History of the Free Will Baptist, Free Methodist and
Grace Baptist Church in Evansville, Wisconsin
by Ruth Ann Montgomery
Evansville's oldest existing church building is located on Church Street and was originally the home of the Free Will Baptist Church. Although the
Methodists were actually the first congregation to build a church, their original building on East Main Street no longer exists.
In the late 1890s, the Evansville newspaper, the Enterprise, did a series of articles about the early history of Evansville. The article about the
Free Will Baptist Church by Caleb Libby, the Enterprise editor, noted the names of the original members of the Evansville church.
According to Libby, "on the 10th day of July 1852, the first Free Will Baptist Church in Center, Rock Co. Wisconsin granted a letter of dismissal to
fifteen of their members". The names of those separated from the Center church were Joseph Reed, Freeman Reed, Daniel Reed, Argalus
Ballard, Hial Eastman, George Ballard, Wm. W. Patchin, Philena Carpenter, Phebe Reed, Sarah Reed, Polly Felth, Polly Eastman, Jane Ballard,
Cornia Foster and Polly James.
Those that withdrew from the Center Free Will Baptist Church intended to form their own congregation under the name The Union and Magnolia
Free Will Baptist Church. As late as 1871, the name was still used, with the additional information that it was located in Evansville.
Rock County Court House Deed records indicate that the congregation first purchased land near the village of Union, a 1/2 acre of land on the
Union-Madison highway in section 10. The village was the largest settlement in Union township in the early 1850s.
In 1854, the Free Will Baptist Church trustees, Peter Aller, Jesse Aller and Argulus Ballard sold the land in the village of Union, for $40 and then
purchased land in Evansville. There were rumors that the railroad would be coming to Evansville and would not go to the village of Union. The
church congregation may have decided to build their church in Evansville, the area that would almost certainly grow larger than Union because of
the transportation network provided by the railroad.
Deed records show that Lewis Spencer sold land to the trustees of the church in 1854 and by the time the deed was recorded in 1855, there was
already a "meeting house" on the property. Local labor and materials were used in construction of the church. Byron Campbell, whose father
owned the local saw mill on Allen's Creek in Evansville, sawed the lumber for the Free Will Baptist Church. The timber for the frame building was
cut from the oak groves located in and near the village.
The new church seated 300 people and the building was reported to have cost $3,000 to build. The church had a steeple but the congregation
could not come up with enough money to purchase a bell. After the Free Will Baptist Church was constructed the community collected money to
allow the congregation to purchase a bell that could be used to call people to worship services, to call volunteers to a fire or other emergency, or
to toll the death knell for a resident.
Sources of information in the early days of the Free Will Baptist Church are sketchy. A Rev. Ranson Dunn, was credited with helping to raise
money for the new church and preached the dedicatory sermon. The newspaper, the Enterprise, printed a history of the church in 1898 and
noted that there were no significant structural changes to the building in more than 50 years.
Early reports of the Free Will Baptist Church activities indicate the cooperation with other churches and community events. The Congregational
Church used the Free Will Baptist Church for two years, from 1855 to 1857, during the time when the Congregationalists did not have their own
building. Levi Leonard, Evansville's first school teacher, wrote in his diary in 1857 that he attended a lyceum course at the "Baptist house".
The first pastor was Kinsman Davis. There were about 30 people in the congregation. The members created a permanent organization as the
Union Magnolia Free Will Baptist church of Evansville on June 5, 1858, several years after they had already built a place of worship.
The second pastor was a brother of Kinsman Davis, Jarius E. Davis, who was present at the organizational meeting in 1858. Jarius served the
church until May 5, 1861 and was followed by Rev. P. Auger from 1861 to 1864.
Rev. S. Cummings served as pastor for one year, from April 1864 to April 1865. Then Jarius Davis returned for a second term as pastor of the
church, from April 1865 to the spring of 1868.
The Evansville Citizen, Evansville's first newspaper gave reports of the activities during Jarius Davis' term. Sunday services were held in the
morning at 10 a.m and again in the evening at 6:30 p.m. In addition to regular collections at the Sunday services, the church was supported by
Isaac Hoxie, editor of the Citizen gave the following notice in the January 17, 1866 issue of the newspaper. "There will be a donation and oyster
supper for the benefit of Rev. J. E. Davis at the Free Will Baptist Church on the afternoon and evening of January 25. Tickets $1.50 per couple."
Two weeks later, the church placed an article in the Citizen. Nearly $80 had been raised at the donation party. The writer also noted that the
donation was "a complete success in all the arrangements. The tables looked admirable, were well filled with the choicest of delicacies to please
the eye and tickle the palate. Those who prepared the repast seemed to vie with each other to see who would do their part the best."
In July 1868, a "Benefit Supper of the F. W. Baptist Ladies' Mite Society" was held in the garden grove of Deacon Ballard's house. The proceeds
from this dinner were used to paint the church.
By the late 1860s, the "Regular" or "Close Communion" Baptists also had a church in Evansville. The local newspaper referred to the Free Will
Baptist Church as the F. W. Baptist or by its full name to distinguish the congregation's activities from the newer organization which the newspaper
referred to as the Baptists.
A. H. Hulling became the pastor of the F. W. Baptist congregation in April 1868. The Evansville Citzen-Review ran church announcements in
1870 noting that the Rev. A. H. Hulling was the pastor and there was a Sunday morning service at 10:30 a.m., Sunday school immediately after the
close of the service and an evening service at 7 p.m.
1870 was a busy year for the congregation. The previous September, it had been announced that the Free Will Baptists would take over the
Evansville Seminary. The 1870 Free Will Baptist yearly meeting and ministers' institute was held in the Evansville church, so that Free Will
Baptists from around the state could see the Seminary buildings and observe the students and new staff members.
The Review newspaper coverage of the activities noted that the annual meeting was well attended by Free Will Baptist clergymen and lay
members. More than 200 people came to the programs. Those assembled were said to be "in good spirits and unanimity." At the 1870 annual
meeting of the church governing body, a resolution to proceed with the management of the Evansville Seminary was passed.
"Resolved : that the generous prompt and noble actions of the people of Evansville in raising $7,000 for the material work of the Evansville
Seminary and over $1,000 for the endowment, has our highest praise, and should prompt them to make quick work to complete the first
endowment of the ten thousand dollars as specified in the contract of transfer." Rev. George Bradley, a Free Will Baptist minister, was appointed
principal of the Seminary, while Rev. A. H. Hulling continued as pastor of the local church.
In July of 1870, the church introduced a new pastor to the community. Rev. Royal W. Bryant arrived in July 1870. That same month the
congregation held their summer picnic at Grass Lake. The planning committee had arranged wagons and buggies to transport all those who
wished to attend the "basket picnic".
The Evansville Review gave notice in an April 24, 1872 article that "Rev. R. W. Bryant closed his connection with the F. W. Baptist Church Sunday
last. We learn that Elder Kimball of New Hampshire, has been engaged to supply the pulpit." For the next year and a half, from April 1872 to
March 1873, Rev. C. H. Kimball served the church.
Then Kimball made a surprise announcement. At the last Sunday service held in March 1873, Kimball told the Free Will Baptist Church board that
he was joining the Regular Baptist church and going to become a pastor for their organization.
