which is worth copying in full. It must be known that while the customs of the people are apparently being lost, there are many of even the younger members of the Society of Friends, who cling to its belief and ways of doing.
A wedding in which the two contracting parties were members of the Society of Friends, took place but the other day in this community.
The two young people made known to their respective monthly meetings their intention to marry. The matter was gone over by a committee appointed by the monthly meetings, and a favorable report returned. The two then proceeded about the matter. There were no flowers at this wedding, no decorations of any kind.The bridal party, which consisted of the bride, the bridegroom and four attendants, took their places on the front seats in the church, and after almost an hour spent in almost absolute silence, they arose and repeated the ceremony, no preacher being required. The marriage certificate was signed by a number of prominent Friends in the congregation and will be placed on the records in the county. Immediately after the ceremony, the bridal party went to their home, where there was a well furnished house and dinner was served. The ceremony is a beautiful and impressive one, and must be rehearsed until both are perfectly acquainted with all the requirements of it. All the young people of this society do not insist upon this quaint old ceremony, but many yet do use it.
In the early years of the nineteenth century the Friends or Quakers in the east and south became dissatisfied with their surroundings and began an exodus north and westward. The reason for this movement was probably twofold: first, to get away from slavery, which was very distasteful to them and which they considered a very wrong and vile business besides being contrary to their church creed ; second, having never been very prosperous in the rocky and mountainous regions of Virginia and Tennessee, they determined to establish themselves in a more fertile and productive region where they could build for themselves a religious and educational community according to their own ideas and beliefs. Ohio and Indiana received a great number of these emigrants, some of which being still dissatisfied, pushed farther west and settled in the fertile plains of Vermilion County, Illinois, near what is now Vermilion Grove. This was soon after the grand old Prairie state had been admitted to statehood, and since that time many communities and meetings have sprung up around this place.
The first of these settlers came by way of Indiana from Jefferson County, Tennessee, arriving at Vermilion Grove in 1822. Among the first families were those of John Haworth, Henry Canaday and John Mills, John Haworth settled on what is now known as the Academy Farm, which was donated to that institution by his son, Elvin Haworth, some years ago. On this farm was located a rude log hut, in which the first meetings for worship were held soon after the settlement was made. Henry Canaday settled on what is known as the R. H. Canaday farm, one-half mile west of the Grove. Henry Canaday was the first man to be appointed to the position as head of the meeting, a place of great importance in the carrying on of the Friends church at that early day.
John Mills settled on what is known as the old Mills homestead, two miles west of the station near where Richard Mills now lives. The country was wild prairie and timber lands at that time. Foxes and wolves were plentiful, and wild turkeys and prairie chickens furnished much food for the settlers. Indians, wild and fierce, still roamed over the prairie and timber lands and hunted the bison and deer and fished unmolested along the little streams. No roads were seen except the hunter's path. No bridges crossed the sluggish streams. No fences bound the traveler's way, but nature held complete control and seemed to battle hard against invasions made by human hands. Ague and fever proved dreadful foes and pestilence made havoc among the little band, but push and perseverance which those early settlers possessed and which has been a predominant characteristic of their descendants, soon made the wild and barren lands "to blossom like the rose" and produce abundant crops. Ponds were drained, the land was cleared, roads were laid out, and soon the country assumed the appearance of civilization.
Following the first settlers, or families, came the Hendersons, in 1824, and the Reeses in 1830, and Hesters and Mendenhalls about the same time. Others whose names are not mentioned came early and helped to make up the neighborhood and subdue the wild country. The first "meeting house" was built in 1823 in the north end of what is now Vermilion cemetery. It was built of huge walnut logs, measuring from two to three feet in diameter. The roof was clapboards and the seats were hewn logs. It was here in this rude house that Friends for miles around came together regularly, twice a week for twenty- nine years to worship God and study of Him out of His word. At the end of this time, or in 1853, the first frame house was built near where the log one stood. This house had many more accommodations, but still the conveniences were very meager compared with a modern church. The first branch meeting was established at El wood, at which place a log house was built about 1830. This cabin served as a church until 1846, when a frame house with a stone foundation was built.
The next meeting set up was at Hopewell and a house was built in 1848, and then at Pilot Grove about the same year. Ridge Farm, Carol and Georgetown meetings were established later. Sabbath schools were early established in all the meetings and reading and spelling were the branches taught. Later the Bible became the text-book. The quarterly meeting was begun in 1863 in that memorable year of the Civil, war. The Vermilion meeting house being too small for the accommodation of the crowds that gathered at these times, was enlarged the same year and stood as a landmark for all the country around, until its place was taken by the splendid new brick structure which was built in 1884.
The quarterly meeting is now composed of eight monthly meetings with a total membership of one thousand eight hundred members. All of these meetings are not in Vermilion County, but all have sprung from this central point.
Friends have always believed in education as a means of uplifting humanity, and provisions were early made for schools. The first school was a subscription school taught by Reuben Black, who came from Ohio, in 1824-5. It was in a log house one mile west of Vermilion Grove. There were fourteen children on roll and the branches taught were reading, writing and spelling. Among others whose names are mentioned as early teachers were Elijah Yeager, Henry Fletcher and Elisha Hobbs. In 1849 the people got up a subscription to build a new house, but could not raise the money, so David and Elvin Haworth and William Canaday with the help of some others, built what was called Vermilion Seminary, in 1850, a building thirty by fifty-two, with two recitation rooms and supplied with proper desks and furniture. They employed J. M. Davis as principal and school opened with one hundred and ten students. This school continued for many years and prospered. The standard of education was held high, and as a result the Academy was founded in 1874. This was really a continuation of the old seminary, which disappeared with the advent of free schools. The present two-story brick building was erected at a cost of eight thousand dollars. A peoples' endowment of ten thousand dollars was raised. William Rees, John Henderson, Richard Mendenhall, John Elliott, Jonah M. Davis and Elvin Ha worth were the first board of trustees. Edwin Haney was first principal. The school is under control of Vermilion quarterly meeting of Friends church, but it is not sectarian. The location of the academy is a very beautiful one, in a natural grove of three acres which was donated to the school by Thomas Hester, father of the late William Hester. Other liberal donations have been made to the institution, among which was the donation by Elvin Haworth of all his property, including a splendid farm of one hundred and twenty-five acres close by. A movement is on foot at the present to increase the endowment ten thousand dollars more, which if accomplished, will put the school on a splendid financial basis. The quarterly meeting is proud of her school and liberally patronizes the institution.
Such is the history of Friends from their beginning in Elwood township and Vermilion township and Vermilion County. Many points of interest are necessarily omitted, but we feel sure that the points mentioned will be of interest to many.
[Source: "History of Vermilion County, Illinois" By Lottie E. Jones. Submitted by Barb Ziegenmeyer]