Ruth Ann Montgomery
congregation of the First Baptist Church in Evansville can trace its
beginnings to a small church in the neighboring village of Union in 1844.
The American Baptist Home Mission Society sent Rev. Jeremiah Murphy to
Rock County to organize the church and he successfully recruited 13 charter
a number of years, the Union Baptist Church served the farm community in
northern Rock County as well as the villages of Union and “The Grove”.
In the mid-1850s, the “the Grove” experienced rapid growth and was
platted as the Village of Evansville in 1855.
The village of Union lagged behind.
1856, nine members of the Union congregation living in or near Evansville
asked permission to withdraw and form their own church.
Others joined with the Union members.
Delegates from Baptist church in Janesville, Stoughton and Union, met
on February 13, 1856 and issued the following resolution.
“Resolved that this council do now recognize the brethren and sisters
whose names have been submitted as a regular Baptist Church.”
men and women listed as the constituent members were Josiah Howard, Eunice
Howard, George Taggart, Jane Taggart, C. H. Moon, Almire Moon, Thomas W.
Stearns, Susan Stearns, E. W. Stearns, Phileta E. Stearns, George T. Morrow,
Emily P. Morrow, Hannah Hammond, Loranah Kane, David Rowley, Rodah Rowley, A.
N. Rowley, Anna Rowley, A. L. Rowley, Amanda Rowley, Minerva Warren, Eliza
Higday, Martin Glading, Welthia Reed, John Siver, Lucinda Siver, Mary Rice,
Milla Glading, Barret Carpenter, Mary Janes, Lucinda Rowley, and Charles
June of that same year, the new church was admitted to the Janesville Baptist
Association. C. H. Moon and
Josiah Howard were elected the first deacons and E. W. Sterns, the first
clerk. Because they had no church
building of their own. The new
congregation relied on the cooperation of other community organizations and
held services in the district school, the Methodist Church and the
first pastor called by the new congregation was Rev. William Branche.
He had agreed to stay from six months to a year, however, four months
later, Rev. D. T. Phillips took charge of the church.
to a history of the church published in the June 20, 1898 Tribune (Evansville,
Wisconsin), the early days of the church were filled with controversy and
challenge. The church historian
wrote: “During this first year
the church was subjected to sore trials and felt compelled to withdraw the
hand of church fellowship from several disorderly members who failed to keep
their vows and to walk with the church.”
Phillips remained at the church for thirteen years and the congregation continued to grow in numbers and in spiritual awakening. In 1868, more members were added by baptism and according to one account, “the whole membership felt the religious quickening that called together a large number to the covenant meetings.” Rev. Phillips resigned and was replaced by Rev. D. S. Starr in May 1859.
Starr preached at both the Union and the Evansville churches.
His salary was listed as $400 a year, plus $50 more, if the
congregation could raise the money.
the early 1860s, when President Lincoln called for volunteers to enlist in the
Union Army, Rev. Starr joined other local ministers and gave stirring speeches
at recruitment rallies to encourage young men to enter the Union army.
At one meeting held in Evansville, 38 men volunteered to enlist.
In 1866, Rev. J. R. Eldridge replaced Rev. Starr as pastor of the
the church grew in numbers, the congregation longed to have their own house of
worship. The April 9, 1866 issue
of the Evansville Citizen announced: “Mr.
Hutchinson has sold his corner lots fronting the Congregational Church for
$400 to parties representing the Calvinist Baptists lately for the purpose of
erecting a church thereon.”
Subscriber’s list, also dated April 9, 1866, recorded the members and
friends of the congregation who had agreed to fund the building of the new
church. More than 30 people were
listed on the subscribers list.
Winston, a retired farmer and general store owner offered the largest sum,
$250. D. M. Rowley agreed to pay
$200 and other offered smaller amounts. Those
who could not offer money offered services as payment.
George Taggart provided blacksmithing valued at $50 and William Bennett
paid his subscription by hauling. Bennett’s
services were valued at $10.
S. Morgan was hired to do the carpentry work.
By May 1866, masons were beginning to lay brick for the new church.
As the building was under construction in October, workmen were putting
a tin roof on the dome of the new church.