"The surprise was more intense from the fact of his persistent and energetic labors the past winter for the interest of the church. Mr. Kimball was
an energetic faithful Christian worker, and would have been retained another year, by the church had he not apostatized." a Review article noted.
On the second Sunday in April 1873, Kimball was officially recognized as a pastor for the Regular Baptist denomination and had already accepted
an assignment as pastor of a church in Morris, Illinois. His new church was located in Grandy Co., Illinois in a community on the Chicago and Rock
Island railroad. "He will remove his family thither about the 1st of May," the Review reported.
The Free Will Baptist congregation wasted no time in announcing they had found a new pastor. In the April 30, 1873 issue of the Review the Free
Will Baptist Church gave notice that they had secured the services of Rev. Mr. True of Fond du Lac. Rev. O. J. True arrived April 11, 1873 and
stayed until March 1876.
To support the work of the church, the Free Will Baptists often held "sociables" in the homes of their members or at the church parsonage which
had been built on a lot just west of the church building. Large community dinners and bazaars that were the focus of many fund raising activities
of other churches were seldom held by the F. W. Baptists.
In the early 1870s the Temperance Movement had strong supporters in the Evansville community. The Free Will Baptist congregation was
strongly in support of the temperance movement and joined with other churches in the village for Union Temperance meetings. One was held in
the church in December 1873.
Professor George Bradley from the Evansville Seminary and the church pastor, Rev. True, were the principal speakers. Rev. True's subject was
"On whom rests the responsibility of the Temperance cause." After the lectures, a collection was taken to be used for the purchase of suitable
music for future meetings and temperance tracts that could be distributed to the public.
The church also held revival services in the late winter months to encourage church members to renew their faith and to attract new members. In
March 1876, the Methodists, Free Baptists, Baptists and Congregationalists united in obtaining the services of Rev. Mr. Cole who stayed for three
months preaching at the various churches.
When the series of revival meetings ended the Review noted that the series had been a great success. There had been a number of conversions
and a general church revival.
In addition to his pastoral duties, Rev. O. J. True was also engaged in business in Evansville. To supplement his income as a pastor, Rev. True
was a partner in a local lumber business with a Mr. Winston. True sold his interest in the business to Norris Adair in April 1876 and a few days
later announced that he would be leaving Evansville.
Rev. O. H. True received a call from another church in Oakland, Jefferson County Wisconsin. He purchased a six-spring wagon made by the local
firm of Allen & Winston and painted by a Mr. Powles and took his household goods to his new location.
True was replaced by Rev. B. F. McKenny, who served the church from May 1876 to July 1878. Then the Free Will Baptist congregation found
itself without a pastor. Committees from the two Baptist churches began to explore the possibility of joining together. Meetings were held in
September 1878, but according to the Evansville Review report, "Some of the older members of the society were opposed to the union."
For two years, the Free Will Baptist Church was without a pastor. When the church closed its doors, the community began to complain that the
church bell should be moved. They believed that the bell belonged to everyone and it should be removed from the F. W. Baptist church steeple
and given to another congregation.
"As the bell of the F. W. Baptist church is the property of the citizens, and that the church has enjoyed its use for a good many years, would it not
be more in accordance to the wishes of the majority of the donors to have it now transferred to one of the other churches," the Review editor
Occasionally the church doors were open for services. In June 1879, Rev. Royal W. Bryant, a former pastor arrived to preach Sunday services in
early June and stayed through the summer of 1879. He preached Sunday morning and evening services to a "crowded house" for several weeks.
However, Bryant decided not to stay and once again the church began a search for a minister.
Several months later, the congregation obtained a permanent pastor. Rev. F. M. Washburn arrived in August 1880 and stayed until September
Rev. A. J. Marshall became the new pastor of the Free Will Baptist Church in September 1883. He had previously lived in Evansville and attended
the Evansville Seminary. After graduation he became a missionary to India.
Poor health forced Marshall to leave his missionary post in India. After returning to the United States, Rev. Marshall lived in Hillsdale, Michigan
where the Free Will Baptists operated a school.
After accepting the pastorate of the Evansville Free Will Baptist Church, Marshall gave several entertaining programs using the souvenirs he had
obtained in India. He also had learned to sing Hindu songs and included these in the lectures he gave about his missionary work.
Rev Marshall encouraged participation in the temperance programs that were an important part of the Free Will Baptist's social activities. The
programs were also used as fund raisers. A "jug breaking sociable" was held at the church parsonage in May 1884.
The newspaper announcement advertising the program proclaimed "lots of fun will be dished up." The proceeds from the event were used to
repair the church and to the parsonage. The improvements cost the congregation $250.
During the warmer months of the year, the church used the local mill pond as a baptistry. One of the Gospel ordinances of the Free Will Baptists'
congregation was baptism of converts by immersion in water. One of the baptism services was performed in May 1884. Five people, Herb Bryan,
Bertha Helms and three Patchen children were baptized at the mill pond.
Rev A. J. Marshall's service to the church in Evansville ended in February 1885. However, he often returned to Evansville as a visitor and stayed
with his sister, Mrs. George Magee.
When Marshall gave his resignation, the church began a search for a new pastor. When the post was not immediately filled, the F. W. Baptist’s
decided to rent the vacant parsonage to Jerome Bemis.
Bemis vacated the parsonage in May 1885, when the Free Will Baptists' hired Rev. L. W. Gowen. The newspaper, the Enterprise, announced the
arrival of the new pastor. "The new Free Baptist minister seems to be well received and we believe has been permanently engaged for six months
Rev. Gowen stayed for nearly a year. Then, for a second time in the history of the Evansville church, the minister told his congregation that he
was changing church affiliations. Gowen and his wife announced they had become members of the regular Baptist Church.
Once again, in April 1886, the Free Will Baptists found themselves searching for a leader. It took just two weeks to hire Rev. A. D. Sandborn to fill
the vacancy left by Gowen. Sandborn served the Evansville church for two years, then he accepted a call to the Free Baptist Church at Oakfield,
in Winnebago County, Illinois in March 1888.
For the next four years, the Evansville Free Will Baptist Church was without a permanent minister. There were no listing for regular services at the
church, though occasionally a special sermon would be announced.
When one of early members of the congregation, Sarah Ballard, wife of Deacon Argalus Ballard, died in January 1891, there was no Free Will
Baptist minister in Evansville to preach her funeral. Rev. W. W. Stevens of the Methodist church presided over the service so that Sarah's funeral
could be held in the church "where she had so often met for worship and from which she always expressed a desire to be buried."
Sometimes, the Free Will Baptists were able to have a visiting pastor. Rev. George S. Bradley, the minister who had been principal of the
Evansville Seminary in the 1870s, preached at the church in September 1890.
The congregation also loaned their church building to the local Methodist congregation during this period when they had no regular services of
their own. The Methodists held meetings in the Free Will Baptist Church, while their building was being remodeled in the summer of 1890.
A series of meetings held in April 1892, was the beginning of a more prosperous time for the Evansville Free Will Baptists. A month later, the local
congregation received another boost from other churches in the state when the Wisconsin Conference of the F. W. Baptists was held in
Evansville. The Conference delegates appropriated $1,500 to remodel the building. A remodeling project was started and the Evansville Review
noted that "The Free Baptist are fitting up their church in fine style."
