To The
FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH - Mt. Carroll
Highlights of 100 Years
1853 to 1953

Plans for the establishment of a Baptist Church in the little village of Mount Carroll were actively undertaken in 1852 when John Rinewalt, writing for the little band of founders, sought a minister from their home community in Pennsylvania who could be induced to settle in the west in this recently established county-seat town. John Rinewalt who had come from Chester County, Pennsylvania in 1842 was one of the partners in the Emmert and Halderman Company which developed the mill-site on Carroll Creek. Mount Carroll had become the county seat in 1843, but the first act of incorporation establishing a city government was not passed until December, 1855. In 1853, there were about 800 inhabitants of the village. There was no railroad, but a stageline through Mount Carroll from Galena to Dixon had been started in 1846, two years after the post office. Three other churches had been established in the community to serve its spiritual needs.

The Reverend J.V. Allison, who responded to Mr. Rinewalt's inquiry for a minister interested in coming to Mount Carroll, was then pastor of the Blockley Church in Philadelphia. He had been educated in Pennsylvania academies and ordained at the historic Vincent Baptist Church in Chester County. He had served as superintendent of state missions for the Pennsylvania Convention and as financial agent of the university at Lewisburg. In the spring of 1853, he and his family left Pennsylvania to cast their lot with the Baptists in Mount Carroll.

On the evening of July 28, 1853, a meeting was held at Reverend J. V. Allison's house in Mount Carroll for the purpose of forming a church. Mr. Allison was elected chairman and Lewis Chrisman, secretary. Baptist churches in the area were invited to send delegates to be present on the fourth Sunday in August for the purpose of recognizing them as a regular Baptist church. "Brothers" Allison, Carpenter, Rinewalt, Jefferies, and Chrisman were instructed to prepare articles of faith and a church covenant. They decided to adopt the New Hampshire Articles of Faith. On August 26, church letters of the fourteen founders were read and accepted and the experience of two others accepted as meriting baptism and membership. The founding services were held the following Sunday, August 28, 1853, and J.V. Allison Was extended the right hand of fellowship as the pastor of the First Regular Baptist Church of Mount Carroll.

Church organization proceeded in September meetings, held in the Presbyterian Church. Lewis Chrisman was elected Church Secretary, John Rinewalt, Treasurer, and a Board of Trustees, consisting of three members - John Rinewalt, Jethro Jeffries, and George Wells, and two non-members- William Halderman and B.R. Frohock, was chosen. A subscription was started by Margaret Miller and Sarah Goss to raise money for the pastor's salary and other expenses. Another subscription for a building fund was the responsibility of the pastor and Secretary Lewis Chrisman. Efforts were begun to raise funds in the community, in the State, and in the East from the American Baptist Home Mission Society. Plans were made for a "protracted meeting" in November, 1853 with the assistance of Brother Everhart of Moline. This was a series of evangelical meetings which led to the enrollment of twenty-five new members during the winter. Early in 1854, plans were made to establish a Sabbath School and in April began to meet in the Seminary Building, which had been offered by Frances Wood (later Mrs. Shimer) and Cindarella Gregory, located on the corner of Market and Clay streets. Church and Sabbath School later met in the court house, which was rented for one dollar a week, until the church building was ready.

From the beginning there were pressing problems of the financial support of the work of the church. Nevertheless an early account noted that the first recorded item in the financial records was a poor fund collection of $1.55 taken at the first communion service. The expense of the first "protracted meeting" amounted to $47.50. Really pressing were the needs of raising funds for a building and for maintaining the pastor.

Although this was a prosperous period for grain farmers, and those whose lands appreciated in price with the boom in wheat, cash money was scarce. The subscription for the building amounted to $2480 in October, 1853 and work was authorized to begin in the spring of the next year. During the summer it became necessary to borrow $1000, the lot and the building under construction being pledged on the notes. The women of the church were appointed a committee to solicit funds from any person who had not yet contributed and were directed to canvass the town and county at their earliest convenience. Reverend Allison was to continue his efforts in northern Illinois and the eastern states. Within two years he could report having collected $1500 from "churches abroad."

