History of Marion County, Iowa by Wright and Young (1915)

Chapter XVI - Church History

There is probably no phase of a county's history so difficult to write as the story of its religious development. Most of the pioneers were believers in the doctrines of some denomination and church societies were organized at an early date. But those who founded them have nearly all passed from the scene of their earthly activities; the early records of the congregations were porrly kept and in many instances have been lost or destroyed; pastors come and go, rarely remaining long nough in one place to become fully acquainted with the history of the church over which they for a time preside, so that the information that should be included in a chapter on church history is, in many instances, impossible to obtain. From the most reliable sources available, it is practically certain that the first people to hold religious services in Marion were the


Early in the summer of 1843, only a short time after the first settlers located in the county, a few Methodists in which is now Indiana Township sent an invitation to Dr. James L. Warren to preach there. The doctor sent an appointment for a certain Sunday, but upon his arrival at the house of Noah Whitlatch, where the meeting was to have been held, he was surprised to learn that the congregation had grown tired of waiting for him while he was walking from his home on Lake Prairie and had disbanded. Runners were sent out through the neighborhood and that evening a goodly number collected to listen to his sermon, which was one of the first--if not the first--ever delivered in the county. |277|

About 1845 a Methodist minister named Neur came to Knoxville and after holding meetings in private residences for a time organized the First Methodist Church of Knoxville. Meetings were held in the courthouse and elsewhere until October 25, 1852, when a meeting was held at the house of E. G. Stanfield for the purpose of taking the necessary steps for the erection of a church. Among those present were Rev. A. W. Johnson, Conrad Walters, John Butcher, Levi Clearwater, James Cunningham, John R. Palmer, A. W. Collins and Luke McKern.

A building committee was appointed and trustees were elected, as it was necessary for the church to have trustees before it could receive or convey property. On January 21, 1853, the following entry was made in the public records by order of the county judge:

"On this day a petition of E. G. Stanfield and forty others is presented, praying of the county judge to grant to the trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church two lots lying in the City of Knoxville, in this county, said lots being the property of the county. After hearing said petition, and having examined the said matter, and being fully advised in the premises, it is ordered that said petition be granted; and it is further ordered by the county judge that the following named lots be donated to the Methodist Episcopal Church--provided the said church will build a church in said town of Knoxville--to-wit, lots 6 and 7 in block 28, in the said town of Knoxville. -- Joseph Brost, County Judge"

A small brick building was erected upon the lots donated by the conty and was dedicated on May 28, 1856, by Rev. John Jay. About two years later this house was sold to the United Presbyterians and a two-story brick church was erected on the lot at the northwest corner of Fourth and Montgomery streets, where the present house of worship stands. This edifice was 40 by 60 feet and cost about six thousand dollars. During the next twenty years the congregation lost a number of members through the formation of other churches in the county, as well as several by death and removal. Then came an era of prosperity, beginning in the early '80s and continuing till the present time.

The corner-stone of the present church edifice ws laid with appropriate ceremonies on August 29, 1895, and the building was formally dedicated on April 12, 1896. From the inscription on the corner-stone it is learned that the building committee was composed of Rev. W. E. Mair, S. L. Collins, J. H. Auld and John McMillan. |278| The structure has a stone foundation, with brick superstructure, slate roof and art glass windows. It is the home of one of the strongest church organizations in the county.

A Methodist Episcopal class of eight persons was organized in Washington Township in 1852 by a minister named Johnson. The first class leader was T. L. Strong, who lived just across the line in Lucas County. Meetings were held at first at the house of Henry Molesworth, a short distance east of the present town of Columbia. After that town was laid out a neat house of worship was erected there and the Methodist Episcopal Church of Columbia is still a power for good in that community.

The Methodist Episcopal Church of Dallas was organized in the fall of 1853 at the house of Joel Campbell, with a membership of fourteen, though the Rev. Mr. Johnson had held services in the neighborhood for a year or more prior to that date, preaching at the homes of some of the settlers or in the schoolhouse. Rev. John Jay was the first pastor. In 1855 a church edifice was erected at a cost of $2,200. This church is still in existence and is in a fairly prosperous condition.