William Garfield and a Mr. Joslyn were hired to rebuild the steeple and put in new windows. The original 32-paned windows were replaced with
new windows that had two panes each. The Evansville Review reporter liked the improvements, except, he noted: "If the glass had been ground
painted or stained the effect would have been better and the glaring light excluded without the necessity of curtains."
In addition to the remodeling of the windows, the members of the congregation dug a basement to make room for new furnaces to heat the
church. The excavated dirt was used to grade the lots around the church and parsonage.
By September 1892, the Evansville Tribune announced that the Free Will Baptist Church was reopening. A rededication service was held and
there was a large audience to hear a visiting minister, Rev. Dr. Ranson Dunn preach. Dr. Dunn had helped raise money for the building of the
Free Will Baptist Church in Evansville in 1854.
Once the building was remodeled, a new minister was hired by the trustees. Rev. Mr. Morse moved into the parsonage and began to conduct
services. The other clergymen in town gave him a reception, so that Morse would feel welcome in the community, but he did not stay long.
As the church was without a pastor, the Free Will Baptists once again explored the idea of uniting with the "Regular Baptist" congregation in
Evansville. However because of a disagreement in doctrine about serving communion, the two congregations could not reach an agreement and
did not join together.
The Free Will Baptists searched again for a pastor and in April 1893, Rev. J. C. Steele was hired by the church. He remained for three years then
took a position as pastor of the Johnstown church in eastern Rock County.
Rev. M. C. Miner came to the church in May 1896 and served one of the longest terms of any of the ministers. The congregation remodeled the
parsonage for their new minister in August 1896. "By the time it is completed, the house will be quite commodious and modern."
A talented and ambitious man, Rev. Miner renewed church activities with great enthusiasm. In the early months of the year, revival meetings were
held in the church. In the late summer, Rev. Miner conducted tent meetings near Owen's Mill, located just south of Evansville in Magnolia
In early December, Rev. Miner traveled to Johnstown to assist former Evansville pastor, Rev. Steele, with special services. The titles of Miner's
sermons tended to be gentle and loving, "God is Good" and "The Lullaby that Lulls" were advertised as titles of the lectures that he gave.
At Christmas time, the church was filled with people who wanted to see the Christmas program. The Tribune editor believed that the program was
"rather lengthy, recitations and music lasting a full hour and a half, while the distribution of presents took nearly another hour."
The young people of the church planned and prepared a Hindu meal with the assistance of Rev. and Mrs. Miner. The Miners had served as
missionaries to India and instructed the young people about the preparation of curried rice, chick, preserved ginger, fruits and nuts.
Items on the menu were listed as bhat, torcarrie, rute, machau, beshah, methi, cha, and kaphi. The meal cost 15 cents and was served from 5 to
8 p.m. in the City Hall. It was one of the "most attractive" suppers ever given in Evansville, according to the Badger newspaper reporter.
1898 view from the Tribune’s Illustrated Souvenir
Rev. Miner was a man that inspired confidence in his leadership abilities. He was elected by the Wisconsin Convention of the Free Will Baptists to
serve as a delegate to a national conference of the Free Baptist Church in Ocean Park, Maine in the summer of 1898. The following spring, he
was mentioned as a possible candidate for mayor of Evansville, along with Darwin Glidden and P. C. Wilder.
In the March 25, 1899 issue, of the Badger, the editor wrote: "If the Badger had a vote, it would willingly cast it for any one of these gentlemen as
we believe they would strive to do their best to perform any duties they had undertaken." Rev. Miner declined the invitation to run for Mayor.
A major building project that radically changed the appearance of the church building began in the summer of 1899. In May, lighting struck the
church, damaging the northeast corner. One of the structural pieces of oak timber, ten feet long and eight inches square, was split from end to
end. The cornice of the building and the siding was torn away and scattered around the grounds of the church building.
The damage was covered by insurance and as long as the church was in need of repairs, Rev. Miner began a campaign for funds to do a more
extensive remodeling project. Throughout the summer he solicited pledges and began the repairs to the building.
The amount pledged was $1,700 and was considered more than necessary to complete the project. However, as the repairs got underway, more
extensive changes needed to be made. This was "most generally the case in repairing old buildings", the Evansville Review writer noted.
The increased auditorium space made the church an ideal place to hold large public gatherings. In addition to their regular church activities the F.
W. Baptists continued their leadership in the Temperance movement.
1900 Glimpses of Evansville Wisconsin
In April 1900, the Women's Christian Temperance Union held their convention in the newly remodeled church. Noted temperance speakers
advocated total abstinence from the use of liquor. In lighter moments, the audience was entertained by Beth Palmer of Janesville and local
favorite, Robert Hartley, who sang duets for the WCTU convention.
The Evansville School District also used the F. W. Baptist church for an auditorium. Since the school had limited space for programs, local
churches and the Magee Theater were used when the entire student body was cast in an "entertainment". Already crowded for classroom space,
there was not enough room at the school when a large audience of parents and friends was expected.
Rev. Miner completed one of the F. W. Baptist church's most successful ministries in May 1902. Miner left Evansville to become the pastor for
three Free Will Baptist Churches in Ohio. He had been asked to serve at two churches he had led before coming to Evansville. The Evansville
Review noted that "It is a comfort to a minister to be called again to serve a people whom he loved and served before."
The Enterprise praised his work for the Evansville church. "Rev. Mr. Miner has done a great work in this city, especially for the F. W. Baptist
church, in his six short years stay". The article recalled the "very low despondent condition" of the church when Rev. Miner arrived in Evansville.
Through Miner's efforts, the church building had been entirely rebuilt in a modern style that would serve future congregations. The Enterprise
article also recalled that Miner had "almost wholly rebuilt the parsonage into a very comfortable, modern home for himself, as well as his
Before Miner left, the trustees began the search for a new minister. They chose Rev. Ellen A. Copp, of Hillsdale, Michigan, the first woman to ever
serve as a permanent pastor in an Evansville church.
Ellen Copp was the widow of a prominent professor at the Free Will Baptist college in Hillsdale, Michigan. According to the newspaper, the
Enterprise, she was a "lady of great ability and culture who will be very welcome to our city." Her two sons, Wayland and Fred, accompanied her
to their new home and enrolled in the University of Wisconsin to continue their education.
When she preached her first sermon in early May 1902, she was greeted by a large audience who were curious to hear the newly hired woman.
Those who heard Rev. Copp speak gave her good reviews.
Ellen Copp was a well educated woman and a widow and these two characteristics gave her freedom and opportunity to participate in activities
beyond the realm of many women of the time. She proved to be the guiding force in the church and in professional women's organizations in the
city during the next three years.
One of her first official duties was to preach the Memorial Day service for the veterans of the Civil War organization, the Grand Army of the
Republic, and the auxiliary organization, the Women's Relief Corps. She was to substitute for Rev. Miner who had already moved to Ohio. No
woman had ever delivered the Memorial Day sermon at the annual Evansville ceremony.
Although Rev. Copp was a member of the Women's Relief Corps and her husband had been a soldier and a member of the G. A. R., she
recognized her unique status as a woman preaching to an audience of Civil War veterans. She was hesitant to deliver the sermon for the service
until she received a letter from the G.A.R. granting their approval. The veterans unanimously voted that she participate as the presiding minister.