Plans had been drawn by the building committee, John Rinewalt, J.V. Allison, and Lewis Chrisman, for a building of stone and brick, forty-two feet by sixty-five feet, of two stories, to be built on the "NW corner of the Reserved Square of the Rinewalt and Halderman Addition." In August, 1854, they were directed to have the meeting house under roof and the basement (ground floor) finished at as early a date as possible. Work on the upper story or main floor was to be suspended until a later time. By November, 1854, the ground floor was in use and committees were appointed to provide wood for heating, to "light the House of Worship, make fire when necessary, sweep the house, each person to serve for the term of one month." It is probable that the money panic and depression of 1857-59 accounted for the delay in consideration of plans for the completion of the building until 1859. A heavy burden of debt and high interest rates of ten to fifteen per cent were sources of difficulty and a drain on the resources of the church. The building was insured for $3000 in 1856 with a Freeport firm for a premium of $194.

Other wise business practices are noteworthy. It was a regular practice for the church to direct a committee to audit accounts of the Treasurer and others appointed to handle funds. As early as 1856 money was sought for a sinking fund to pay the interest charges and principle of the church debt.

The minister's salary "to be raised in Mount Carroll" was fixed at $350 at first. Aid was sought from the Baptist General Association for his support. The pastor's salary was raised to $400 "provided he labours all the time here." A chief source of funds for the pastor's salary and the expenses of operating the church was the rental of pews. It was a source of irritation and difference as well. Action was delayed and, when put into effect, was re-examined almost yearly. Pews were classified and rented from $8 to $20 per quarter. In 1858, the pastor was offered $250 for preaching alternate Sundays, but he would not accept for any fixed period under this plan. Within a year he resigned to become the minister of the Morrison Baptist Church. When the second minister, T. P. Campbell was appointed in 1859 he was offered $600 a year, with four Sundays during hot weather as vacation.

Even stronger measures were adopted that same year to raise the annual expenses of the church. The plan adopted provided for assessment of members according to their ability to pay. An assessor of the church was elected to visit members and assess them. The clerk made out a "tax list, taxing the members proportionally" (sic), in 1859 at the rate of three per cent. It was the duty of members to pay their apportionment in four equal installments.

Perhaps the plan operated with some success, since hopes brightened by the close of the year that the church building could be completed. A committee was .................decided to finish the upper floor as a church auditorium, with a gallery, and build a steeple. The war-time prosperity and a larger membership also had helped to relieve the financial problems of the earlier years. The congregation numbered about one hundred at the close of the Civil War. It was not until the spring of 1863, however, that the building committee was authorized to "finish the House" and then the church would attempt to meet the expenses at the time of its dedication. The completed building was dedicated May 5, 1863, nearly ten years after the founding.

During the post-war years some church experiences need noting. It was a regular practice to "meet at the waterside" for baptism of members. On December 23, 1866, for example, at two p.m. the pastor, Reverend Carlos Swift, baptized Miss Julia Marston, Sarah R. Fisher, Susan M. Hay, Sarah Rosenstock, Henry S. Metcalf, Charles Lunn, and John M. Rinewalt. Other baptisms occured in February, March, April, September and November that year. In May, 1873, nineteen members were baptized at the foot of the falls, one group at one o'clock, by Reverend Henry B. Waterman. Such rigorous testing of candidates was equalled by the discipline exercised over those members who strayed from the narrow path. Charges made against members were investigated by committees who then reported to the church on the deportment and faith of members. Members were excluded and the right hand of fellowship withdrawn on more than one occasion. Forgiveness and a reestablishment in the fellowship occured also. For example Dr. Henry Shimer was visited by a committee appointed for the purpose. The church decided to continue him as a member, "Brother Shimer having stated to the committee that his trust was in Jesus."

Covenant meetings were held regularly on the Friday or Saturday before communion services. This was usually a meeting for the conduct of business, the admission of new members, and for consideration of charges against members. One important change in communion practice was adopted in 1867. From the beginning the church had authorized the pastor to invite members of other Christian denominations to the Lord's Table. This practice was changed in 1867. A regular system of Christian benevolences was adopted in this period which was to remain the practice of the church for a long period. It was decided that foreign missions, home missions, Bible cause, domestic missions, ministerial education, and the Baptist Publication Society would be supported successively through the year. A different benevolence solicitor was chosen usually for a two-month period and a concentration of the benevolence effort was effected.