Although the town of Red Rock was noted in the early days for its turbulent characters and rowdyism, there were enough Methodists settled in the vicinity to organize a church. The early history of the congregation appears to have been lost, so that the exact date of the organization of the church cannot be given. About 1855 or 1856 a substantial brick house of worship was erected and a Sunday school was organized.

Probably the next oldest Methodist Episcopal Church in the county is the one at Otley. It was organized in 1855 by Rev. R. B. Allender with fifteen members. Among the original members of this church were Boyd and William Donnel and their wives, the Honnolds, the Pendroys and Mr. and Mrs. John Young. Rev. R. B. Allender was the first pastor. The meetings were held in the Summit schoolhouse until 1870, when a frame church, 30 by 40 feet, was erected at a cost of $2,500.

In 1867 Doctor Beal and his wife, M. M. Gornter and wife, and R. S. Robinson and wife--six persons in all--organized themselves as the Methodist Episcopal Church of Maryville. Meetings were held at the thomes of the members or in the schoolhouse for about seven years, when a frame church was erected at a cost of over two thousand dollars. It was dedicated on September 6, 1874, by Bishop Gilbert Haven. The membership at that time was about twenty. |279| Although this church has never been strong, either in numbers or financially, it has been a source of comfort to its members.

The First Methodist Episcopal Church of Pella was organized on May 21, 1855, by Rev. J. Brooks, at that time the presiding elder of the district. Among the first members were Green T. Clark, W. L. Baston, J. F. Woodside, John B. and Robert Hamilton, John Greenwood and Horace Strickland. A house of worship was erected in 1857, but the congregation was unable to pay for it and it was sold for debt in 1862. Almost three years later a second church was erected, but it was too small to meet the demands of the growing society and a larger one was built in 1867. The contractor failed to do the work according to agreement and in 1870 the house was sold, the proceeds being applied to the payment of debts and repairing the old building. About 1879 a parsonage was built at a cost of $950, and later the present house of worship, near the railroad station, was erected. Here regular services are held and a Sunday school is maintained.

The Pleasantville Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in January, 1872, and soon afterward a frame church building was erected at a cost of over three thousand dolalrs. A small class had been formed as early as 1846 at the home of Samuel Tibbett. The Pleasantville church has since erected a handsome brick edifice, and the congregation is in a prosperous state, both the church services and the Sunday school being well attended.

In 1874 a Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in Union Township with J. E. Rees, D. B. Horsman, Jasper Nye, H. D. Lucas and their wives, Mrs. Ann Harsin, Mrs. May E. Worthington and Miss Emma Worthington as the charter members. Rev A. H. Shaffer was the first pastor. For a time meetings were held at the Rees schoolhouse. Then a frame church building was erected near the northwest corner of section 4, about half a mile northwest of the schoolhouse.

There are also Methodist Episcopal churches at Bussey, Durham, Flagler, Hamilton, Harvey and Tracy; old Bethel Church, in Clay Township; Zion Church, in Dallas; Mount Olive and Zion churches, in Indiana; one at Gosport, one in section 36, in the northeastern part of Knoxville Township; Eden Church, about three miles west of the City of Knoxville; Bethel Church, in the northwesten part of Lake Prairie Township, and Concord Church, in the northeastern part of Washington Township.

The first Methodist Protestant Church in the county was organized at Wheeling in January, 1874, the Polsons, Hardins, William |280| Reed, John and Samuel Trent and Simon Walker being some of the original members. Rev. Samuel Talbott was one of the first ministers. Since then Methodist Protestant churches have been established at Bussey, Attica and Gosport.

The Free Methodist Church of Knoxville was organized in 1898, when a modest frame house of worship was erected at the northeast corner of Sixth and Marion streets, where the congregation still holds meetings. There was formerly a Free Methodist Church a short distance south of Flagler, and there is an African Methodist Episcopal Church at Hawkeye. Efforts have been made to organize an African Methodist Episcopal Church at Knoxville, but at the beginning of the year 1915 nothing definite had been accomplished.


