175 Years of Congregational Life

On October 23, 1831—two-and-a-half years after the Reverend Aratus Kent first arrived in this "place so hard that no one else [would] take it"—the First Presbyterian Church of Galena was officially organized. That auspicious day was the long-delayed climax to thirty long months of labor —preaching, teaching Sabbath School and regular school, distributing religious literature and struggling against the vices of the day. Rev. Kent could have organized a church in Galena during his first year in town, but he chose to wait until he could be certain that he had found a group of people who took their faith seriously, so that he would know the church had been built upon a solid foundation.

 

And what a group he gathered! Four women and two men, only two of whom lived in Galena. The others lived at various distances ranging from five to forty miles away and yet all pledged their regular attendance and their financial support of the fledgling congregation. The names of those first members deserve to be remembered: Eliza Barnes, Ann Crow, Susan Gratiot, Abraham Hathaway, Isabella McKibben and Abraham Miller. Being good Presbyterians, they immediately elected one of their number a ruling elder - the 94-year-old Hathaway.

 

The fledgling congregation also laid the groundwork for ecumenical cooperation when their first communion service was led by Rev. Kent with the assistance of the Methodist minister, who commented that it was "the first sacramental occasion in this district of the country, for a distance of several hundred miles."

 

At the time, the church was meeting in Rev. Kent's home, which was a log building constructed as the county's original courthouse, located next to the present church site on the corner of Hill and Bench streets. When the Black Hawk War broke out in 1832, Rev. Kent's home was commandeered to house troops. With no home and no meeting place, Kent took the opportunity for his first vacation in three years, returning to Connecticut to marry Caroline Corning on September 4th. He returned with his new bride, a niece named Caroline Thompson, another young woman named Clarissa Pierce who wanted to help in the mission work and a young man named Eli Edwin Hall, whom Rev. Kent was tutoring in preparation for seminary. (For more specific information on this trip, see "A Glance at Life on the Western Frontier" elsewhere in your anniversary packet.) These new arrivals gave the congregation its first student pastor, as well as four new Sabbath School teachers.

 

With the addition of Rev. Kent's group and the family of Jeremiah Wood, the congregation grew to 20 members and Mr. Wood was elected the second elder. In 1833, Rev. Kent celebrated the second communion service in Galena and baptized a total of six children.

 

In all his years in Galena, Rev. Kent fought against what he saw as the prevailing vices of his time: alcoholism, swearing, Sabbath breaking, prostitution and, worst of all, gambling. In those frontier days, Rev. Kent wrote, "There was no law, no sabbath, no family altar and no restraint, for every one did that which was right in his own eyes." Ever so slowly, Kent's moral presence began to have an impact on the community. His efforts were aided by the congregation, who held a prayer meeting every Saturday evening, in addition to their Sunday morning worship services. They also hosted a Monthly Concert of Prayer for the conversion of the world. All these activities were on top of the work of the Singing Society, the Temperance Society, the Anti-Gambling Society, a Benevolent Society, a Maternal Association, the Sabbath Schools for men and for women and the ongoing secular educational efforts.

 

The Church Is Built

Even with all that activity, the church's growth did not keep pace with the incoming rush of people to Galena. The village was growing by leaps and bounds, but the church grew only incrementally. Kent considered uprooting an Eastern congregation and transplanting it intact to Galena in order to help transform the moral character of this town. However, as he pondered that idea, the nation began to reel under a severe financial depression known as the Panic of 1837. That, in turn, led to a widespread religious revival across the country. Rev. Kent wrote for help in contacting potential new members, and he was answered by a series of visits from members of the so-called "Yale Band," that is evangelists, who, like Kent, had been trained at Yale University. Between 1837 and 1843, a number of revivals were held, bringing in a total of 302 new members, thus placing our congregation on a substantial footing.

 

Three especially significant events occurred during this period. The first was the construction of the church building in 1838. It was designed to hold 250 people and was built out of native limestone, hand-cut from the surrounding hills by John Willey. The building also required 200 barrels of lime and 400 barrels of sand. Total construction cost was about $10,500. Wooden flooring and shingles were added for another $300. Seventy seven-foot wide pews were installed, and, within a very short time, all the members except two had pledged to either buy or rent a pew. The interior finish followed a design from the Grecian Temple of Illyssus, mimicking its Ionic pillars. Silvester Haines was given $1,511 for that interior work.

 

Around 1839 or '40, a group of Old School Presbyterians, who felt uncomfortable with what they felt were compromises with traditional Presbyterian theology, broke away and formed the South Presbyterian Church, much to Rev. Kent's dismay. Later, however, he came to see that having more than one Presbyterian church in Galena could be healthy for the town in the long run. Therefore, a few years later - in 1844 - when this church's rapid growth threatened to overwhelm the newly erected building, Kent gave his blessing to the creation of yet another church - the Second Presbyterian Church - as a colony of the First Church. The Second Presbyterian Church began with 21 members and the Rev. George F. Magoun as pastor. Perhaps surprisingly, all three buildings were on Bench Street with the Second Church building located midway between the other two - roughly where the Miller-Steinke Funeral Home parking lot is today.

