The Presbyterian Church

Rushville Presbyterian Church Dates Beginning To Jan. 1830
Cyrus Watson Credited As Being Founder; Present Church Built

When into Rushville, the embryo metropolis, came Rev. Cyrus Watson in quest of Presbyterians, he found only three families of that faith, the Blairs, the McCreerys, and the Moores, and the little band determined to organize the First Presbyterian church of Rushville.

It was when they were seeking a room in which to organize their church, that Thomas W. Scott offered the use of his store on the north side of the square. It was in this location on January 31, 1830, that Rev. Cyrus Watson, assisted by Rev. J. M. Ellis, started on its way the Presbyterian church which has served the city of Rushville and its members for 118 years.

At that first meeting in the Scott store there gathered the little band of organizers, and seated on boxes and boards were William Blair, Thomas Blair, Sarah Blair, Margaret Blair, Hugh McCreery, Sarah McCreery, Mathew McCreery, Jane McCreery, Margaret McCreery, William Moore, and Jane Moore, and a few spectators, among whom were James McCreery, a lad of 15.

At this organization meeting of the First Presbyterian church, Thomas Blair and William Moore were chosen ruling elders, and Thomas Blair was also the first clerk of the session. Schuyler Presbytery was organized at Rushville, September 28, 1833, and embraced all the territory from the Illinois river to the northern boundary of the state of Illinois.

Following the organization of the church, Rev. Watson remained in the vicinity for a year, before going east for the same length of time. During his absence, Rev. Asa Turner of Quincy, afterward known as the Father of Congregationalism in Iowa, preached here occasionally, and Rev. Elisha Jenny served the church for some months. Returning to Rushville, Rev. Watson was engaged as halftime preacher for this church, spending the other half time in missionary labors on the whole field. That meant long, weary miles on horseback or on foot, thru forest trails, wading marshes, fording rivers, enduring hardships almost beyond belief, that he might hold up the standard of the cross. His meagre salary came almost entirely from the American Home Missionary society, for Rushville was a mission station for 20 years.

In 1833 Rushville received an accession to its population that probably had more influence on the community and affected its character more than any other.

It was from east Tennessee that the following families came: Mikaja Warren, Abraham Tolles, Renseller Wells, and Robert A. Russell, and a young man named Willis Carson. They were all Presbyterians, with the exception of Robert A. Russell, who at once united with the Presbyterian church and was elected an elder.

Built First Church In 1836

After long and faithful service in the founding and upbuilding of the Presbyterian church in Rushville, Rev. Cyrus Watson resigned his pastorate in September, 1835, leaving a church of 50 members. The following May, Rev. Samuel Wilson was engaged as stated supply, and it was in the first year of his ministry, in 1836, that a permanent house of worship was built, the record of the deed to the church site bearing date of October 10, 1836.

There was much rejoicing over the first church home, altho its walls were unplastered and the floor was of only loose boards, and church seats were fashioned from puncheons. It was home, and gave promise of brighter days to come, and the building was soon made more complete and furnished, and 40 years later was removed to make room for the present church. It was August 23, 1875, that the cornerstone was laid for a new $15,000 brick structure, which is the present beautiful church edifice at the corner of West Washington and North Monroe streets, and which is closely adjacent to the modern manse, the home of the Presbyterian pastors and their families.

Rev. Samuel L. Wilson succeeded Rev. Watson as church pastor, and when he took over his charge in 1837, there came the troublesome times of the division of the church into Old and New schools, when even this small organization was rent asunder and existed in two factions for some years. This separation made six church organizations in the little village of less than 1,000 population - the Methodist Episcopal, the Cumberland Presbyterian, the Baptist, the Christian, and the Old and New Presbyterian. Rev. Wilson was Old School Presbyterian, and he resigned the charge, hoping to prevent friction.

During the next 10 years, from 1840 to 1850, came to the Old School branch Rev. Breeze and Rev. Alfred Carrington, and to the New School Rev. J. T. Tucker, Rev. Henry Bergen, Rev. T. J. Haswell, and Rev. Lycurgus Kimball. Revs. Carrington, Haswell and Kimball died here, and their graves are in the Rushville cemetery.

