Lee County Illinois
Part of American History and Genealogy Project

Churches of Dixon Township, Lee County, Illinois

The Baptist church was legally organized Jan. 13, 1841, and here may as well follow the short church sketches.

The nature of this work compels me to send to each locality a statement of each of the churches in Lee County.

The history of the progress of the Lee County religious bodies is interesting. The earliest settlers of the county held strong religious convictions and it needed but the presence of the church and the pulpit to attract them to church services, many times at tremendous sacrifices. Ministers of the Gospel in the early day received almost nothing for their services, yet it was expected of them to support themselves and the family.

When Peter Cartwright received fifty dollars for his second year's stated salary, he remarked that he considered he had made quite a rise in the world. If percentages were used to form an infallible judgment on the question of salary raises, then Mr. Cartwright got an enormous raise, one hundred per cent. But when considered from fact instead of figure, he only received a raise of $25, as $25 was his first year's emolument for the first year of Illinois service.

The early preachers came and went; they were on the move all the time. In fair and in foul weather, it was all the same; they traveled the circuit, sometimes on foot, sometimes on horse-back. Sometimes they had food and shelter and more times they had not, yet in the face of hardships almost unendurable those pioneer men of God pushed forward with an enthusiasm almost inconceivable at this distance.

Sometimes exposure prostrated them with long sicknesses and instances like the one noticed in Lee Center are remembered where death cruelly snatched them away, in a strange land, far from friends and family; so very far that it was found impossible to secure the presence of relatives at the funeral. Hardship but increased the fervor of those men. At first it was the custom for two or more communities to group themselves together, as for instance the first religious services for Dixon were held at Buffalo Grove by residents of Dixon's Ferry and Buffalo Grove. By resolution adopted at the first meeting, held in Buffalo Grove May 28, 1838, the name of this first church was named "The Regular Baptist Church of Dixon and Buffalo Grove."

At that meeting, Elder Thomas Powell was chosen moderator and Howland H. Bieknell was chosen clerk pro tern. Those who formed themselves into that church society were Rebecca Dixon, Sarah Kellogg, Elizabeth Bellows, Martha Parks, Jerusha Hammond, Ann Carley and H. H. Bieknell. Sixteen articles of faith were submitted and adopted and Mr. Bieknell was appointed clerk of the church. Rev. Thomas Powell preached for the church, holding meetings in Dixon and Buffalo Grove until May, 1840, and during that time he baptized about fifty members. On June 28, 1840, Barton B. Carpenter was appointed clerk, caused by removal of Bieknell, and on the same day he was presented to the church by a council consisting of Elders Powell of Vermillionville, Headly of Greenfield and B. Carpenter of Lyndon, and Brethren Andrew Moffatt of Greenfield, Zenas Aplington of Buffalo Grove, John W. Dixon and Elizabeth Dixon, both of Dixon, for ordination. He was examined, approved and ordained, and requested to serve the church as pastor, commencing his labors from the first of May. He served this congregation until its separation into two distinct bodies, Dixon and Buffalo Grove, by mutual consent on April 16, 1842. On the separation, Mr. Carpenter continued to serve the Dixon church as pastor. By 1841, Dixon having gained on Buffalo Grove very rapidly, on Jan. 13, 1841, the Dixon church had become known as the "First Baptist Church of Dixon.'' The last surviving member of the original church was Mrs. Martha Parks of Palmyra Township, who died Sept. 2, 1898.

The Baptist Church in Dixon is a prosperous congregation in Dixon today, but in Buffalo Grove it disintegrated about 1848 or 1850.