 

In April 1841, Rev. Kent was installed as the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church at a salary of $600 per year paid quarterly. The vote was 24 in favor with two blank ballots. Up to that point, Rev. Kent had been considered a missionary in the employ of the American Home Missionary Society. He served as pastor for seven years until he was asked by the Home Missionary Society to be General Superintendent of Home Missions in the Northwest Territory. So he resigned as pastor of First Presbyterian Church and held that new position until his death in 1869.

 

Steeple Added

In December 1848, a call was issued to Rev. S. G. Spees to succeed Rev. Kent as pastor. UnderSpees' ministry, the church continued to flourish. Ninety-nine new members were received into membership in the next seven years, a growth aided by the coming of the Illinois Central Railroad to town in 1850. In 1854, the steeple was added and a total of $4,000 was spent on improvements to the building. Rev. Spees was then called to a church in Milwaukee in November 1855.

 

Rev. Arthur Swazey was called next and began his ministry with the church in March 1856. Four years later, Dr. Swazey offered his resignation after a successful pastorate. Because the pulpits of both the First and Second churches were vacant, the two churches entered yearlong merger discussions, moderated by Aratus Kent. That merger was officially accomplished in November 1860. The recombined congregation chose to use the First Presbyterian Church building, and they combined the sessions with three elders from each of the former congregations, including Joshua Brooks, who was also elected superintendent of the Sabbath School and who served as clerk of the Session until 1885, and Dr. Horatio Newhall, who was the first physician in Galena and a prominent figure in early Galena history. Also serving on that session were A. L. Cummings, Capt. Augustus Estey, Cephas Foster and William Hempstead.

 

The church extended a call to Rev. A. L. Benton, which he refused, but he did supply the pulpit for a time. Rev. William Bray filled in as interim pastor from January to April of 1861. Then Daniel Clark was called on November 4, 1861. He served for two years with the title of Pastor Elect, but the Presbytery refused to install him for reasons that are now lost to history. A congregational meeting held in September 1862 demonstrated about a two-to-one support for the pastor. However, four months later, with the issue still in doubt, a second congregational meeting was held, and Rev. Clark offered to submit his resignation as of August 1863 "for the sake of peace." The vote to accept that resignation was more than two-to-one.

 

The Civil War Years

May 25, 1863, the congregation voted to hire Rev. Dr. Addison K. Strong at $1500 a year. The vote was 73-0. Dr. Strong had been originally offered the position in April 1861—before Rev. Clark was called—but Dr. Strong had declined the position then. Given that history, he seemed to be the perfect choice to help heal the wounds of the church. So after he was installed in October 1863, he and the elders mounted a campaign to bring back those members who had fallen away from the congregation during the controversy. Their campaign had some success in getting lapsed members to return. In addition, they brought in a total of 70 new members.

 

Dr. Strong also led a memorial service for President Lincoln in a heavily draped sanctuary after the President's assassination. During Strong's pastorate, several members were excommunicated for persisting in the offense of absenting themselves from communion. Also during this time, the congregation accepted special offerings for Civil War refugees who wished to return to their homes in the South after the war and for freed slaves, who were trying to establish themselves in their new lives. When Dr. Strong resigned in April 1866, the church appointed a committee to go to Presbytery to attest to his Christian faithfulness.

 

On Monday, August 6, 1866, a congregational meeting was held to call a new pastor. Rev. John McLean was voted in 9-1, with 2 ballots left blank. Rev. McLean was a seminary student being called to his first pastorate.

 

A Time of Trials

He was ordained and installed January 3, 1867 with former pastor Arthur Swazey preaching atthe service. One of the more momentous incidents that happened during McLean's pastorate was the trial by the session of Elder W. C. Bostwick on charges of fraud in his transactions with a Mrs. Lane and of public intoxication. Bostwick refused to attend the trial in spite of repeated requests, but, after hearing witnesses, the session suspended Bostwick from the communion of the church until he should give satisfactory evidence of his repentance. Two years later, in 1869, a similar trial of William Faciac was begun on charges of embezzlement of funds and neglect of church ordinances, but that trial was deferred when Faciac left the area. On November 8, 1869, Rev. Kent died in his 76th year. Carolyn Kent survived him and continued to teach Sunday School until shortly before her own death three years later.

 

In July of 1870, Rev. McLean tendered his resignation since the responsibility taxed his health. Surprisingly, however, the congregation refused to accept his resignation, so Rev. McLean promised to stay and do the best he could.

