It would be impossible to say when the first religious services were held as in the pioneer days a half dozen adults would gather together for Christian services. Evidently, missionaries connected with the Methodist Church and other Protestant denominations occasionally visited the settlers and gave religious comfort and moral support. It is known that Elijah Evans gathered a few of the settlers together to hold services in his house near the present site of Urbana.
URBANA CHRISTIAN CHURCH
It was in Urbana that the first Christian Church in Benton County was organized. The firs known preacher came to Benton County in 1843 or 1844. His name was Nathan Clark. He organized the church in the home of Joseph Remington in 1846. Mr. Remington came from Indiana and bought the land now (1976) owned by Henry Rinderknect. The meetings were held in the various homes and later in a little log meeting house, built near the cemetery on the land donated by Joseph Remington for this purpose. He also donated the land for the cemetery. The members decided they wanted a better church building nearer town. In the summer and fall of 1858, the lumber was sawed at a mill near the church owned by James Down. The church was built where the church now stands. On Christmas Day, 1858, it was dedicated by N. A. McDonnell. The church was served by eight ministers during the next ten years. No minister served the church from 1868 to 1880.
In January, 1880, N. A. McConnell revived the church and on December 8, 1880, the incorporation papers were filed. For the next ten years various transient preachers served the church. Money was hard to come by at this time and church repairs were left undone. From 1892 until 1894, O. M. Johnson served the church and later Frank Mutchler. It was during the ministry of F. m. Wood in 1911 that a basement was added to the church.
In the early hours of Easter Morning, 1913, the church was destroyed by fire. Plans were started soon for a new church building and in May, 1914, the new church was dedicated in the presence of a large gathering of citizens of Urbana and the surrounding community. The building, a handsome brick structure erected at a cost of $7,000, was dedicated free from debt.
During the years there have been many ministers serving the church and in 1960 Rev O. E. Barrow served the church and a new addition built and dedicated. It was a $24,000 educational facility.
In 1976 the church basement main room, kitchen and halls were re-plastered, ceilings lowered, new lighting, painting, and the floors carpeted. The stairs leading to the sanctuary, minister’s office, and halls were carpeted, too.
Pastor Jim Lorenson came in May of 1973. He is doing a fine job of serving a three-church parish; Oak Grove, Urbana, and Prairie Creek. The Urbana Church held an open house on Sunday afternoon, April 4, observing the 130th anniversary of the Christian Church in Urbana.
ST MARY’S PARISH DATES TO 1872
St. Mary’s Church, Spencer’s Grove, was for many years the only Catholic Church in the territory between the Cedar River to the west, the Wapsipinnican to the east, Cedar Rapids and Marion to the south, and Independence to the north.
The exact year the first church, a frame building, was erected is not known. It was either 1872 or 1873. Previous to this in 1870, Holy Mass was said regularly at the home of Anthony Wahl. The first regular collection is dated January 16, 1870, and amounted to $1.15.
The ten prime movers for the building of a church were Michael Zieser, Nicholas Michael, another N. Michael, William Leaven, Peter Sand, John Gaasch, John Kramer; all from the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg; Anthony Wahl, Ferdinand Smith, and Anthony Ernst of German nationality. It is said that each of these paid $100 to build the church.
The first burial in the local cemetery was a little girl, aged five years, in 1870. Sophie, the daughter of H. and L. Drilling, met a tragic death by fire.
On February 25, 1898, a contract was made and entered by and between Chas. Wahl, Chas. Zeiser, John Kleitsch, B. F. Smith, and William Todd for the building of a new frame church upon the grounds where the old one stood. The consideration was $1900.
In 1919 and 1928, pew rent was paid by forty-four families.
The parish was incorporated in 1912 and the first meeting of the directors of the corporation was held August 15, 1912.
The last services were held in this church on Sunday, October 26, 1969.
Dedication services for the new church in town were on November 2, 1969.