They were using hot coals and some of the coals started a fire near the
roof. The fire was well underway
before it was discovered. Fortunately,
there was water nearby and the men were able to stop the fire before it
destroyed the new church.
cream brick structure was completed in early December at the southwest corner
of First and Church Streets. The
Ladies Benevolent Association was organized on October 16, 1867 to help raise
funds to support the church and its operation.
The club was open to both men and women.
were eighteen members of the Ladies Benevolent Society.
Women paid dues of 25 cents. Gentlemen
were invited to join for a fee of 50 cents.
The group met every two weeks in the evening for social activities that
included sleigh rides, charades, oyster suppers and dramatic readings.
raisers were held at Treat’s Hall, a public gathering place and they were
able to fund the wooden sidewalk in front of the church and help pay for the
furnishings. Just before the new
church building was completed, the Ladies Benevolent Association sent Elder
Eldridge to Chicago to find a minister to preach at the dedication, purchase
carpets, chandeliers and anything else he thought was necessary for furnishing
new building was dedicated “to the worship of Almighty God” on December
18, 1867. Forty-one members were
recorded on the church rolls.
the spring of 1868, a new minister, Rev. D. T. Richards, led a growing
congregation. Many new members
were successful businessmen and ardent workers for the new church.
In July 1869, Rev. Jabez Snashall, a student awaiting ordination as a
minister, succeeded Richards. Services
were held at 10:30 on Sunday morning, with Sabbath School immediately
following. A Sunday evening
service was held at 7 p.m. Rev. Snashall resigned in May 1870 and in
August the congregation issued a call to Rev. J. C. Hart of Waverly, Illinois.
new bell was purchased by the congregation in August 1870.
The 3,300 pound bell was made at the Blymer Peaton Company foundry in
Chicago. Local carpenter and
hardware merchant, Caleb Snashall engineered the raising of the Bell.
“The bell was of good tone,” a local reporter noted.
the early years of the church, pastors served very short terms.
Frequently the ministers preached at both the Union and the Evansville
1871, Rev. J. B. Hutton became pastor. Because
the church did not furnish a parsonage, Hutton purchased his own home and when
he resigned in July 1873, he sold the house to a Mrs. Quivey for $800.
Hutton moved to Atlanta, Illinois.
C. H. Kimball served from 1873 to 1876 and when he resigned the church issued
a call to Rev. C. R. Lathrop. During
Lathrop’s administration, the church building debt was finally paid.
Church records recorded, “The debt on church all provided for we are
free; bless the Lord.”
church was active in organizing various social gatherings for members and
friends. The programs were also
fund raisers for the congregation. A
New Year’s Entertainment in December 1873 included a drama, “Aunt
Dinah’s Pledge”, a popular farce, “We are all Teetotelers”, as well as
musical entertainment. Admission
was 15 cents.
or house parties were another way to raise funds.
The congregation and friends were invited to the house of one of the
members and paid an admission charge for refreshments and musical or dramatic
The fund raising efforts allowed the church to remodel and redecorate their building in the summer of 1879. New side entrances were made to create a larger vestry. The ceiling of the church was repaired with new lath and plaster.
bell tower had begun to lean and was “out of perpendicular” according to
some observers. Caleb A. Libby
was hired as the carpenter to straighten the tower and do the other
remodeling. He was assisted by
Nat Libby and Charley Conine.
Lathrop left Evansville, the Rev. R. S. Dean was called as an evangelist in
April 1880 and the congregation was so impressed with his work that they
decided to invite him to be their pastor.
Rev. Dean began his pastorate and in the next three years, in true
evangelistic style, Dean and his congregation reported that twenty five new
members were added to the church roles.
the 1880s, a Foreign Mission Circle was formed and Miss Belle Pettigrew was
named President. The funds raised
by the Mission Circle were used to send barrels of merchandise to help with
Indian missions and a Scandinavian Mission.
Belle Pettigrew was so enthused about the work that she eventually
became a home missionary and worked in the South for many years.
The local church supported her efforts and in return she gave
interesting talks about her missionary work when she visited Evansville.