 

In late 1870, rumors were spreading about the Christian character of Elder Cephas Foster, so yet another trial was held. However, this one found the rumors to be "false and groundless," and Elder Foster was vindicated.

 

Sixteen months after originally offering his resignation, relations between Rev. McLean and the congregation had soured to the point that the session invited a group of nearby ministers to come and serve as mediators. After discussion with those ministers and the session, McLean again tendered his resignation in April 1872. This time it was accepted, although the vote was split at 35-22.

 

Controversies Over Envelopes and Merger

Six months later, a call was extended to Rev. Dr. G. W. Mackie of Chicago. The vote in favor was 32-1 with 1 blank ballot. During his tenure, the session voted to institute the use of offering envelopes, in their words, "for systematic contribution for church expenses and the various benevolent funds." The scheme proved to be mildly controversial. After two years as pastor, Dr. Mackie resigned. The church expressed their confidence in him as a Christian minister and appreciated his earnest labor, so they deeply regretted his leaving.

 

Faced with a vacant pulpit, the congregation chose to discuss merger with the South Church. In November 1874, a basis of union was agreed upon by which Rev. Dr. Ambrose C. Smith of the South Church would serve as pastor of both congregations. Each Sabbath School would take care of itself. Worship would be at the South Church, while other services would be held at the First Church. This agreement would hold for the next two-and-one-half years, but would ultimately prove unsatisfactory. When the idea of merger came to an official vote, the South Church voted against it, while the First Church voted for it. So plans for union were scrapped, and this congregation began meeting at Turner Hall while our church building was being renovated. The funds for the improvements were augmented by money raised by the ladies of the church.

 

The congregation called the Rev. Lewis Adams to be their next pastor, and he began his work in December 1877. One hundred votes were cast unanimously in favor of this call. His salary was set at $1000, and the congregation pledged to pay his moving expenses. Mr. Adams was a bachelor, who invariably wore a white bow tie. The only eyewitness evidence we have of the content of his sermons comes from the memories of A. W. Glessner, who wrote, "He read his sermons which, to a boy of fifteen, at times were somewhat prosy and I recall that frequently my eyes wandered from the pulpit to a pew near the one which I occupied where sat a very charming miss who was always exquisitely attired."

 

Around 1878, the women of the Ladies' Aid Society sewed a lovely red carpet for the sanctuary. They also covered all the pew cushions and the footstools. The work was done in the parlor of the home of Mrs. James M. Spratt, a very active member of the Ladies Aid.

 

Golden Anniversary

In 1881, the congregation celebrated its golden anniversary. A part of that celebration included hosting a meeting of Presbytery. On April 11, 1881, a congregational meeting was held to approve the purchase of the manse at 305 Hill Street. The approximate cost was $1,500.

 

Long-time elder Cephas Foster died March 13, 1885. He had been a Congregational minister for a time, only to retire from the pulpit and move to Galena. Foster served as elder in our church for 46 years. Two years later, Rev. Adams resigned following ten years as a beloved pastor. The Rev. John Gilmore of Hanover was hired to fill the pulpit during the search for a successor. One month later, the congregation held a meeting during which they unanimously called the Rev. H. M. Whaling at a wage of $1000. He declined the call. The search then extended for two more months before the congregation voted to call the Rev. David Clark as pastor. That, too, was aunanimous vote - 59-0. His wage was set at $1000 a year, plus use of the manse and moving expenses.

 

Elder Frederick Chetlain died Jan. 31, 1892 at the age of 70. That left only Benjamin Felt as an active elder, healthy enough to work with Rev. Clark. Together, they recommended that the congregation elect one or two more elders to replace Chetlain. A. L. Cummings and A. M. Haynes were elected, but both declined. Ten months later - Nov. 14, 1892 - Elder Andrew Jennings died at age 77, underlining the need for new session members in that era of lifetime service. So, at the next annual meeting, three new elders were elected: J. S. Helm, W. Wheelwright and J. A. Williams.

 

Meanwhile, pew rent was raised to $10 as of July 1892. During that same month, four members were appointed to write to the State Board of Agriculture, asking that the Illinois Exhibit at the World Columbian Exposition be closed on the Sabbath. That suggestion was duly followed by the state.

 

Evangelistic Efforts

Twenty-nine families were visited during the month of August 1893 to try to stimulate their return to worship. However, apparently those visits didn't have the intended effect since a mere five months later, the session directed the pastor to write to a group called the G.P.S.C.E. expressing "the solicitude of the session in reference to our low state of spirituality, and to request their prayers, as a society, and as individuals in behalf of our congregation." Late in the year, the session voted to hire an evangelist named Rev. J. Lippard of Rockford to conduct a week of prayer followed by a week of revival services. That was done in January 1895, but sadly the congregation's membership decline continued anyway.