The new church was built on the square known as the Urbana Park. The land was deeded to St. Mary’s Parish in 1949 by the late Mrs. Edith Alberts. It is located at the west end of the business district adjacent to the Urbana Savings Bank.
URBANA UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
Methodism in Benton County was introduced with the first settlers. It is known that Elijah Evans gathered a few of the families in his home near Urbana for services in about 1847. It is also known that the Methodist societies of Urbana and Bear Creek churches, now called the United Methodist Women’s Society, were organized under the leadership of the Rev. W. W. Martin. The first Sunday School in connection with the church was also held in the Elijah Evans home at approximately the same time.
The group soon grew in number. Rumor has it that the Evans family added a room to their home to serve as a meeting place for the church, Sunday School, and Society meetings. Others say that a small building was erected. In about 1903, under the leadership of many of these people, a new church was built on a corner lot in the NE part of town where Myrtle Porter now lives. This church was dedicated on Christmas of 1903. This was a frame structure with a high board fence surrounding the lot. Inside the lot was a hitching rail for the horses, buggies, and surreys.
Some of the early members of the church were the Theodore Remers, Aquilla Mossman, Delmar Scofield, the families of J. D. Jess, Fred and Frank Burrell, Ted Kelty, George Hawley, Charles and Hayden Cross, Will Petro, Addie and Levi Mossman, Mary Wyckoff, Will Cook, the Eatons, Johnathon Black, Lela and Sheldon Hawley.
Pianists and Organists of the church have been Ella Haines, wife of Theo., Lela Hawley Matthews, Birdie Moore and Augusta France. Those presently (1976) serving are Laura Mae Hicks, Mildred Williams and Ray Dripps. Aquilla Mossman was Sunday School Superintendant and director of a large adult choir. Some of the early Sunday School teachers were: Suie Burrell, primary class; Mrs. Scofield, girls’ intermediate class; Mrs. Jess (Ora) Burrell, boys’ intermediate class; Mrs. J. D. (Josephine) Burrell, adult class; Lucy Cross, Dora Kelty, and Kittie Remer, girls’ high school classes; Jess Matthews, boys high school class.
Some of the early pastors of the church were the Reverends Cleveland, Chaimberlain, Dole, Bare, Norton, Scott, and Delahooke. The Rev. R. E. J. Thompson, father of Evelyn Guernsey, spent his retirement years in Urbana serving the congregation and community in many helpful ways.
The Urbana School held their first grade class in the church during 1916. In the early morning hours of New Years’ Day, 1917, the church burned. It was thought an overheated furnace caused the fire. All records of the first church were destroyed.
Plans were made immediately for re-building. The J. D. Burrell family donated a lot near the business district and the new brick church was dedicated June, 1918. Two of the beautiful stained glass windows are in memory of J. D. Burrell and the Rev. A. W. Leazer, a former pastor who lost his life in the first World War.
Many improvements have been made in the past two decades. After remodeling the sanctuary, new pulpit furniture, baptismal fount, electric organ, piano and carpeting were added. A new heating plant was installed, the basement carpeted, and a new piano placed there.
The Methodist Episcopal Church united with the Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1971, and is now named the United Methodist Church. Pastor Richard Ludden of Waterloo is presently serving the congregation.
FIRE DESTROYS URBANA CHURCH
January 2, 1917
The Methodist Church of Urbana burned yesterday morning between seven and seven thirty. No cause of fire is known at this time, but it is thought it was due to a defect in the furnace. Mrs. M. E. Fowler, whose home is next door, discovered the fire and gave the alarm. Assistance was soon on hand and every effort made to save the building and it’s contents. The piano and a few small articles were gotten out of the burning building, itself a total loss. The homes in the immediate vicinity of the church were also in danger. Geo. Dingman, who was seriously ill, was removed to the home of his son, Dr. Dingman, as his own home was in danger of burning. The Methodist Church was a frame building, and was erected about 14 years ago, being dedicated 13 years ago last Christmas. Rev. N. F. Norton is the present pastor of the church.