Early pastors occupying the pulpit have been, first of course, Mr. Carpenter, June, 1840, to October, 1844; Barton Carpenter, from December, 1844, to March, 1845; William Gates occupied the pulpit occasionally and William Walker about four months between March, 1844, and April, 1847, when E. T. Manning became pastor for a year; S. S. Martin became pastor in 1849 for a year; G. W. Benton supplied the pulpit for about six months between Martin's pastorate and August, 1851, when John E. Ball became pastor for about four years; Anson Tucker took charge in May, 1855, and served eleven months; W. R. Webb followed in June, 1856, and served over four years; William G. Pratt followed in March, 1861, for a year; W. S. Goodnow followed in September, 1862, for two years; J. H. Pratt became pastor in October, 1864, and served over nine years. D. F. Carnahan followed in August, 1874, and O. P. Bestor in August, 1877.

The first record of a Baptist church building is May 5, 1849: "The Baptist Meeting House was this day dedicated to Almighty God; sermon by Rev. Jacob Knaff, of Rockford."

This building stood on the west side of Ottawa avenue, facing east, between First Street and the alley running through the block. It was used by the Baptists until 1870, when the new and present structure on Second Street was built and dedicated.

In the summer of 1845 a correspondent, writing for a Rockford paper, made the statement that at that time there were four congregations in Dixon, Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal and Congregational, and one church structure, that of the Methodists. In the summer of 1843 this first Methodist church building was dedicated by Rev. John T. Mitchell, presiding elder. Its cost was $4,000 and the board of trustees were O. F. Ayres, J. P. Dixon, C. Edson, L. G. Wynkoop, Thomas McCabe, J. Brierton and Samuel M. Bowman.

The building is standing to this day upon its original site on Second Street between Galena and Ottawa avenues, and is occupied as the residence of Dr. Marian White.

For many years after the Methodists had moved to their second church building on Peoria avenue, the old first church building was used as the high and grammar schools, the high school above and the grammar school in the basement.

Soon after the dedication of this Methodist church in 1843, a Union Sunday school was organized in the church, July 15, 1843, which had a membership of eight teachers and sixty scholars. A library of ninety volumes was collected. Of this Sunday school O. P. Ayres was superintendent, Thaddeus D. Boardman was secretary and J. W. Clute was librarian.

During the year 1854 the second church building was begun and work was carried forward on the same until it was finished.

The first parsonage, 24x30, brick, was built on Third Street not far from the then Illinois Central depot.

The original cost of the second church was $15,000. When finished in 1857 it was dedicated by Bishop Bowman. In 1870, -71 and 76 improvements were made costing $2,700.

Among the old-time clergymen have been in the order named, Robert Dunlap, Barton Cartwright, Isaac Pool, Riley Hill, Luke Hitchcock, Richard Blanchard and Philo Judson. In 1842, Aug. 3d, Melugin's Grove and Inlet were added to the Dixon circuit, which already embraced Washington Grove, Light House Point, Jefferson Grove, Daysville and Paine's Point. Philo Judson and W. H. Cooley were appointed circuit riders. Then came W. Wilcox, David Brooks, S. P. Keys, Milton Haney, R. W. H. Brent, R. P. Lawton, William Palmer, Thomas North, James Baume, J. W. Agard, Wilbur McKaig, N. P. Heath, L. A. Sanford, S. G. Lathrop, O. B. Thayer, W. H. Smith, G. L. S. Stubb, T. C Clenning, George E. Strowbridge, J. H. Brown, John Williamson, Isaac Linebarger, G. R. Van Home and A. W. Patton. Rev. F. D. Stone is the present pastor.

A Unitarian Church or society was organized in 1850. In 1855 through the efforts of Judge John V. Eustace, Dr. Oliver Everett, George L. Herrick and the pastor. Rev. Kelsey built a handsome frame building in 1855. The congregation did not grow and very soon the building was torn down.

On Sept. 29, 1854, the Congregationalists organized a church society in Exchange Hall. There were the following members: Mr. and Mrs. S. K. Upham, G. W. Bartlett, B. J. Bartlett, Noah Brooks, George D. Cox, Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Gilman and Mr. and Mrs. W. W. Curtis. Rev. S. D. Peet was the first minister and remained until April, 1855. Others who served were D. Temple and H. Hesley. B. D. Gay, S. K. Upham and Benjamin Gilman were deacons. The congregation worshiped in Exchange Hall until 1856, when they removed to a brick church abandoned by the Methodists when the latter occupied their new church building. The Congregational Society did not survive long, disbanding in 1858, when most of its members joined the Presbyterian Church.