Although the Methodists were the first to hold services in the county, the Baptists were the first to organize a regular church society. Rev. M. J. Post organized what was known as the Aurora Missionary Baptist Church at the house of Israel Curtis, five miles south of Pella, in December, 1844. In April, 1854, the congregation voted to remove to the town of Pella, chiefly because the Baptist convention had a short time previously decided to establish Central College at that point. The present church building, a substantial brick edifice located on Independence Street, between Main and Broadway, was dedicated in August, 1874, by Rev. L. A. Dunn, president of the college. It cost about eleven thousand dollars and is known as the First Baptist Church of Pella.

The Knoxville Baptist Church was organized in October, 1845. Among the original members were H. C. Conrey, Lawson G. Terry, Martha Terry, Luther C. Conrey, M. J. Post and Anna Jones. Rev G. W. Bond was the first pastor and Dr. L. C. Conrey was the first clerk. In July, 1851, Rev. G. W. Bond, C. L. Ryley and W. D. Everett were appointed messengers or delegates to attend the meeting of the Des Moines Association at Agency City and make application for admission to the association, which was granted. By vote of the congregation in 1854 the church withdrew from the Des Moines Association and united with the Central. In August, 1855, the society purchased a lot at the northwest corner of First and Robinson streets and a little later S. G. Hunt (then pastor), H. C. Whitney and R. B. Mitchell were appointed a building committee. These brethren decided upon a brick edifice, 40 by 60 feet, which was completed at a cost of a little over four thousand dollars and is still used by the congregation.|281|

The Coal Ridge Baptist Church was established in 1852, with Rev. Warren D. Everett as the first pastor. Among the first members were George W. and Louisa Martin, Sylvester McCown, who was for a long time the church clerk, J. S. Everett and David Durham. For several years meetings were held in the schoolhouse or at the homes of the members, but in 1873 a small frame house of worship was erected near the northwest corner of section 23, a short distance from the old Village of Coalport. The Coal Ridge Church is still in existence, but it has lost much of its former prestige through the death or removal of the active members.

The Second Baptist Church of Pella was organized in 1858, with eighteen charter members, most of whom withdrew from the First Baptist Church because of a difference of opinion on three subjects, which they considered vital, to wit: 1. The members of the Second Church were opposed to slavery. 2. They were opposed to the sale of intoxicating liquors under the license system. 3. They were opposed to all secret societies. In 1862 the society bought the old Methodist Episcopal Church and expended a considerable sum of money in repairs, making the total cost of the building about one thousand dollars.

In February, 1871, the Otley Baptist Church was organized with ten members, viz: J. T. Hendershott, J. B. Hendershott, Mrs. Penninah Hendershott, M. W. Yowell and wife, William White and wife, Mrs. C. Finley, Mrs. Sophronia Yowell and Columbus Long. Steps were immediately taken to erect a house of worship, and in November, 1871, a handsome frame church was dedicated by Rev. William Wood. This structure cost $4,000 and is still used by the church and Sunday school.

Christians or Disciples

The Christian Church of Knoxville is the strongest organization of this denomination in the county. It was organized a few years prior to the bgeinning of the Civil war and its first place of worship was the old church edifice that had been erected by the Congregationalists. In 1874, chiefly through the efforts and liberality of Larkin Wright, a commodious brick church was built on Main Street, two blocks west of the public square, on the lot occupied in 1914 by George H. Ramsay's residence. Some years later a division occurred, a number of the members withdrawing and worshiping in the old frame Presbyterian Church, on the site now occupied by the Knoxville Public Library. About 1910 the two factions united |282| again and erected the present magnificent church edifice on West Main Street, at a cost of approximately thirty thousand dollars. This is no doubt the finest church building in the county and the congregation is in a flourishing condition.

Rev. Hiram Moon held services in Washington Township as early as 1849 and organized a Christian Church, the first religious society in that township, with thirteen members. He preached the first sermon at his own house on Sunday, March 4, 1849.