One of the activities that gained much attention in the local press was Rev. Copp's participation in Evansville's Professional and Business
Women's organization. She was frequently asked to speak at their meetings. Her speeches reflected Rev. Copp's belief that working women
would eventually be the ones to solve the social and industrial problems of society.
She was greatly admired by her own congregation. Their approval of Rev. Copp was evident in 1904, when she joined Della Bennett, and Allen
and Margaret Baker in a tour of the Egypt and the Holy Land. The four had been chosen as delegates to the International Sunday School
The Wisconsin Sunday School Association, the oldest Sunday School Association in the United States, held annual conventions and presented
programs to help local churches strengthen Sunday Schools and musical programs. They also selected delegates to the International Conference
at their state meetings. Evansville was honored by having four delegates chosen for the 1904 trip.
Since Ellen Copp planned to travel for at least six months, she gave the Free Will Baptist congregation here resignation. However, she had so
endeared herself to the people, that they gave her a leave of absence instead and asked her to resume her duties at the church once she
The congregation gave her a reception and wished her a pleasant and safe voyage to the Old World. On March 8, 1904, the group left New York
on a North German steamer enroute to Egypt. They visited many of the Biblical sites in the Holy Land during their trip.
After the delegates returned to Evansville, Rev. Copp used the experiences from her trip as the focal points of her sermons. One attempt to
advertise her programs, unintentionally misled Ellen Copp's anticipated audience.
When she wrote a news release advertising an "Illustrated" sermon, many people arrived at the church expecting to see photographs of her visit.
The following week, in the Badger newspaper Mrs. Copp apologized for the misunderstanding and explained that the illustrations were verbal
descriptions of scenes and events in Palestine, rather than pictures.
Ellen Copp's own success as a minister made her sensitive to the plight of other talented women who were discriminated against in gaining access
to the pulpit. She was an advocate for the participation of women in church services. One of her friends, Lucy Bell Biglow, had received training
at the Cumnock School of Oratory at Northwestern University.
At the F. W. Baptist Church Christmas program in 1904, Mrs. Copp asked Lucy to recite "The Angels and Shepherds" from "Ben Hur". The
program was so well received that it encouraged Lucy Biglow and several friends to develop musical and dramatic programs that were presented
at the Magee Theater.
In January 1905, after serving the Evansville congregation for nearly three years, Rev. Copp submitted her resignation. She had decided to move
to Madison to be close to her two sons who were attending the University. "Evansville loses in her, one of its favored women, and the Baptist
society of which she was pastor, a strong, faithful and most efficient helper," the Evansville Review recorded.
Rev. Copp moved to Madison in late March 1905 and three months later her son, Fred, died suddenly. There was an outpouring of support for
her from the Evansville community. Through the years, Rev. Copp continued to keep close ties with friends in Evansville and returned to the local
church on several occasions, preaching funerals for older members of the congregation when there was no F. W. Baptist minister available.
The Rev. A. B. Parry became the new pastor of the Free Will Baptist Church after Rev. Copp's resignation in 1905. During his administration, the
church continued an old tradition of cooperation with the other Evansville churches in the annual week of prayer held in January of each year.
The ministers used topics suggested by the Evangelical Alliance for their themes. "For a revival which shall convince and convict the unsaved."
was the subject of the service in the F. W. Baptist Church. during the week of prayer held in 1906.
The regular schedule of services at the F. W. Baptist Church included Sunday services at 10:30 a.m. and in the evening at 7 p.m. The Sunday
School met after the morning service and the young people's group met an hour before the evening service. A meeting of the men of the
congregation was held on Sunday afternoons, while the women held meetings of their Missionary Society in the homes of members.
Rev. Parry resigned in 1908 and was replaced by the Rev. L. E. Seeley who stayed at the church for only a few months. In March 1909, Rev.
Ellen Copp was once again asked to become the pastor of the church.
During the time that she had been away from Evansville, Rev. Copp had written a book. It was published in 1909 under the title, "A History of the
Bible". The 184-page book was dedicated "to the young women of the Christian Association of Wisconsin University."
Ellen Copp had attempted to condense the ideas and history of the Bible into an easily understood work. An Evansville Review article about the
new book stated : "Through the entire work a spirit of frankness permeates, which intermingling with the terse and choice phraseology, makes it a
valuable historical record for the student. The work reflects credit on the author and will prove a worthy addition in any library."
Perhaps because she wanted to continue writing, a condition of her new contract with the Evansville Free Will Baptist Church was that Rev. Copp
would remain only one year. Easter Sunday of 1910 was the date of her final sermon for the second term Rev. Copp served in Evansville.
Once again, the Business Woman's Association gave Ellen Copp a farewell supper in late March 1910 and the young people of the church also
gave her a reception to say goodbye to their pastor.
In addition to his duties in Evansville, Rev. C. H. Myers was also was the state president of the Free Baptist Church Mission Board. He was a
frequent speaker at F. W. Baptist conventions and for four years was asked to preside over the annual meetings.
In June 1912, Rev. Myers attended the Wisconsin Free Will Baptists' state convention held at Allenville. The discussion centered around the
union of the Free Baptists with the Regular Baptists of Wisconsin.
When he returned from the meeting a vote was taken by the F. W. congregation to see if they would unite with the Evansville "Regular Baptists".
The approval required that 90% of those voting agreed to join together. The vote fell short and once again the two congregations remained
In February 1913, the church held its annual meeting and elected officers. Job Miles, D. H. Patchin, Carl Carlson and James Kile were named to
the Finance Committee. Mrs. James Kile was elected Clerk and Mrs. A. Peebles treasurer. The trustees announced that there would be Easter
Services and a Livingston centennial honoring the great missionary, David Livingston, would be held. Lizzie Miles was put in charge of the special
Prayer meetings were held in the home of Mr. and Mrs. W. E. Hatfield. Their son, Lyle, had attended Hillsdale College, graduating in 1912 to
become a Free Baptist minister. He had preached his first sermon in Evansville while the Rev. Myers was attending an out-of-town meeting.
In April 1913, Myers resigned from the church to accept the call of a church in Adrian, Michigan. There was no new pastor and church members
took on the responsibility for the Sunday School and finding substitute speakers.
The congregation began to once again look at merging the two Baptist Churches in Evansville. The last Sunday in April 1913, the F. W. Baptist
Church congregation voted to unite with the First Baptist Church. On the same day, the congregation of the First Baptist Church agreed to unite
with the F. W. Baptists. The officers of both churches resigned and a joint business meeting was held the following Monday evening. A new board
of trustees and other officers was elected from the united congregations. After 35 years of negotiations, and stalled agreements as to doctrine,
there was unity.
When the First Baptist Church and the Free Will Baptist Church combined their congregations in the spring of 1913, they chose to use the church
building at the corner of First and Church Street that had been built by the First Baptist congregation in 1904. The Free Will Baptist Church built
in 1854 was for sale.
For nearly a year, from May 1913 to March 1914 the Free Will Baptist Church sat empty. The local Free Methodist congregation made an offer to
purchase the vacant building.
The Free Methodists took control of the Evansville Seminary in 1880 until 1914 they held church services in the Seminary Chapel. The college
pastor served as minister of the church.
