First Congregational Church
2nd Avenue & East 4th Street
Photo Contributed by Lynn Walters April 2003
In 1856 the Congregational element in Sterling began to consider the propriety of organizing a church of that denomination, and the first formal meeting for that purpose was held at the school house in the Second Ward, on the 15th of April, 1857. Mr. L.B. Wetherbee acted as chairman. After a full expression of views, encouraging in their nature, a committee was appointed to invite all those interested in such a movement to attend and adjourned meeting at the Boynton House, April 17, 1857. At this meeting it was unanimously voted by those present to organize themselves into a Congregational church. The following paper was then drawn up and signed:
"We the subscribers, moved and guided as we hope by the Providence and Spirit of God, do hereby express our desire to form ourselves into a Christian Church, to be known and called by the name of the First Congregational Church of Sterling, Illinois. Signed, L.B. Wetherbee, A. McMoore, M.H. Hinsdale, William McKinney, Francis Macey, Joel S. Wilcox, David Holbrook, Abel Holbrook, Joshua V. McKinney, Nathan Williams, Jr."
On the 21st of June following the church was publicly organized with thirty members. The organization ceremonies took place in the Presbyterian church, Rev. H.M. Goodwin, of Rockford, Illinois preaching the sermon. In the autumn of this year, Commercial Hall was obtained for the services of the church, and used until May, 1859, when a room on the second floor of Central Block was engaged. During this time preaching was had with much irregularity, Mr. Blacke, of the Chicago Theological Seminary, supplying the pulpit a few weeks; Rev. Mr. Foster officiating during the summer of 1858; and Rev. H.C. parker for two or three months during the succeeding fall and winter. On the 8th of May, 1859, the church voted to give Rev. U. W. Small a call to become pastor at a salary of $800 per annum. The call was accepted, and Mr. Small duly ordained and installed September 22, 1859.
The church continued to increase so rapidly in numbers that in about two years a more commodious room had to be sought, and the large hall on the third floor of Central Block was engaged and occupied until it had a building of its own. The lot now occupied by the church was purchased July 1, 1863, and the work of erecting a building pushed vigorously forward, so that by early spring in 1864 it was completed, with an indebtedness of only three hundred and sixty-three dollars. This amount was soon paid, and when the edifice was dedicated the society was free from debt.
During 1864 an Ecclesiastical Society was organied in connection with the church. In the summer of 1870 the house of worship was raised and enlarged by adding twenty-four feet to its length, by which its seating capacity was increased to five hundred and fifty. The basement was also fitted up for Sabbach School purposes. These improvements cost about three thousand dollars. In 1872 the two lots north of and adjoining the one owned by the church, were purchased for two thousand five hundred dollars and are now entirely paid for. In December 1875, about wenty members wer dismissed from he church for the purpose of organizing a Congregational Church at Rock Falls.
The succession of ministers of the church has been as follows; Rev. U.W. Small from May 29, 1859 to June 1, 1864; Rev. Dr. Plumb, from November 1864, to April 1, 1866; Rev. Martin Post, from April, 1866 to April, 1872; Rev. E. W. Clark, from September 1, 1872 to October 1, 1875. Rev. Albert Bushnell, the present pastor, commenced his labors February 1, 1876.
The deacons of the church since its organization have been as follows. Joshua V. McKinney, Nelson Mason, Joseph Golder, Brainard Orton, Richard Arey, R.B. Witmer, J.K. Chester, J.L. Davis. The church now numbers about two hundred members. A flourishing Sunday School is attached to the church, numbering two hundred scholars, with R.B. Witmer as Superintendent, assisted by twenty teachers. [Source: Bent-Wilson Whiteside County History 1877 Pg 436]
The First Congregational Church of Sterling was organized June 21, 1857, with 30 members. For two years Commercial Hall was used for services. The first regular pastor of the church was Rev. U.W. Small, who was called May 8, 1859, at a salary of $800 per annum. Two years later a larger room was needed and the large hall on the third floor of the Central block was engaged and used until the church had a building of its own. The lot now occupied by the church was purchased July 1, 1863, and the building completed early in the spring of 1864. In 1870 the house of worship was enlarged and thereby increasing its seating capacity and providing a Sunday School room in the basement. The improvments at that cost about $3,000. In 1872 the two lots north, ont he corner was purchased for $2500. On these two lots the new church is to be erected. In December 1875 twenty members were dismissed by letter for the purpose of organizing the congretatonal church of Rock Falls.
The succession of ministers has been: U.W. Small May 29, 1859 - Jun. 1, 1864; Dr. Plumb Nov. 1864-Apr. 1866; Martin Post Apr. 1866-Apr. 1872; E.W. Clark Sep. 1872 - Dec. 1873; S.D. Belt Jan 20, 1874-Oct 1, 1875; Albert Bushnell Feb. 1876 - Oct. 1878; S.W. Boardman March 2, 1879 - April 6, 1882; George F. Chipperfiled May 10, 1882 - June 1, 1884; Martin Post July 1, 1884 - Nov. 1893; Theodore Crowl since Nov. 1893.
Plans and specifications for a new church building, along with bids of contractors for the erection of the building, are now in the hands of the building committee and it is expected that the contract will be let in a few days and that the building will be ready for occupancy early next summer. The church has a membership of about 300. There have been 100 members added to the church during the present pastorate. The Sunday School has an enrollment of 196. The Y.P.S.C.E. has a membership of about 60. The Men's Union has about 100. The Ladies have a strong Missionary organization and also a successful Aid Society. There is also a prosperous Young Women's Society. [The Sterling Standard, Dec. 11, 1896]
First Congregational Church was organized on April 17, 1857, when ten persons signed a notice of intent. There were public services of organization on June 21 when 30 members were received. The meeting was held in the Presbyterian Church. The following fall, Commercial Hall was rented and used until May, 1859, when a room in Central Block was obtained. At that time, a call was sent to the Rev. U.W. Small. About 1861, a larger room was rented.
On July 31, 1863, a lot was purchased on present-day Second Avenue between Third and Fourth Streets; a building was completed in 1864. In 1870, it was enlarged and raised. Seating facilities were then 550 persons. In 1872, two lots adjoining the church were purchased. In 1875, 20 members withdrew to organize a church in Rock Falls. A new structure was dedicated with a four-day program on April 24, 1898, at the same location.
In 1997, 50 years of church-hood were celebrated. Only two of the originalm embers were present to join the program - Mr. and Mrs. John Harpham. In 1959, an education building was constructed, which added seven new rooms. The parsonage is located at 1311 First Avenue. Presently (1967), there are about 500 church membes and 200 attend the Sunday School. [Source: Wayne Bastian, Whiteside County History 1968 Pg 417]
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