John P. Glenn, one of the early settlers in Pleasant Grove Township, was a minister of the Christian denomination and held meetings at various places in the county. In 1849 he organized the Christian Church of Pleasantville, with twelve members, among whom were himself and wife, James W. Gill, William F. Jordan, Isaac Metcalf, William Elder and their wives. In 1871 a frame house of worship was erected at a cost of something over three thousand dollars.

About 1860, John, Michael and Gibson Shook, Joseph Metcalf, William Farley and a few others organized the Christian Church of Wheeling. Meetings were held in the schoolhouse for several years, but in 1867 a house of worship was erected at a cost of $1,400.

A Christian Church was organized in Union Township in 1878 and services were held in the Prickett schoolhouse. Englewood Church, in the southern part of Knoxville Township, was organized as a Christian society some years ago, and there is also a Christian Church at Dallas.


The first society of this faith in the county, of which there is any record, was the United Presbyterian Church of Knoxville, which was organized on November 16, 1853. Among the first members were the Blacks, the McMeekins, the McKinnis, Gaston, Stewart, and Henderson families. This society purchased the old Methodist Church building and used it as a house of worship until 1865, when a new church edifice was built at the corner of Sixth and Montgomery streets at a cost of $3,000. It was dedicated by Rev. D. F. Bonner, then pastor. After a somewhat eventful career the church finally disbanded and the building in 1814 was used as a livery stable, having been removed to a lot on Main Street.

On December 17, 1853, the First Presbyterian Church of Knoxville was organized with twelve members, among whom were Dr. W. B. Young and his wife, Joseph M. Clark, Joseph H. Morrison and several members of the Welch family. Dr. W. B. Young and |283| James Welch were the first elders and Rev. George M. Swan was the first pastor. In the summer of 1858 a frame church was erected on the corner now occupied by the Knoxville Public Library and was used as a home for the congregation until 1884, when the present brick edifice just across Third Street from the old church was erected. On September 27, 1858, a Sunday school was organized in connection with this church, with Jacob Elliott as the first superintendent.

The First Presbyterian Church of Pella was organized on August 9, 1869, with ten members, five of whom belonged to the Voorhees family. The others were A. F. and Lucy N. Smith, Elizabeth Smith, Mary T. Morgan and Clara O. Vanderley. Rev. John Fisher was the first pastor. In 1872 a frame house was built at a cost of about three thousand dollars and was dedicated by Mr. Fisher. This church has never fulfilled the anticipation of its founders, and several times in its history has been without a pastor and failed to hold regular meetings. There is a United Presbyterian Church at Newbern, established many years ago.

United Brethren

Although this denomination has never played any conspicuous part in the religious history of the county, it was one of the first to enter the field in the organization of churches. Among the early settlers of Franklin and Dallas townships were a number of persons of this faith. In 1851 a minister named Demoss held services among those people and organized a society in each township, but no houses of worship were erected, the meetings being held in the schoolhouses.


The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Knoxville was organized on November 26, 1853--the same day the United Presbyterian Church was formed. Joseph Brobst and wife, Abraham Rizor and wife, Henry Marthorn and wife and James G. Young and wife were among the original members. Rev. F. R. Scherer was the first pastor. Judge Brobst furnished a lot and erected a building which was old to the church. In the course o time the congregation became so weakened by death and removal of members that the church was disbanded.

Most of the early settlers in the western part of Dallas Township were Germans, part of whom were Lutherans in their religious |284| belief, and in 1854 a church of that faith was organized there by Rev. J. F. Shearer. About sixteen families united with the church, but unfortunately Mr. Shearer could speak only in the English language and some of his people could not thoroughly understand him. A little later Rev. Wilhelm Hounderdosse, a German minister, succeeded Mr. Shearer and from that time the church prospered. This congregation has a commodious house of worship and a schoolhouse in the northwestern part of the township.