The local congregation was part of the national organization, the Free Methodist Church in America. The Free Methodists had organized in 1860
and in the beginning were led by Bishop Benjamin Titus Roberts. He was a Methodist minister from Buffalo, New York who led a reform movement
based on Holiness and Perfectionism within his own church. His radical views led to the formation of the Free Methodist organization.
Roberts was also a champion for freedom and women's suffrage. The Free Methodist Church emphasized human freedom from slavery; freedom
and simplicity in worship; free seats in church, so that the poor would not be discriminated against; and freedom from materialism in order to help
the poor. The church also emphasized education for both men and women.
The Free Methodists organized several colleges and seminaries to ensure that their young people received a Christian education based on
church principals. Most of the schools placed emphasis on training missionaries for home and foreign stations. The President and many of the
teachers at the Evansville Seminary were Free Methodist ministers. Some were evangelists in the National Holiness Association that was strongly
supported by the Free Methodist Church..
In the more than thirty years that they had met in Evansville, the college chapel had been sufficient for the needs of the congregation. Then in the
fall of 1913, after Seminary classes were underway, a great revival started among the students and adult members of the church.
The Seminary annual, the Oriole, called the revival "an extraordinary visitation of the Lord". In the spirit of renewal, Rev. E. J. Roberts, the
Seminary pastor, began a fund raising campaign to purchase the vacant Free Will Baptist Church.
Within a few months, a purchase agreement had been reached with the Baptists and the Free Methodists held their first worship service in the new
building March 8, 1914. A special program of dedication was scheduled at 2:30 in the afternoon, so that members of other Evansville churches
could join the Free Methodists in celebrating their new building.
On the day of the dedication, the regular morning services were held as usual in the Seminary Chapel. In the early afternoon, Rev. Roberts,
Seminary faculty, students and the principal speaker for the event, Free Methodist Bishop W. T. Hogue of Chicago, led the Free Methodist
Congregation from the school chapel, down Church Street, to their new place of worship.
The Oriole pronounced the event an act of Divine Providence. A picture of the church and parsonage was highlighted in the annual. The text
describing the picture said the new church was "a beautiful and commodious structure. It is lighted by electricity and heated by a modern furnace.
The hand of the Lord is upon us for good in Evansville."
The first minister to serve the church was a 1897 graduate of the Evansville Seminary, Rev. E. J. Roberts. He was credited with being the principal
fund raiser for the new building and he had also served on the Board of Trustees of the school. Roberts was minister of the Portage Free
Methodist Church before coming to Evansville.
Once the congregation was settled in the new church, Roberts established a regular weekly schedule of services. Each week there was Sunday
School; a Sunday sermon in the morning and again in the evening; a mid-week prayer service in the church and another at the Seminary; and a
young people's meeting on Sunday evening.
Roberts was also an evangelist and frequently called to speak at revival services in other Free Methodist Churches. Various members of the
Seminary faculty took turns preaching at the church and served as Sunday School Superintendents during Roberts absence.
The Seminary graduating class of 1914 held their baccalaureate service in the church. Seminary President, R. R. Blews, delivered the sermon.
There were 38 graduates in the various department of the school, the largest class that had ever received degrees from the Seminary.
For the first few years after the church was established as a separate building from the Seminary, the minister was reassigned every year. The
assignment of the new pastor usually coincided with the beginning of the Seminary school year because the Conference for the Wisconsin Free
Methodist Churches met in the late summer.
At the summer conference in 1914, a new minister was named for the Evansville church. By October 1914, Rev. Albert. J. Damon, a graduate of
Seminary class of 1894, had replaced Rev. E. J. Roberts as the church's pastor. While Roberts was away on another assignment, his family
remained in Evansville. Mrs. Roberts took charge of the local church's Women's Foreign Missionary Society.
The pattern of special programs that had been held in the Seminary Chapel continued in the new church. At least one week during the month of
November was set aside for revival services. An evangelist of the Free Methodist Church was invited to Evansville for a week of preaching and
exhorting at the seminary chapel and the local church.
Faculty members also preached at the revival services. Some of the students were being trained as ministers and missionaries. Faculty
ministers, missionaries and visiting evangelists served as models to the aspiring pastors.
Missionary speakers who were on furlough were invited to speak in the early winter months. Missionaries that had returned to the United States
were expected to travel to the Free Methodist Churches and urge church members to give financial support for missions. The foreign missionaries
also wanted to encourage young people to prepare for a term in the foreign or home missions.
In January 15, 1914 Mattias Klein, who had served at a mission in Japan, delivered a series of lectures about his experiences. Klein highlighted
his talks with stereoptic photographs taken during his tour. Since Seminary students were discouraged from going to theaters, the theater-like
programs at the church were a special treat.
In late spring another evangelist was invited to give a series of meetings. Popular evangelists were the Rev. Shelhammer from Atlanta, Georgia
and Rev. C. W. Wade from the Illinois district churches.
Other special meetings held in the church included the Quarterly meeting of the Free Methodists held in the Evansville Church in November 1914.
The District Elder, Rev. George W. Endicott lived in Evansville and took charge of the Quarterly meeting at the new church.
Endicott was a native of Richland Center and had been a minister in the Free Will Baptist Church since 1889. The Endicotts had moved to
Evansville so that their children could attend the Seminary. At least five of his seven children graduated from the Evansville Seminary.
In late summer 1915, the Wisconsin Conference reassigned Albert Damon to the Free Methodist Church in Richland Center. He returned to
Evansville several times as an evangelist and within a few years, Damon was named a District Elder of the church.
Rev. E. J. Roberts served his term at the Evansville church once beginning in September 1915. Late that year, the Free Methodists also
negotiated with the Baptists for the purchase of the Free Will Baptist Church parsonage next door to the church. E. J.Roberts and his family
moved into the house. Roberts placed notices in the Evansville Review advertising a "home like church. Our doors swing on hinges of welcome."
At the late summer conference of the Free Methodists held at Oshkosh in 1916, Rev. Roberts was elected the conference evangelist and state
organizer. It was announced that Roberts and his family would continue to live in Evansville.
The district elder Rev. George Endicott, who already lived in Evansville, was assigned as the new pastor of the Evansville church. He continued to
serve the church for two years, although there were frequent substitutions at Sunday services. Seminary faculty, including President, Richard
Blews, Albert Damon, and other ministers were often called to preach.
Rev. Endicott died November 12, 1918 and the funeral services were held at the Evansville church he had served. Blews and Damon preached
the service for Endicott and the Evansville Review declared that the deceased pastor had been one of Evansville's best citizens.
Just two months before Endicott's death, Rev. H. O. Hubbard became the pastor of the Evansville Free Methodist Church. The announcement in
the Evansville Review told of Hubbard's successful career as a minister and called him a "man of unusual strength. Judging from his past record
he will be a good asset both to the Free Methodist Church and to the community."
The Free Methodist Church did not hold the fund raising activities that were popular with other denominations in Evansville. There were no church
suppers, bazaars, concerts, or bake sales. Funds were secured from regular donations by the church members and from collections taken during
evangelistic services that were carried on several times a year.