Further building improvements came in the 1870's and 80's. The gallery was removed and a platform built at the front of the church for the choir. A baptiStrY was installed and the auditorium refurn- ished. The membership in 1875 was about 160. The attendance at Sunday School numbered about 200. In 1881, Mrs. Aaron Cole in carrying out the provisions of her deceased husbands will, purchased a church hell weighing 1881 pounds. which she presented to the church in memory of Mr. Cole. A bell-tower was constructed sometime during 1883, costing $1300.

By July, 1884, with "their utmost effort", money had been raised and for the first time the church was entirely free of debt.

In May, 1890 the church called Reverend E. C. Stover of the South Baptist Church of Belvidere. He agreed to accept the appointment if the church would provide a suitable residence. He offered to build a parsonage on the church lot at his own expense, if he could have it rent-free for the duration of his pastorate, the church binding itself to purchase the house when he left at a fair valuation. There was "much eloquence" expressed on the proposal which was initially accepted. Eventually the Trustees erected the house which cost R1900. It was rented to Mr. Stover, but later was provided as part of the minister's remuneration.

The adoption of new methods of fund raising and the election of a financial manager to be responsible for the planned disbursements of funds, made possible new undertakings. Meetings in December, 1890. some in Savanna, were held to organize the First Baptist Church of Savanna. A number of members were granted letters to form the church there and Reverend Stover was active in the work of organization.

The Sunday School which had as officers a superintendent, a secretary-treasurer and two librarians, was an especially active feature of the church program. Students from the Seminary attended both the Sunday School and the church services, where they were seated in the pews to the right and left of the pulpit. An advisory committee to aid the Superintendent of the Sunday School was appointed in 1890, a forerunner of the present-day Board of Religious Education.

In 1892 and 1893 extensive remodellng and improvements were undertaken. Furnaces were installed to heat the building, three hundred opera chairs were purchased with Mrs. Shirner's assistance and a pipe organ was built. After the extensive redecoration, a program in October, 1892, was held to edicate the organ. Mr. Louis Faulk, of Chicago.

Alumnae of the seminary conservatory furnished the vocal music. On October 16, Dr. Vosburgh of Elgin preached the rededicatory sermon to a crowded auditorium.

A period of "spiritual refreshening" followed. In the spring of 1893, Reverend W.L. Riley of Fairbury preached for two weeks and was followed by Reverend Weston of Ravenswood Church, Chicago. There were thirty-three who professod conversion as a result. The church raised its reappotionment for foreign missions, the Sunday School contributing $25.00 and a young peoples organization a like amount. The Sunday School reported increase in attendance of sixty-one. These were years of growing vigor and strength.

Then, on the evening of May 5, 1894, a cyclonic storm destroyed the church building, only the bell tower and the south wall remaining intact. The organ and much of the valuable furniture were in ruins. The Clerk, Henry S. Metcalf, noted that "this will not interrupt, however, the usual appointments of church. The bell will ring tomorrow morning at usual hour. for a service in Cole's Opera House which was located on the corner northeast of the church. A building committee was appointed and plans made to rebuild. Both the Methodist and Lutheran churches invited the Baptists to share the buildings, though the offers were declined. Services continued to be held at the Opera House. A subscription was begun to raise funds. Mrs. Francis A. Wood Shimer offered the church the gift of a organ and the church gratefully accepted. It was decided to light the new building, when built, with electricity, which would cost $5.00 per month, "the lamps to be used whenever light is needed".

The first meeting of the church in the re-built building was in January, 1895. The cost reconstruction totaled $6,600, which included windows dedicated to former leaders in the fellowsship of the church. Dr. Henry Shimer, who died in August of that year, contributed the circular window at the east end of the auditorium, in memory of J.V. A1lison. The dedicatory services were held both morning and evening of February 3, 1895. Reverend Joseph P. Phillips preached the sermons to the four to five hundred gathered for the occasion. The membership numbered about 150 at this time. Despite the heavy burdens of rebuilding financial affairs reported as "uncommonly encouraging", a condition attributed largely to the pastor in resolutions passed on his retirement in 1898.