On July 21, 1853, the County Court of Marion County issued the following order:

"On this day a petition of A. B. Miller and others is presented, praying the county judge to grant to the trustees of the First Congregational Church of Knoxville two lots lying in the town of Knoxville, in this county, the same being the property of the county. After hearing said petition and having examined the matter, and being fully advised in the premises, it is ordered that said petition be granted; and it is further ordered by the county judge that the following named lots, Nos. 7 and 8, in block 9, all being and lying in the Town of Knoxville, Marion County, Iowa, be sold and the amount sold for be set apart and donated to the First Congregational Church of Knoxville, provided said church will be built in the said Town of Knoxville. -- Joseph Brobst, County Judge."

The two lots were sold for fifty dollars, which amount was donated to the church. A house of worship was then erected, but after a short time the society went down and the building was sold to the Christians. Knoxville was then without a Congregational Church for many years, when some of the Presbyterians withdrew from that church and organized another Congregational society, which built a frame house of worship on North First Street, two squares north of Main Street, where meetings are held regularly.

The Reformed Church

This denomination was introduced in Marion County by the Hollanders. Soon after they settled in the county in 1847 a society called the Christian Church was organized at Pella, with eight active |285|members, among whom were Rev. H. P. Scholte and Isaac Overkamp, two of the leaders of the Holland colony. On September 19, 1856, the name of the organization was changed to the First Dutch Reformed Church, with Rev. P. J. Oggel as the first pastor of the new church. In 1871 work was commenced on a church building, located on Broadway, and it was dedicated in June, 1872. This building, which cost $25,000, has a seating capacity of about one thousand and is nearly always filled during services. All services are conducted in the Holland language. Before the present church edifice was erected the society held meetings in a small frame building on the west side of the square until 1850, when a small brick church was erected, which in turn was succeeded by a frame church of larger dimensions.

The Second Reformed Church of Pella had its beginning in 1863, when the board of missions sent Rev. Abraham Thompson to Pella to organize an English-speaking congregation according to the doctrines of the Reformed Church. Mr. Thompson entered zealously into his work and in the spring of 1865 the first church building was dedicated. It was a brick structure, erected at a cost of $4,000 and served the congregation for several years, when it became necessary to secure larger quarters. The present church edifice, located at the corner of Broadway and Liberty streets, was dedicated in 1908.

The Third Reformed Church of Pella was organized about the same time as the above, but its services are conducted in the Dutch language. Rev. C. Zubli was the first pastor. In 1870 a frame church was built at a cost of about five thousand dollars. The congregation in 1914 numbered over two hundred active members.

There was also a Fourth Reformed Church organized in Pella, but on June 10, 1880, the name was changed to the Holland Presbyterian Church, which took over the ownership of the church building that had been erected at a cost of $3,000.

The Dutch Reformed Church of Otley was organized in 1871, with Rev. A. G. Lansing as pastor. Before the close of the year a frame house of worship was erected at a cost of $2,200 and dedicated. This congregation has been prosperous from the start and is one of the strong Reformed churches of the county.

In 1886 the First Christian Reformed Church of Pella was organized by Rev. H. R. Koopman. Since then the churchs at Leighton, Peoria and Sully have been drawn from this congregation and some of the members have united with the church at Otley. Notwith- |286| standing these subtractions the church is still in a flourishing condition. There is also a Reformed Church at Harvey.


This denomination has never been particularly strong in Marion County. Among the early settlers in the western part of Dallas Township were number of German Catholics, who felt the need of some place to worship according to the faith in which they had been brought up, and in 1854 nine of these pioneers met and organized a Catholic Church. A hewed log house of worship, only 16 by 18 feet in size, with a small belfry, was erected. This was done without the aid of a priest, but soon afterward Father John Krekel came into the neighborhood and said the first mass in thenew church. In 1874 the parish was established under the name of St. Joseph's, with Rev. John Bahman in charge. A new brick church was erected at a cost of $9,000. This building is located in the northwest corner of section 20 and is 40 by 60 feet in dimensions. A schoolhouse was built some time later and around this church and school has grown up the little hamlet of Bauer.