Evangelists enlivened the regular church activities of the Free Methodist Church and brought in new members. One of the first evangelists to be
called to the Evansville church was Rev. W. J. Bone. A district elder from the Illinois conference of the Free Methodists, Bone had also lived in
Evansville for a few years. His son and daughter-in-law, William Bone, operated the Leota School on South First Street for many years.
Many of the regular pastors were also asked to hold revival meetings at churches. Rev. H. O. Hubbard, who served the Evansville church from
1918 to October 1920 was granted a leave of absence from the local church in February 1920 in order to conduct a revival in Lawrenceville,
Illinois. He reported great success, with audiences that number more than 500 people at each service and a total of 130 converts to the Free
The local church did not have a problem filling the pulpit while their regular minister was away. The Evansville Seminary had a ready supply of
ministers, who served as administrators and teachers. The President of the Seminary, Rev. Richard Blews substituted as Evansville's pastor
during Hubbard's absence.
In September of 1920, Hubbard was named district elder of the Elgin Illinois district and Rev. E. N. Hawley, who had served the Free Methodist
Church of Gillingham, in Richland County, became the Evansville pastor.
Rev. Hawley and his family moved into the church parsonage in early October 1920. The new minister arrived, preceded by his reputation as a
"strong, energetic preacher of much more than average attainments," according to the Evansville Review.
Hawley maintained his post in Evansville until 1923. Then Rev. C. W. Wade, another popular Free Methodist evangelist, accepted a call to the
Evansville church. He had been preaching for over 40 years and was in his early 60s.
Wade was no stranger to Evansville. He had frequently been the leader of revivals at the Church and had often visited at the Evansville
Seminary. The new pastor had also served as the district elder of the Evansville-Platteville district of the church.
While serving the Evansville church, Rev. Wade died unexpectedly in April 1924. For a few months, Mrs. C. W. Wade, who was also a Free
Methodist minister, conducted services at the church, maintaining the same schedule as her husband.
At the Wisconsin Conference meeting in the fall of 1924, Rev. James Keith Peckham was named the pastor of the church. Rev. Peckham would
return to Evansville as pastor several times over the next twenty years. During his first three-year term, the Evansville Seminary closed and it was
a credit to Peckham and the remaining congregation that the church was able to continue to function. The young people's activities and the
church services had been regularly attended by Seminary teachers and students.
Peckham was followed in 1927, by Rev. E. A. Wolfe who was expected to not only serve as pastor, but to find a use for the vacant seminary
buildings. Wolfe was a graduate of the Evansville Seminary theological course.
The list of churches Wolfe had served before coming to Evansville demonstrates the frequency with which Free Methodist ministers were
reassigned. Wolfe had been the pastor of churches in Neillsville, Three Lakes, La Farge, Humbird, Montfort, Livingston, Racine, Kenosha,
Richland Center, Waupaca, Baron and Chetek. Evansville was his thirteenth church in thirty years of service.
One of the first things that Wolfe attempted to do was reopen the seminary and he investigated various junior colleges that might want to relocate.
When he could not find a buyer for the school, Wolfe asked the national trustees of the church to reopen the school as a boarding school for
However, the denomination refused to reopen the seminary and in August 1928 the Free Methodists sold the Seminary buildings and grounds to
W. H. Wyler of Dundee, Illinois and Charles D. Thompson of Elgin, Illinois. Rev. Wolfe's search for someone to purchase the school had ended.
Wyler was also a Free Methodist, but operated the school as a private institution. However, he was asked to be a substitute minister for the Free
Rev. Thomas Donaghue replaced E. A. Wolfe in September 1930. While it was the practice of the Free Methodist Church for pastors to have a
maximum of three year service at any one church, Donaghue served one of the longest terms as pastor. He stayed in Evansville until 1935.
Donaghue was a native of Canada and had immigrated to the United States in 1884 and served churches in Wisconsin and South Dakota. In
1888, Rev. Donaghue became a Free Methodist missionary to China and after two years, he returned to the United States, going once again to
serve churches in South Dakota and later in Nebraska.
After Donaghue's term of five years as the pastor to the Evansville church, he was sent to serve a church in Livingston for one year and a church
in Pardeville from 1936 to 1938. However, the Rev. Donaghue and his family had liked Evansville so much that they decided to spend their
retirement in Evansville.
In 1938 he and his wife moved to a house at 327 South First Street in Evansville. The retirement was very short, as a year later Rev. Donaghue
died. Rev. Donaghue's obituary noted that he had spent more than 57 years as a minister. The funeral services were held at the Free Methodist
Church and former pastor, Rev. J. Keith Peckham preached the service. Donaghue was buried in the Maple Hill cemetery.
In the fall of 1935, Rev. C. F. Olson became the pastor of the church. Like Rev. Peckham, he would also serve several separate terms as pastor
of the local church.
Al Bone, who attended church and Sunday School and was a grandson of one of the first evangelists at the church, recalled that there were no
pianos, organs or other musical instruments in the church. The congregation sang without accompaniment and the singing was so beautiful that
many came to the services just to hear the music.
Students from the Millard School and the Leota School for girls made up a good portion of the Sunday School classes. No matter what the
students' religious affiliations, Leota School owner, Jenny Bone, insisted that the girls attend the Free Methodist Church on Sundays.
Eugene Millard, founder of the Millard School, was also a Free Methodist and a graduate of the Evansville Seminary. Students from the Millard
school also attended the church.
In addition to his Evansville pastorate, Rev. Carl F. Olson, also helped organize a Free Methodist church in Madison. Olson served as pastor to
the Madison church when it started in July 1936.
Rev. Olson also was in charge of three successful revivals at the Evansville Church. The increased attendance and financial support allowed the
church administrator to accumulate sufficient money to repaint the exterior of the church, redecorate the interior and rewire the old building.
According to a Review article in September 1938, Olson also had overseen "considerable improvements made on the parsonage.
When Olson's three-year appointment at the Evansville and Madison churches was coming to an end, the two church groups unanimously
requested that he be returned as pastor. Rev. Olson was recognized as an accomplished administrator. During his time in Evansville, he had
served as the president of the conference Sunday School Board, a members of the board of trustees at Wessington Springs College in South
Dakota and district superintendent of the Young People's Missionary society. When the two churches requested Olson's return, the Wisconsin
Conference granted the members wishes.
Olson organized another set of evangelistic services in the spring of 1938. Revivals began again at the church with Rev. A. L. Whitcomb. He had
been president of the Evansville Seminary from 1895 to 1899. A. L. Whitcomb later became a noted speaker in the National Holiness Association
and was president of the national organization in the 1920s. He was a strong temperance advocate and it was a great credit to the local church
that he accepted an invitation to speak.
The Free Methodists participated in only a few activities with other churches. The women took part in the World Day of Prayer and the pastors
participated in the union Lenten services and Thanksgiving services.
In 1939, when Evansville celebrated the centennial of the settlement, the area churches joined together for a special union service. The
denominations that participated were the Free Methodists, Congregationalists, Baptists, Methodists and the Magnolia Christian Advent Church.
On the morning of the celebration, the air was filled with the sounds of the bells. At the beginning of the union church services, the bells of the
Evansville churches were simultaneously rung as a message that the three-day celebration had officially begun.
In September 1939, the Free Methodist Wisconsin conference sent Rev. C. F. Olson to the church in Chetek. Rev. J. Keith Peckham returned to
Evansville in the fall of 1939 and began his second stint as pastor for the Free Methodists.