Dean stayed in Evansville for three years, then moved to South Haven, Michigan
and purchased a newspaper business. In
September 1884, Rev. E. R. Curry replaced Dean.
During Curry’s administration the Union and Evansville churches
formalized the arrangement of having one pastor serve both congregations.
“Rev E. R. Curry is very much liked as a citizen and pastor and the church
is doing all they can to show an appreciation of his labors.”
congregation added new chandeliers, an organ, and pulpit chairs in the summer
of 1885. They also took down the
stoves and an unsightly pipe and made plans to dig a new basement for a
furnace to heat the building.
new heating system proved unreliable and over the next few years, the Baptists
frequently met in the Congregational church across the street.
The trustees issued the following release for the January 12, 1887
issue of the Enterprise newspaper, “It being necessary to make some changes
in the heating apparatus at the Baptist Church, the trustees have arranged
with the Cong. Society to hold services in their church.”
were several changes in pastors over the next few years.
Curry resigned and was replaced in 1888 by Rev. A. J. Hovey.
Hovey stayed only a short time and in 1890 Rev. R. N. Martin became
pastor. Another new pastor
arrived in April 1892. Rev. Mr.
W. L. Jones was greeted at a reception at A. C. Gray’s home and the
ministers from other churches in the community were invited to meet him.
Jones’ term the church was remodeled once again.
Excavations were made under the church to create a dressing room for
the baptistry. The excavation
also increased the space needed for a furnace.
O. P. Bestor served the church for five years in the late 1890s.
He arrived in December 1893 and was considered one of the church’s
most successful ministers. A
graduate of Brown University, Bestor was also a popular speaker with the
Baptist Young People’s Union in Rock County.
his pastorate, sixty-one new members were added to the church roles and people
began agitating for a new church building to house to growing congregation.
In addition to their local work, members of the congregation also
supported people from other communities who were victims of fire and other
October 1894, the ladies of the Baptist church sent four barrels of clothing
and bedding to Cumberland. There
had been a serious fire in that community and many families were in need.
This response to disaster sufferers was typical of the work done by the
Bestor organized Christian Culture classes for members of his congregation.
Those participating studied the history of the early Christian Church.
He also arranged for temperance lectures.
One speaker, Mrs. Ellen Dayton Blair, was a “chalk talker for the
Loyal Temperance Legion”. According
to the news release in the Evansville Tribune, Mrs. Blair “makes free use of
chalk and charts to illustrate her theme and is especially effective with
children. She makes some very
hard hits against the use of tobacco and liquor.”
was also a valued member of the local Civil War Veterans group, the Grand Army
of the Republic Post in Evansville, and served as the chaplain.
When he resigned from the church in 1898, the G.A.R. Post gave him an
envelope of money and the church printed a resolution of thanks in the local
was followed by Rev. Granger W. Smith. Smith
arrived in Evansville in 1899 after serving a church in Green Bay.
He served a term of three years and preached the funeral service of the
last surviving Charter member of the church, Calista W. Rowley, who died May
Smith resigned, a young divinity student with one more year of school was
asked to serve as pastor. The
Evansville Review noted his arrival in their June 26, 1902 issue with the
following: Rev. John Wellington
Hoag “is a fine representative of the class of modern young divines that is
being educated and trained for the Lord’s service at the Divinity School of
the University of Chicago.”
Although he had only agreed to stay for three months, Hoag was persuaded to remain as pastor for several more years. He was so effective in his work that the church was packed to overflowing for the services and it was during Hoag’s pastorate that the church finalized plans for a new building.
early January 1903, the congregation met at the Evansville City Hall for a
banquet that served as the beginning for a building fund drive.
The women of the congregation led the effort to start the pledges.
At the dinner, the women of the church announced that they had raised
$1,000 for the building fund. Five
individual members pledged $500 each. “Prospects
are good for the city soon to have another fine church building with no
indebtedness to it,” Evansville’s Badger newspaper reported.
Snashall, a local architect and builder, was named as the chairman of the
building committee. He also also
chosen to design and superintend the construction.