About 1877 or 1878 a Catholic mission was established at Knoxville under the name of St. Michael's. It was attended by priests from Oskaloosa and Whatcheer. In 1908 the present house of worship, a neat frame structure, was built near the west end of Marion Street and the name was changed to St. Anthony's. Late in the summer of 1913 Rev. Martin O'Connell was appointed resident priest, the first in the history of the church, and about the close of the year 1914 St. Anthony's was made a separate parish. Work was then commenced on a priest's residence, which was almost ocmpleted at the begining of the year 1915. There is a Catholic mission at Pella, which is attended by Father O'Connell of St. Anthony's.

Miscellaneous Churches

In 1869 an Evangelical Church, called White Breast Mission, was organized in Dallas Township with ten members, and a little later a neat frame church, 28 by 42 feet, was built in the northwest quarter of section 12, not far from the present Town of Melcher.

A church building called "Union Chapel" was erected by the people of Dallas Township in 1875 in the eastern part of section 25, about a mile and a half from the Lucas County line. It cost about sixteen hundred dollars and was free to all denominations. |287|

Another church of the same character was built some years later about two miles north of Knoxville, near the Pleasant Grove schoolhouse, where a cemetery had been established many years befor. Ministers of various denominations have filled the pulpit of this church at different times in its history.

The Seventh Day Adventist Church of Knoxville was organized some time in the '70s and a neat frame house of worship was erected in the southern part of the city, where meetings are still held, though the congregation is not as strong as in the early years of its existence.

A society of Universalists was organized in Knoxville about the same time as the Seventh Day Adventists and meetings were held in the church of the latter denominatin under the pastoral charge of a Mrs. Gillette. Two ministers named Brooks and Eberhart were the first Universalist preachers to hold services in the city. This congregation never owned a house of its own and after a few years was disbanded.

Rural Churches

A map of Marion County, issued in 1914 by order of the board of supervisorts, sho+ws a number of country churches locatedin various places in addition to those already mentioned. In Clay Township there is a church in the east side of section 17, about two miles southwest of Harvey and not far from the Clay Center schoolhouse and another in section 32, near the Union school, in the southern part of the township.

The only country church shown in Franklin Township is located in the northeast corner of section 19, near the Springdale schoolhouse and one mile from the Warren County line.

In the southern part of section 16, in Indiana Township, is what is known as the Wesley Church, and in section 19, a short distance west of the Round Grove school, and not far from the Hickory branch of Cedar Creek, is an old church and burial ground, where some of the old settlers worshiped and where their remains are interred.

Knoxville Township has a number of these rural churches. One is located near the center of section 22, near the Liberty school and about half a mile south of the Andersonville mining camp; a second is situated near the Bunker Hill school, in the north side of section 35, in the southeast corner of the township, and has a cemetery in connection; Pleasant Ridge Church is located in the southwest corner of section 21, near the Burr Oak school and about five miles |288|southwest of Knoxville; another is situated in the northwest corner of section 28, about four miles northeast of Knoxville and near the Polk Township line; and Valley Church is situated near the Scott school, in the northwest corner of section 33, five miles south of the City of Knoxville.

Perry Township has but one church shown on the map, viz: Pleasant Hill Church, which is a half mile south of the Jasper County line and a mile west of the eastern boundary of the township.

It is this class of churches referred to in the opening paragraph of this chapter. The men and women who founded many of them have passed away, the records have been lost or imperfectly kept, so that it is impossible to give any accurate history of them. They are of different denominations and have been attended by men and women as sincere in their convictions as those who belong to the larger churches in the towns and cities. Taken by and large, Marion County is as well supplied with churches as most counties of similar area and population. The pioneers were, as a rule, people who believed in the principles of the Christian religion, though they may have differed in their creeds, and took steps to establish churches in which their descendants might have the privilege of worshiping God "according to the dictates of their own conscience."

Transcribed by Mary E. Boyer, February 2007, reformatted by Al Hibbard 10 Oct 2013