Pastor Paid $400 in 1851

The first settled pastor of the First Presbyterian church was Rev. Alexander B. Campbell, who came in September, 1850, having just graduated from Lane Seminary. Thirty years later, at the 50th anniversary of the church founding, an interesting letter from Rev. Campbell was read, a letter that described in detail the reception he received when he came here as a new pastor for the First Presbyterian church in 1850.

Rev. Campbell, first engaged as stated supply pastor, on October 7, 1851, was installed as pastor, with the munificent salary of $400, that in the words of the record, "his mind might be free from all worldly care." The salary was probably equal to the average at that time, and demanded a great effort from the feeble church, for it was then they first cast off their dependence upon the American Home Missionary society. After serving five years as pastor, Rev. Campbell left Rushville in 1855.

In the year 1856 Rev. J. Fowler filled the pulpit for a time. He was a son-in-law of "Father Brown," a retired Presbyterian minister, who, with his wife was a blessing to the church, and to the Sunday school a legacy was left by "Mother" Brown.

On the last Sunday in the year 1856 a young minister who preached in Rushville was invited to remain, and the following November was installed as pastor, and so this church had the honor of being the first charge of Rev. Samuel E. Wishard, D.D., and his services as a beloved pastor here extended over a four-year period, at a salary of $600 a year.

The names of the following pastors follow on the roll: Rev. L. R. Jones, Rev. I. T. Whittemore, Rev. T. S. Reeve, Rev. Ira M. Weed, Rev. R. C. Swinton, and Rev. W. C. Burchard. Rev. Weed simply supplied the pulpit for three months, and Rev. Powell, who taught a private school here, preached for a time, and all of these terms of service were brief. Indeed, during the first 42 years, until the going of Mr. Burchard in 1872, the church had 15 ministers, only two of them pastors, three of whom stayed four years each and the others for shorter terms. However, all left according to the records, for causes entirely beyond the control of both pastor and people, and good feeling always existed.

Even tho it took an infinite amount of tact and grace to keep harmony among people who differed so widely in views - religious, social, and political - those men and women of the early day church were agreed on the vital things concerning God and man, therefore in due time all the wide differences of the church were blended into one harmonious whole, and the Old School, the New School, and the Cumberland Presbyterians were united, and all worshipped happily under one roof.

Following the departure of Rev. Burchard in 1872, Rev. L. C. Littell filled the pulpit for a time before retiring from active service.

Present Church Built In 1877

In 1873 Rev. James A. Paige began a pastorate which was notable for several events. It was the longest pastorate this church had enjoyed-seven and one-half years; there was a great revival in 1877, when Dr. Wishard assisted the pastor; the new church was built; and the 50th anniversary was celebrated. The cornerstone of the building was laid on Monday, August 23, 1875, and the first services were held in the Sunday school room in March, 1877. Rev. Paige resigned in 1880, after witnessing the period of growth and Prosperity for the church.

At the Semi-Centennial anniversary of the First Presbyterian church held in Rushville, Saturday evening, January 31, 1880, the pastor, Rev. James A. Paige, presided, assisted by Rev. R. C. Matthews, D.D., of Monmouth, Rev. H. K. McCombs of St. Louis, and Rev. Dr. Window of the M.E. church. The historical address was delivered by R. H. Griffith, and letters were read from Rev. Cyrus L. Watson of Peoria, who organized the church; from Rev. A. B. Campbell, the first pastor of the church, and from other former members and pastors of the church.

In January, 1881, Rev. D. W, Evans was called to the pastorate here, but his death occurred in December of the same year, and his grave is in the Rushville cemetery.

During the period of 118 years since the organization of the First Presbyterian church of Rushville a total of 34 regular pastors have served, along with a number of stated supplies, those who have supplied the pulpit for a few months, and a number of the children of the church became ministers of the Gospel.

Former Prominent Workers

Upon the elders of the early day depended in a large measure the life and prosperity of the Presbyterian church. In the beginning are enrolled the names of Thomas Blair and William Moore. Five years later, Daniel Watson, John Young, David S. Taylor, William Blair, and Robert Russell. On down the years is Samuel Hindman, James L. Anderson, William E. Withrow, John McCreery, Peter H. Holmes, Wm. K. Young, R. H. Griffith, William Speed, Thomas H. Matthews, S. M. Hume, Augustus Warren, George G. Clark, A. J. Byrns, J. M. Coyner, John Putman, L. R. Caldwell, Willis Carson, Charles H. Goodwin, N. T. Veatch, and F. H. Patch. At the time of the 80th anniversary celebration held in 1910, L. D. Erwin, Samuel Young, and H. B. Roach had served since 1882, 28 years; H. A. Babcock, 15 years; C. B. Griffith, six years; and W. W. Knowles, five years.