Peckham remained in Evansville until the fall of 1942, when he was sent to the Free Methodist Church in Richland Center. Rev. Peckham moved
to Richland Center and was assigned as elder to Wisconsin's northern districts. The district elders were the administrators for the churches and
conducted the regular quarterly meetings.
Rev. Carl F. Olson had returned to Evansville in the late summer of 1942, this time to serve as district elder of the southern section of the church
which included the Milwaukee, Platteville, Livingston, Beaver Dam, Racine, Oshkosh and other southern cities, including Evansville. Olson had
decided to locate in Evansville while he carried on his duties.
The Peckham family, including two daughters, Crystal and Genevieve kept close contact with the Evansville church members and when the girls
were to be married in Richland Center several members of the Evansville church, including, Mrs. C. F. Olson, Mrs. William Bone, Joyce Bone,
Ethel Patterson, Ruth Francis, Alma Clewis and Mrs. Joseph Upton traveled to that city to attend a shower for the girls.
After Peckham was assigned as elder, Rev. H. S. Lower became pastor of the Evansville church, but remained for just one year from the fall of
1942 to the fall of 1943. This was at the height of World War II and the conflict brought new concerns for the church.
Rev. H. S. Lower, the minister of the local Free Methodist Church from October 1942 to the September 1943 was the first non-resident. Lower
had also been placed in charge of the Madison church and he chose to live in Oregon.
In September 1943, another former minister was called back to Evansville. Carl F. Olson served the local Free Methodists for one year.
In September 1944, Rev. H. C. Hansen took charge of the church. Rev. Hansen stayed in Evansville for four years. During Hansen's tenure he
placed special emphasis on adult Sunday School classes. "In the Lord's work we are never too old for Sunday School," Hansen told the Evansville
Review. He also announced special evangelistic preaching services every Sunday evening. During the early 1940s, there were special concerns
for the local and national church. During World War II, the national church had missionaries serving in countries where there was bombing and
fighting and the denomination was also concerned about citizens of the countries where battles were being fought.
One of the principles of the Free Methodist Church was to show Christian love through compassion and service. In addition to their own personnel
serving in missions, the local Free Methodists joined other churches and relief organizations in trying to help get food and clothing to citizens living
in war torn countries in Europe and Asia.
In the spring of 1945, as the World War was ending in Europe, the local congregation heard about the needs of children and adults in the battle
zones. Rev. Hansen and his congregation collected clothing from the Evansville community. The collection point was the Free Methodist
parsonage where the clothing was boxed and mailed to relief workers in Europe.
The Free Methodists also helped to sponsor church radio programs to spread the gospel during the 1940s. By 1945, the national Free Methodist
Church organization was sponsoring a radio program called "Light and Life". Short sermons and music were presented and one of the lead
singers was baritone, Meade Killon, a former Evansville resident. Today "Light and Life" is a magazine published by the Free Methodist Church.
By the late 1940s, the Wisconsin Free Methodists had established a camp in Oregon and when the camp meetings were in session members, the
Evansville church did not hold services. Members of the local church attended services in Oregon.
During the summer the annual church conference was also held at the camp in Oregon and ministers were assigned to churches during the
annual meeting. Following the meetings in the summer of 1948, Rev. H. C. Hansen was transferred and Rev. Edward W. Schweiger was placed in
charge of the Evansville Free Methodist Church. Taking his theme from the radio broadcast, Schweiger advertised the church as the church of
the Light and Life Hour.
Schweiger was pastor for two years and was replaced by Rev. W. J. Warwick. Like other Free Methodist ministers before him, Warwick was an
active participant when the local churches held union services for Lent or Thanksgiving. Warwick, who was also a talented song leader, often led
the musical parts of the services.
At the Free Methodist Church of Wisconsin conference held in Oregon in July 1952, Rev. Warwick was appointed state director of the intermediate
youth for the church. It meant supervising youth camps and other promotional work for the church. The Warwicks planned to move to the village
of Brooklyn to be near the Oregon camp of the church.
Warwick was replaced by Willard Madden Rev. Madden had been serving a church in Sumner, Illinois. Madden, his wife and three sons moved
into the parsonage in August 1952. During this year, another congregation, the Full Gospel church rented the church and shared the building
with the Free Methodists.
At the end of Madden's two-year term, the Wisconsin conference named Rev. A. B. Richards as pastor of the church. He began in August 1954.
and retired in August in 1958.
The next pastor to serve the Free Methodists in Evansville was Wilma Parker. Rev. Parker lived in Fort Atkinson where her husband, Norman, was
an interior decorator and building contractor. The Parkers had previously lived in Rice Lake, Wisconsin. Rev. Parker left in September 1960 and
moved to Boulder Colorado where her husband was working as a building contractor.
Rev. Lewis P. Larson replaced Rev. Parker. Rev. Larson was also a builder-contractor and had just finished building the Free Methodist Church
in Janesville in the summer of 1960. Many in the Evansville church knew Rev. Larson.
Larson had three children and two of them, Allan and Edith were students at the Free Methodist college in Greenville, Illinois. A daughter, Lois,
lived in the parsonage with the pastor and his wife.
When assignments were made at the annual conference of the church held in Oregon in July 1963, Larson was sent to a church in La Farge,
Wisconsin. Rev. J. D. Batson of Milwaukee took charge of the Evansville Church.
The year 1965 was a year of many changes for the Free Methodists in Evansville. When Batson decided he wanted to continue his education in
Milwaukee, Rev. E. L. Boileau took over as leader of the congregation in February of that year. Boileau stayed only two months as the interim
pastor and on April 22, 1965, the church announcement named the third pastor to serve the church that year. Rev. Gaylord Reeves arrived in
Rev. Carl F. Olson also returned to the Evansville church in 1965 to hold a series of Evangelistic services. Since leaving Evansville, he had
served as the Dakota Conference Superintendent and also toured as an Evangelist.
After Reeves' term ended, the church was led by Thomas Wolfe. In 1968, Rev. Wolfe was called on to preach the funeral of Jennie Bone who had
served many years as superintendent at the Sunday School in the Free Methodist Church. Her funeral was held in the church where she had
been described as "the mother of our Sunday School."
Rev. Jeannette Orr was the last resident pastor for the Free Methodist Church. In September 1969, Rev. Orr was sent to Evansville to serve as
pastor of the Free Methodist Church. A minister and evangelist for 45 years, Orr had most recently served a church at Oshkosh. Orr had also
been a pastor in the Rescue Missions in Los Angeles and conducted revival services in churches throughout the United States.
In August 1970, the Free Methodists sold the church to the newest congregation in Evansville, the Grace Independent Baptist Church. The new
church group had been meeting in homes and rented store fronts.
The Grace Independent Baptist Church was organized in August 1968 and the first church class was held at the home of Larry Lauke, a local
pharmacist. Lauke had served his internship in Evansville and then spent several years serving as a missionary pharmacist in Africa. He had
returned to Evansville and entered a partnership in the drug store of Arnold Willis.
The small congregation made a constitution and articles of faith and decided to meet in the homes of its members until a church building became
available. In November 1968, the Grace Baptists called Rev. Fred B. Smith III, a recent graduate of the Bob Jones University in Greenville, South
Carolina, as their first pastor.