In the year 1854 the Catholic Church was organized in Dixon by Father Mark Antony, with about twenty-five members. For the first few months church services were held in the courthouse, but later in the same year in the first church, a frame building, still standing on Fifth street. The pastors in this church, beginning with Father Antony, have been Fathers Fitzgerald, Tierney, Ford, Dr. Lightner, Kennedy, McDermott, Thomas P. Hodnott. Rev. Michael Foley is the present priest and Father Donohue is the assistant.

The present beautiful church building was built in the year 1872-3 and was dedicated in the latter year.

Later the building was damaged badly by fire, but in the same year it was rebuilt.

From the congregation of twenty-five of the year 1854, St. Patrick's Church, Dixon, under the spiritual guidance of Father Michael Foley, has grown to be by far the largest congregation in Lee County.

This new building, built on Seventh Street on a lot donated by John Reilly, cost over thirty thousand dollars. The bell, weighing 2,500 23ounds, cost .$900.

St. Paul's Lutheran church of Dixon was organized August 20, 1848. Rev. J. H. Burket was the first pastor and the first meeting was held in his barn in Dixon Township. The following is the roll of pastors and their term of service to date:

*Revs. J. H. Burket, 1848 to 1850; *Ephraim Miller, D. D., 1850 to 1852; *Charles Young, 1852 to 1853; * William Uhl, 1853 to 1855 and 1856 to 3858; *David Harbaugh, 1855 to 1856; *J. L. Guard, 1858 to 1861; J. R. Keiser, 1862 to 1865; *A. A. Trimper, 1865 to 1870; N. W. Lilly, 1870 to 1874; S. S. Waltz, D. D., 1871 to 1879; L. L. Lipe, 1879 to 1885; *J. M. Ruthrauff, D. D., 1885 to 1895; T. F. Dornblaser, D. D., 1895 to 1903; W. L. Rutherford, 1904 to 1910; Frank D. Altman, D. D., 1910. (*Deceased.)

The first church was built in 1855 during the pastorate of Rev. Wm. Uhl.

The second church was erected ou present location in 1868 under Pastor Rev. A. A. Trimper, and dedicated in January, 1869. The cost of the building was about fifteen thousand dollars.

The present parsonage was erected in 1876, during the ministry of Rev. S. S. Waltz, D. D. Improvements were made to the church building in 1898 under the direction of Rev. T. F. Dornblaser, D. D., pastor. The semi-centennial jubilee was held December 16-19, 1898. The Sixteenth Biennial Convention of the Woman's Home and Foreign Missionary Society of the General Synod in the United States was held in the church May 25-28, 1909.

The present confirmed membership is 635. The enrollment of the Sunday school the past year (1913) including Home Department and Cradle Roll was 580. Total contributions of the church for all objects during the year over four thousand seven hundred dollars. The business affairs of the congregation are administered by a church council of ten men elected by the membership.

Dixon is indebted enormously to the Lutherans for buying the old farm along Rock River always conceded to be the most beautiful of all our scenic spots. This they converted into a Chautauqua or assembly grounds which Dr. Altman has told about herewith. I have included it with our church life.

Rock River Assembly
By Rev. F. D. Altman.

This institution had its beginning in the summer of 1887 at an annual picnic of Lutherans at Hazelwood, about three miles northeast of Dixon. Rev. J. M. Ruthrauff, at that time pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church of Dixon, may properly be termed the father of the movement which has developed into the present annual Rock River Assembly.