A skilled architect and designer, Snashall was responsible for many of
the homes and business buildings in Evansville.
had worked in Chicago during the building of that city's magnificent
structures in the 1890s. Snashall designed the new church in a style
that was popular at the time, the Romanesque Revival style.
This style was influenced by the famed architect, Henry Hobson
Richardson and is sometimes referred to as Richardson Romanesque.
This style was also incorporated into the works of such famous
architects as Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright.
Snashall took a great deal of pride in making the new Baptist church a model building. John Winston and his sons, descendents of the original subscriber for the 1867 building fund, were hired as carpenters for the new church. William Burk, a local painter, did the decorating of the interior.
dug a basement for the building that was large enough to house a dining room,
sitting area, kitchen, cloak room, toilet rooms and utility rooms.
The cornerstone for the new building was laid in July 1903.
program began with a concert by the Baker Military Band.
The corner stone was then raised from the ground by a derrick and
placed in position under the direction of the architect, Caleb Snashall.
Miss Maggie Gillies read a history of the church and a list of church
organizations, and officers that were to be placed in a copper box.
The box was described as 8 inches long and four inches deep and wide.
H. Hatfield placed the articles in the copper box and the box was placed in a
depression cut in the top of the stone. The
stone was then sealed with mortar.
the laying of the corner stone, the assembled crowd went across the street to
the Congregational church and listened to an address by former pastor, Rev O.
P. Bestor. At the close of the
address the doxology was sung and Rev. Hoag pronounced the benediction.
A local reporter noted: “Thus
closed one of the most important events which ever occurred in this city and
from present appearances the Baptists are to have one of the most beautiful
The building continued with the first floor containing an auditorium style sanctuary, a lecture room that could seat 200 more people, and two small rooms that served as dressing rooms for the baptistery.
Snashall’s design in the Romanesque Revival style included distinctive round-arched windows. Leaded glass was placed in the windows allowing sunlight to fill the sanctuary with a glow of brilliant gold, blue, green and a range of other colors.
The main entrance was placed on the diagonal in a three-storied balconied tower at the northeast corner of the church. This unusual configuration allowed entry through large double doors. Stairs ascended to the sanctuary and two descending stairs on either side of the main entrance led to the lower level.
church was nearly complete when its architect, Caleb Snashall, died
unexpectedly. Sadly, he did not
survive for the dedication that was held on June 12, 1904.
The new church was valued at $12,000.
1904, there were 115 church members and about 100 of them were called
“active”. Rev. Rolvix Harlan
was the pastor of the First Baptist Church.
Because the church did not provide a parsonage, Harlan and his family
rented the house directly west of the church.
Harlan added more services and the schedule was published in the four local
papers that were printed in Evansville. A
February 20, 1906 Tribune ad read, “Service at 10:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Bible School 11:45. Baraca
12 n. Junior 3 p.m. Y. P. 6 p.m.
In the evening the pastor will preach and take up the questions “Are
we going to have saloons in Evansville?”
Harlan also began the publication of an 8-page monthly newsletter for his
congregation called “The Reminder.” The
Evansville Review editor wished the new publication success and noted, “It
is carefully edited and full of entertaining matter relative to that society.
of the church continued their fundraising efforts with an annual supper.
The three course menu that included meat loaf, vegetables, and pie was
available for 25 cents. The event
was held in the new church dining room. The
ladies also organized an annual chrysanthemum exhibit and sale in November.
Handicrafts, quilts, baked goods and candy were offered for sale and a
dinner was served in the evening.
Baptists had always supported strong temperance movements and the church was
the site of the organization of a temperance league that included several
prominent members of the community. Allen
S. Baker, president of Baker Manufacturing Company; M. J. Fisher, real estate
agent; W. H. H. Johnson, a retired farmer and one of the charter members of
the Baptist Church; and W. W. Gillies were named as officers of the new
organization. The men asked for
more members and declared, “It is hoped that all will assemble who are
interested in a good clean, temperance city and to keep it so.”
1906, the church celebrated its fiftieth anniversay with a program that
included reading the church history and a paper by W. W. Gillies, “What part
has the old Union church had in our development.”
Gillies’ report noted that former members of the Union Church had
donated more than 60% of the building fund for the new church.