To R. H. Griffith, a man who strongly stressed the vital importance of cultivating peace, harmony, and love in the church, is given the distinction of having served for the longest period as an elder-47 years. H. B. Roach is next with a service of 44 years. Mr. Roach also served for the same period as clerk of the session. Mrs. Anna R. Anderson served 25 years as church organist, most of the time without compensation.

John Young, one of the early elders, organized the first Sabbath school in Rushville, and it was held in the log court house located on the north side of the square. His son, John A. Young, was the first child to be baptized in the Presbyterian church.

The Presbyterians met with the same privations experienced by the other denominations, and during the years from 1830 to 1837, the congregation's places of worship were in school houses, private homes, and the court house, and one of the early members related that a meeting was held in the bar room of the village tavern, located on the northeast corner of the square, where the sacrament of the Lord's Supper was solemnly celebrated.

During the first 42 years the Presbyterian church had 15 ministers, only two of whom were installed pastors.

Dr. Edward L. Gibson, the latest church pastor, delivered his farewell sermon on September 26, after two years of faithful services and left Rushville last week to accept the pastorate of the Henry Presbyterian church.

Presbyterian Pastors In Past 118 Years

The list of pastors who have served the Presbyterian church in the past 118 years, and the length of their service, is here given:
1830-1835--C. L. Watson.
1836-1838--Samuel Wilson.
1839-1840--J. T. Tucker.
1843-1844--Henry Bergen.
1847-1849--J. T. Haswell.
1849-1850--L. P. Kimball.
1850-1855--A. B. Campbell.
1856--J. Fowler.
1857-1861--S. E. Wishard.
1861-1862--J. L. Jones,
1862-1864--Q. T. Whittemore.
1864-1865--T. S. Reeves.
1866--Ira M. Weed.
1866-1869--R. C. Swinton.
1869-1872--W. C. Burchard.
1872--L. C. Littell.
1873-1880--J. A. Paige.
1881--D. W. Evans.
1882-1889--S. C. Palmer.
1890-1892--W. F. Cellars.
1892-1899--E. L. Lord.
1900-1905--S. L. Allison.
1905-1908--J. A. Johnston.
1908-1912--C. A. Foreman.
1913-1917--James H. Smith.
1917--A. E. Saunders.
1917-1919--H. W. Stillman.
1919-1923--C. E. Fiske.
1923-1925--Ira C. Livingston.
1925-1927--George E. Muran.
1927-1935--Alex. McFerran.
1937-1942--Wm. R. O'Neill.
1943-1945--Guy M. Kinman.
1946-1948--Dr. E. L. Gibson.

The First Presbyterian church, at the corner of West Washington and North Monroe streets, is the oldest church building in Rushville, having been completed in 1877. First classes in the Sunday school rooms of the new church were held in March of that year. The cornerstone of this impressive edifice was laid March 23, 1875, with Elders William Speed and R. H. Griffith representing the session and W. H. Ray and L. D. Erwin representing the board of trustees. Rev. L. W. Dunlap of Mt. Sterling, then one of the oldest ministers in the state, gave the address. The cornerstone was laid at the northeast corner of the church by W. W. Wells, and in it were placed the history of the church, a copy of The Times and The Citizen, a piece of Swedish money, and a copy of the Bible.

During the pastorate of Rev. William R. O'Neill, several thousand dollars were spent in improving the church with the addition of a basement, which is fitted up for church gatherings and dinners, along with a full equipped kitchen. Within the past year the church has been newly decorated thruout the interior.

The Rushville Times, October 7, 1948
The Rushville Times by permission.

Copyright 1999, 2000 Robin L. W. Petersen; all rights reserved. For personal use only. Commercial use of the information contained in these pages is strictly prohibited without prior permission. If copied, this copyright must appear with the information.

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