The closing years of the century were successful and prosperous the church again being free of debt and ready to move ahead with renewed faith and assurance. The congregation attended two services on ............meetings and communion services were well attended. The Sunday School flourished, and it and the choir had `splendid and willing talent'. Several weeks of special meetings were regularly held and new members swelled the resident rolls thirty-three percent. The young people of the church were organized in a Baptist Young Peoples Union. Endowment funds were contributed by the heirs of the OP. Miles estate and by Mrs. Francis Shimer.

The membership of the church exceeded two hundred for the first time in 1904. At the annual meeting held in December, the clerk reported that the membership totaled two hundred ten. N.H. Melendy reported for the Trustees: R.H. Campbell, Superintendent, reported for the Sunday School; Mrs. J.H. Miles for the Ladies Missionary Society; Mrs. J.M. Rinewalt for the Ladies Aid Society; and C.E. Rosenstock for the Christian Endeavor Society. Officers were reelected to serve for the coming year: John G. Grove, clerk; Jacob H. Miles, treasurer; Mrs. Eva Rogers, organist; John M. Rinewalt, chorister; R.H. Campbell, head usher and Sunday School superintendent; Edward M. Fox, assistant superintendent; May Wildey, secretary and treasurer of the Sunday School; Mary Miles, librarian; and Lyman L. Wood and J.M. Rinewalt, Trustees for three years. Charles Holman, Elijah Bailey, H.J. Griffith and Cyrus H. Keim were serving as Deacons. The officers of the Christian Endeavor Society were C.E. Rosenstock, President; W. G. Baird, Vice-President; Lisle Mershon, Recording Secretary; Fay Christian, Corresponding Secretary; Ray Gelwicks, Treasurer; and James Campbell, Librarian.

During this period the church was paying its minister $1200 to $1500 and the parsonage. Services were held three times a week. Some of the earlier customs continued, though baptism in Carroll Creek and the disciplining of members were less common. The annual letter of the church regularly recommended the Frances Shimer Academy of the University of Chicago to the constituency of the Dixon Association and spoke in glowing terms of the growing attendance, new buildings and new course of study in the Junior College, and especially of the Dean, William P. McKee, a leader in both the school and the church. A new procedure for missionary finance was adopted in 1909, after a review of the recommendation of the Northern Baptist Convention. An annual missionary budget was to be adopted, a strong committee interested in missions was provided, and weekly giving for missions was provided, and weekly giving for missions became the plan of the church. The duplex envelope was adopted to insure the success of the new missionary movement.

In 1912, Mrs. N.H. Melendy and Mrs. Della M. Babcock proposed to give $5000 in memory of N.H. Melendy, for the enlargement of the church building, to provide more space for church and Sunday School and to anticipate its growth. The gift was accepted and the addition built to the west of the church. Considerable alteration of the old building was necessary, the total expense being about $13,500. The dedication and housewarming services were held Sunday morning and evening, November 9, 1913.

In that year the church established a graded Sunday School curriculum which was developed through the following years under the guidance of the Reverend Newton C. Fetter. The publications of the University of Chicago were used for a period. Twenty-eight teachers and officers were listed in 1916, who taught departments and grades from the first through the senior department, including three adult classes. Nathaniel Miles was Superintendent of the Sunday School, C.W. Tavenner, Secretary-Treasurer.

The impact of World War I, especially after 1917, was more marked than earlier wars on the experience and feelings of the church. The pastor noted that "the nation in this hour of crisis needs above all things the moral and spiritual enthusiasm and vision which alone the church can create. The world will look to men of Christian training and Christian vision to build the new social order after the war". He recommended earnestly that the church strive to realize the ideals of the Five Year Program of the Northern Baptist Convention, as they applied to the local church. Fuel shortages led to the cancellation, temporarily, of prayer meetings and Sunday morning Bible classes, which met instead in homes of members and at Frances Shimer School. In 1918 the influenza epidemic struck members of the fellowship. $51,475 was pledged to the New World Movement Fund of the Northern Baptist Convention. In addition, the church pledged $1,037 in 1919 to the annual benevolence budget. At this time the membership of the church had reached 273.