In his opening statement to the Evansville Review in August 1968, Rev. Smith said, "Grace Independent Baptist Church will be a fundamental
Baptist church with Sunday worship services and a mid-week prayer service. The church accepts God's Word as its only authority." Smith's first
sermon was preached to 27 people and his theme was "Authority of God's Word over human reasoning."
By 1969, Pearlie Conley was pastor of the Grace Independent Baptist Church. Although, the congregation did not have a building of its own, they
met at Theodore Pestor's residence at the end of Croft Road. A regular schedule of church services, Sunday school, and an evening Bible class
In the spring of 1970, the congregation rented a vacant store at 18 East Main Street and conducted a regular schedule of church services in the
building. They also hired a new minister.
The third pastor to serve the church was Joseph Sollars, Jr. The new minister was the son of an evangelist, Joe Sollars, Sr., who was a farmer-
turned preacher. In April 1970, Rev. Sollars' father conducted a revival service at the new headquarters of the church. The success of the
revival and continued ministry of Joseph Sollars, Jr. allowed the group to find a permanent location for their church.
At about the same time as the Free Methodists were considering closing their church, the newest Evansville congregation was in need of a
building. The two congregations made an agreement on the sale of the building on West Church Street and in August 1970, the Grace
Independent Baptists held their first services in their new church.
The schedule of services was very similar to services that had been held in the church for many years. Sunday School was at 10 a.m., Sunday
worship at 11; youth group at 6:45 p.m. and Bible discussion hour for adults at 6:45 p.m. A prayer and Bible study group met at 8 p.m. on
Like the Free Will Baptists who had originally occupied the building, the new church members practiced baptism by immersion. On August 2,
1970, ten people were baptized at Gibbs Lake, including several members of the Ross family, Elmer Ross, Marie Ross, Sheryl Ross, Forest Ross,
Arlie Ross, Bernice Ross, Ruth Burger, Lynette Schoville, Debbie Hanna and Pam Hanna.
After the congregation purchased the new church they installed a baptistry. Some restoration work was also completed on the 1854 church..
In January 1973, the fourth minister to serve the Grace Independent Baptists, arrived in Evansville. The new pastor was James Ratliff, who was
still a college student. He was in his senior year at the Maranatha Bible College in Watertown, Wisconsin.
Ratliff and his wife, Norma, were natives of Ottumwa, Iowa and had two children. To support his family and pay his way through school, Ratliff
worked as a meat cutter before accepting the leadership of the church in Evansville.
Ratliff successfully completed his degree and graduated cum laude in June 1973. He was ordained at the Evansville church in October of that
year and served the church until June 1977.
For a year, the church was served by Robert Huggins. Then, Rev. Albert J. Krummen came to Evansville in November 1978. Krummen had been
a farmer near Whitewater and at the age of thirty-six was converted and decided to return to college to become a minister. He graduated from
Maranatha Baptist Bible College in June 1978 and became the pastor of the Evansville church a few months later.
The church held a special installation service for their new pastor. Krummen, his wife and two children, Melodie and David moved into the
parsonage next door to the church. He was listed as the pastor of the church until August 31, 1983.
For a few months, no pastor was listed, but church services were held as usual. In June 1984, Lyle Trow became pastor of the church and has
served the church for fourteen years, the longest term of any pastor in the church's history. Trow retired in 1998.
In early 1998 Pastor Ronald F. Gay became the church's pastor. Gay was a graduate of Maranatha Baptist Bible College in Watertown,
Wisconsin. The Gay family, including his wife, Karla and children, Stephen, Samuel, Simeon, Sylvia and Suzannah moved into the church
parsonage just west of the Church.
A major remodeling project, headed by Pastor Gay, was completed in 2013 and the church received the Sally Hardy Eager Historic Preservation
Award, given by the Grove Society of Evansville for the renovation.
Three different church denominations have used the 1854 wood frame building on church street. The Free Will Baptists had the church for the
longest period of time, for sixty years, from 1854 until 1914.
The Free Methodists owned the church for fifty-six years, from 1914 until 1970 and the Grace Independent Baptist Church has owned the church
since 1970. The services held over the years have been remarkably similar, with a strong emphasis on revivals, missionary work, and evangelistic
Free Will Baptist Church 1898
Church Street, Evansville,
Rev. Miner did much of the remodeling work himself. The Enterprise praised
his ambition in the June 23, 1899 edition of the newspaper. "Rev. Miner takes
hold of the work like an old mechanic and is not afraid to sacrifice a little sweat
these days, as well as solicit funds."
In early July, the Enterprise noted the "commodious, handsome and modern
proportions" of the new building. The entire front of the church was changed
and enlarged so that the building was about three times its original size. "The
old original part will be so far in the background when completed it will hardly be
The Badger newspaper reporter said the addition conformed to the style of
architecture of the church, and also increased the size of the building. The
reporter congratulated Rev. Miner on his ability to build "not only congregations
The old pews were taken out and sold. Then, long rows of new "opera style"
seats were installed. The Review said that they were the finest seats in any
church in the city.
The interior was painted and papered and the hardwood floor was polished. A
new rostrum was built in the front of the church with space for the choir and the
minister's pulpit. At the entrance of the church a new reception room was built.
When the new belfrey was completed, the old church bell was raised into place.
A few weeks later, a four-day celebration was held from October 5 to the 8th to
dedicate the refurbished church. Local ministers were invited to speak as well
as Rev. H. M. Ford, D. D., a Free Will Baptist minister from Hillsdale Michigan.
Rev. J. C. Steele, a former pastor, delivered the dedication prayer.
When Rev. Miner gave a financial report at the service and noted a deficiency
of about $350, to complete the cost of the $2100 remodeling project, there
were numerous pledges to complete the necessary funding.
Rev. M. C. Miner
The church trustees began a search for a new minister. The Review noted the excellent spirit of Christian fellowship which existed among the
members of the small church body and wished them success in finding "a good man to carry on the work."
Throughout the summer of 1910, visiting preachers assisted at the Sunday services. Some of the speakers were potential candidates for the
pastor's position. In early August, the Rev. C. H. Myers of Mukwonago preached the Sunday morning service at the church. He was offered the
pastorate and accepted the call to Evansville.
Just as Myers was to begin his work, he came down with a mild case of small pox. His first weeks in Evansville were spent in the parsonage
recovering from the very contagious disease. The parsonage was quarantined and there was no preaching in the church.
By late September, Rev. Myers had recovered. The congregation issued a news release to the Evansville Review that the church and
parsonage had been fumigated "so no one need be afraid to visit the parsonage or attend the church service." Although it was not the sort of
beginning most ministers would want for their entrance into a new community, Rev. Myers and his wife, Jessie, quickly overcame their ominous
Myers was one of nine children born to Rev. W. H. H. and Betsy Myers. His father had helped establish the Free Will Baptist Church in
Michigan. C. H. Myers had attended the Hillsdale College in Michigan, graduating in 1892. He had served churches in Burlington, Reading,
Lansing, and Capac, Michigan and Kingston, Ill. He had also served at Big Bend, Wisconsin before coming to Evansville. His wife, Jessie, was
an accomplished vocal soloist.
January 22, 1914, p. 8, col. 2,
Evansville Review, Evansville,