With the cooperation of others on this territory a stock company was formed. Capital stock of $10,000 was subscribed in shares of $25.00 each, and in 1890 a charter was secured from the state. Later the capital stock was increased to $20,000. Three-fourths of the shares must be held by members of, or persons affiliating with the Lutheran Church. The management of the association is vested in a board of nine directors elected by the stockholders at the annual meeting. The object of the Assembly corporation is to maintain and conduct annually on the premises of the assembly a Chautauqua, consisting more particularly of lectures, concerts^ Bible conferences, round tables, religious services, and such other entertainments and exercises for the mental, moral and spiritual improvement of the community, also to afford proper recreation and other advantages for its people. It is not for financial profit. Its officers and board of directors serve without compensation, and any excess of receipts above expenses is used in making improvements upon the grounds and keeping up the standard of the talent employed.

A beautiful tract of land containing about forty acres was secured. The location is along the north bank of Rock River adjoining the city of Dixon on the east. Here the river banks are high and extend in a great retiring curve for half a mile. For camping purposes the grounds are ideal. Nature has done its best in furnishing an attractive and restful place. The singing of birds lends enchantment to the scene, while families of squirrels frolic fearlessly about the walks and drives and upon the branches overhead.

But the superiority of Rock River Assembly is in its programs. For over a quarter of a century it has won a unique place in the number of interesting and essential features presented. Some of the most famous lecturers and singers and characters of America and other lands across the sea have appeared on the assembly platform. The aim of the management has been to, bring within the vision and hearing of the people of this part of the state, the best talent along different lines that could be procured within reasonable limitations.

The effort has been appreciated, and the assembly has developed beyond all expectations until it has become a permanent institution of the city of Dixon. Thousands come every year to enjoy the splendid programs rendered and have an outing in nature's quiet and refreshing abode. Improvements have been made gradually and extensively. On these grounds are a large circular auditorium capable of seating 5,000 persons, numerous school and administration buildings and comfortable cottages; the Assembly Hotel, on the river front, with magnificent view, good accommodations at moderate expense. Electric lights are installed throughout the premises. Electric cars bring the visitors to the gates. An abundant water supply, furnished in sanitary perfection from artesian wells, is distributed upon the grounds for public use. The, outdoor sports, boating, tennis, croquet, base ball, fishing, swimming, can be enjoyed to the extent of one's capacity. For sixteen days each year, beginning the last Saturday in July, the assembly affords a rich feast of good things for the people, the best which education, art and science have to offer. Rock River Assembly probably ranks third among the Chautauqua's of America. The following are the members of the board of directors at this time, 1914: A. E. Thummel, president; Theo. Trouth, vice-president; H. M. Rasch, secretary; W. E. Trein, treasurer; A. A. Krape, C. E. Derr, A. L. Geisenheimer, Geo. W. Bruner, F. D. Altman.

Saint Luke's Church, Dixon
By Rev. A. B. Whitcombe

The first services in Dixon were held by Right Reverend Philander Chase, D. D., Bishop of Illinois in 1837, soon after his consecration. He had made a visit to Grand Detour, at that time a prosperous village, and finding a few people at what was then called Dixon's Ferry he stopped over for a service. Soon after a priest, the Reverend James De Pui was settled here, but just when he came or when he went away are uncertain dates.

In 1845 Rev. Abraham J. Warner was appointed missionary at Grand Detour and parts adjacent. He held regular services in Dixon, Sterling, Elkhorn Grove and other places.

From 1851 to 1858 the services were held by missionaries generally located at Grand Detour, whose names cannot be ascertained.

In 1858 a parish organization was effected by the election of the following wardens and vestrymen. A small frame church was erected on Peoria avenue, near Third Street. In 1871 the new stone church was built, and consecrated on October 18, 1872. The rectors of the church have been as follows: The Reverends John Wilkinson, Abraham J. Warner, George C. Street, James W. Coe, H. H. De Garno, D. W. Dresser, D. D., William A. Williams, Marison Byllesby, Samuel Edson, W. Henry Jones, William W. Steele, John Wilkinson, Henry C. Granger, John C. Sage, John M. Ericcson, Albert B. Whitcombe.

Dixon Township

Lee County Townships


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