Special efforts in the post-war years were undertaken to enlist and keep young people, both children and adults, interested in the church. The group from twenty to forty years of age was of special concern. Men's nights, suppers, programs, socials and parties, and advertising were employed. Stereopticon sermons and movies were used to tell of the work of missions. An effort was undertaken to cultivate the rural territory adjacent to the city, and a "Ford Car" was provided for the minister's use to assist in this work. A reorganization of the young people's work was made in 1923.

Two hundred sixty children and adults were enrolled in the Sunday School although attendance was dropping. A revision of the church roll eliminated about one hundred non-active members, bringing the resident active list of members down to 137. A proposed benevolence program envisioned giving equally to benevolences and church expenses, $1800 the first year, $2600 the second, and $3400 the third year. The total church budget recommended in 1924-25 was $3150. The missionary budget adopted in 1925 was $1500.

The church called the Reverend R. H. Seitner to become its pastor in May, 1926, at a salary of $2000 from the church and $500 provided by Frances Shimer School. This joint support was a practice then of long standing, involving responsibility for religious education work or a class on the college campus in addition to the work of the pastorate. There was continued concern for the relation of the young people to the life of the church and it was anticipated that Mr. Seitner would accomplish much in this respect. "Enlistment and Fellowship" were the goals for 1927.

In 1928 the church building was extensively improved and redecorated, at a cost of $3100. The financial crash and depression years in the 1930's made it difficult, even impossible, for the church to maintain its program of benevolences and current expenses, although it drew on endowment funds to maintain operations. Normal repairs were delayed, the pastor's salary reduced, and other economies adopted, especially in the reduction of benevolences. New regulations were drawn up to protect the trust funds of the church.

A new constitution was adopted by the church, bringing about a reorganization. In 1936-37 the officers of the church were Mrs. E. T. Putnam, Church Clerk, John Grove, Treasurer, Mrs. John Hay, Benevolence Treasurer, S.C. Campbell, Sunday School Superintendent, Harold Seiple, Sunday School Secretary-Treasurer. Edward Fox, E.T. Putnam, J.H. Miles, J. M. Rinewalt, S. C. Campbell and Eugene Wood were the Deacons. Mrs. Drenner, Marcella Robbe and Mrs. C.H. Sword were Deaconesses. The Trustees of the church were A. Beth Hostetter, S.J. Campbell, Charles Smith, Elmer Guenzler, H. P. Hostetter, and George Hartman.

Declining enrollment in the Sunday School, from 152 to 131, was reversed in 1936 when 144 were listed. Sixteen teachers then carried on the program. Miss Emily Turnbaugh was the Superintendent. The church membership hovered close to 185 resident members. The budget in 1938 called for the expenditure of $2800 with an anticipated deficit of $250. A week day church school, held for an hour during school hours was established by the churches of the community. By 1942, the resident membership had again reached 200 members.

The church during these difficult years had had the devoted services of one of their best-loved pastors. His term of service spanned a fifth of the history of the church, by far the longest pastorate of the ministers of the church. Failing health made it necessary for Mr. Seitner to tender his resignation at the close of 1945. It was accepted by the church to take effect at the close of his twentieth year in the pastorate, in June, 1946.

The years of World War II had brought economic recovery. Dr. William N. Lyons, who was called in 1946, faced problems of reactivation and reorganization. The financial position of the church was strengthened. $10,500 was raised for the World Mission Crusade program of the American Baptist Convention. Under the leadership of Dr. Merrill L. Hutchins, who became pastor in 1948, the spiritual life of the church was deepened and clarified and much needed physical rehabilitation of the church building begun. The church was completely redecorated. A new pipe organ installed in 1951, at a cost of $7800, was made possible by a gift of $3000 from Mrs. Della Babcock. It was dedicated at a service in April, with a choir concert directed by Frank Pooler, of Shimer College. Susan Preston made her first public appearance as organist. With the coming of the Reverend Ralph P. Blatt in 1952, increased activity and promotion of new phases of church life have been undertaken.

Goodly Heritage Volume 3 Pg 294

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