Three of the six trustees of the church were orginally members of the
Union Baptist Church, as was the Sunday School Superintendent, assistant
superintendent and six of the eleven Sunday School teachers.
The church treasurer was also formerly a members of the Union church
and the Chairman of the Board of Trustees.
acknowledge our mutual interest and our common cause and hope and trust that
the friendly fraternal feeling may continue and thereby result in the greatest
degree of usefulness to all concerned. So
let us live and work together”, Gillies concluded.
Harlen resigned from the church and a new minister, Rev. J. L. Webster served
the church from 1907 to 1909. It
took several months to replace Webster and pastors were called in from other
Wisconsin churches to supply to pulpit.
Evansville newspaper, the Enterprise reported the meetings held during this
time. In October 1909, the paper
reported: “Services at the
First Baptist church last Sunday were conducted both morning and evening and
at Union in the afternoon by Rev. Bancroft, of Milwaukee.”
A. L. Taber of Manhatten, Illinois was called as the new pastor in April 1910.
In April 1912, he offered his resignation.
He listed health reasons for leaving the church.
new minister, Rev. Theron T. Phelps was hired but stayed only two years.
During his pastorate, the Baptist Church completed paying the debt for
their new church in 1913. Phelps
as followed by Rev. N. G. Oliver in 1915.
one year, in 1918, Rev W. P. Pierce served the church.
After moving to Albion Michigan, Rev. Pierce retired from the ministry
and became a tour director and lecturer.
He died in August 1930, while conducting one of his European tours.
January 1919, Rev. A. W. Stephens accepted a unanimous call to be the pastor.
Stephens had served as pastor of the Oconomowoc Baptist Church for
eight years before coming to Evansville.
His first service was held on March 9th.
Rev. Ernest Day acted as interim pastor until Stephens could complete
his work in Oconomowoc.
Young People’s society was reorganized in October 1920.
Stephens resigned in 1924 and was replaced by Rev. Thomas W. Gales.
Rev. Gales began a weekly column in the Evansville Review entitled
“Baptist Notes”. The column
kept church members and others informed about special events, travels of the
pastor and regular services.
Gale was also responsible for services at the Union Church.
The June 4, 1925 issue of the Evansville Review noted, “The service
at Union will commence at two o’clock next Sunday.
A new plan of combining the church and Sunday School in one service has
been adopted and will shorten the time.”
The “Baptist Notes” also mentioned that the pastor, his wife, and
daughter Viola had attended the Union Church Ladies Aid meeting at Lyman
church was damaged by lightning in July 1925.
The lightning bolt struck the bell tower and started a fire.
Evansville firemen were called but the heavy rain and the height of the
tower made fighting the fire difficult.
The fire fighters had to fight the flames from inside and where finally
able to extinguish the flames. The
damage to the building was estimated at about $1,200.
Gale signed from the Evansville church in 1925 and became active in temperance
work in Wisconsin. He served as
the superintendent of the Wisconsin Anti-Saloon League during the prohibition
era. In the 1930s he moved to
Spokane Washington to continue his temperance work and died there in June
Robert H. Pratt served as minister of the church from 1926 through 1930.
The Evansville Review published a brief biography of Pratt in the March
20, 1930 issue. Pratt was a
graduate of East high School in Minneapolis in 1901 and had earned a B.A.
degree from the University of Minnesota in 1905.
completing a course in theological education at Newton Theological
Institution, Boston, Massachusetts in 1908, Rev. Pratt returned to Minnesota
to become pastor of the Hebron Baptist Church in St. Paul.
Rev. Pratt continued his studies and earned a Master of Sacred Theology
degree from Newton Theological Institute.
had also served as pastor of Baptist churches in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin,
West Concord, Minnesota; Wayne, Nebraska; and Mt. Carroll, Illinois before
coming to Evansville.
the summer of 1930, the church held a homecoming picnic at Leonard Park in
Evansville. Those gathered for
the occasion decided to make it an annual event.
L. M. Kitzmiller became pastor of the Evansville Baptist Church in 1932?
He resigned in September 1938 and was succeeded by Rev. C. W. Bloedow
in December 1938.