 

In April 1885, the session approved a request from Theodore Asmus for assistance from the Board of Education in his study for the ministry. That was the first, but far from the last, recorded educational assistance given by our congregation.

 

In December 1899, Rev. David Clark ended his pastorate after twelve years of service.

 

A New Century

The congregation began the new century with an evangelistic service jointly hosted in conjunction with the South Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church.

 

On April 29, 1900, Rev. A.F. Ernst, pastor of the South Church, moderated a congregational meeting to elect a new pastor. The Rev. J. M. Wright, D.D. was nominated, and the vote was 34-0 in favor with one blank ballot. Dr. Wright was offered $800 a year and use of the manse. Dr. Wright was installed in mid-June.

 

In late December 1901, Rev. Wright asked the session for permission to join in another series of evangelistic meetings with the South Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church. Maybe as a result of those meetings, two young girls asked to join the church. The session appreciated their request, but told them that perhaps they should wait until they were a little older. They were 11 and 12 years old.

 

A Time of Substantial Growth

After only two years as pastor of this congregation, Dr. Wright resigned. His successor turned outto be the Rev. Ralph Maclay Crissman, Ph.D., who was at that time a senior at the McCormick Theological Seminary. Crissman was elected pastor by a 23-3 vote in April 1903. He received $800 plus use of the manse. He was ordained and installed at a meeting of the Freeport Presbytery held in our church on May 13, 1903.

 

In January 1904, the congregation hosted another series of evangelistic meetings, this time no other churches participated. The meetings proved to be so popular that the session ultimately added four more nights to the original schedule. Shortly thereafter, the congregation discussed the purchase of new hymnals, but that suggestion proved to be a bit premature, so the idea was tabled.

 

At that time, the church had old-fashioned shutters and small window lights, instead of the stained glass windows we now have. In addition, the organ was in the back of the church.

 

Evangelical services in early 1908 brought in 22 new members. In fact, membership growth was a consistent theme throughout Crissman's pastorate. When he was hired, the church had 96 members. When he resigned in May 1912, the congregation had roughly doubled to 189 members. At the congregational meeting where his resignation was accepted, the congregation said that Brother Crissman had been faithful in all things and expressed their belief that God would bless his labors.

 

One month later, the congregation met again to call his successor, the Rev. LeRoy Warren. Thevote was unanimous to call Rev. Warren at $1200 per year with full use of the manse. Rev. Warren accepted the call and gave his first sermon as pastor on September 29, 1912. During the summer of 1914, Rev. Warren took off the months of July and August to vacation in Europe. He offered to arrange for pulpit supplies while he was gone, but the session voted to close the church for those two months instead. At least that was the original plan. However, by August the session changed its mind and reopened the church with pulpit supplies for the rest of the month. The next January, the church once again joined with the South and the Methodist churches in a shared prayer meeting.

 

In April 1915, a committee was appointed - consisting of M. J. Berg, C. A. Asmus, Miss Loretta Obermiller and Miss Beth Howard—to get estimates on pouring concrete on the hardwood floor in the basement. They were also charged with getting estimates on electric lights. Ten months later, another committee was appointed to purchase new music, some of which is still in the church files. It was also during this era when the stained glass windows were added to the sanctuary.

 

The number of Trustees was increased from six to nine at the 1916 annual meeting at which William Swing, C. E. Asmus, C. G. Carlson and L. G. Obermiller were all elected Trustees. The following March the session voted to hold an every member canvass.

 

Difficult Transitions

In October 1917, Rev. Warren announced to the congregation that he had received a call to the church of Wheaton, Illinois. The congregation unanimously rejected his resignation and asked him to reconsider. When he declined, the resignation was accepted. However, the congregation then sent a delegation of some 25 to 30 people to Presbytery, asking them not to dissolve the relationship between the church and its pastor. Their request was granted. That's the way things stood for the next year, when Rev. Warren was granted a six-months' leave to work with the Red Cross overseas. The congregation was so eager to keep him that the session offered to pay him $75 per month while he was on leave. He asked for ten days to think things over. Ten days later, Rev. Warren told the session that he wanted the church to cease paying him as of the time he had first announced his second resignation. Any service he rendered after that date would be entirely gratuitous. Realizing the seriousness of his intention, the congregation finally accepted his resignation - with regrets - to be effective May 1st. Rev. Warren was said to have been a preacher of remarkable sermons and was very good with young people.

 

That awkward ending was just the beginning of a difficult period for the church. Two months after Rev. Warren left, the congregation issued a call to a Rev. Crocker of Stockton, Illinois. He declined. Some time later that year, they called a Rev. Eagleston of Toledo, Ohio. Rev. Eagleston also declined. Finally, near the end of the year, the congregation called the Rev. E. M. Moser of Witt, Illinois. Rev. Moser accepted. However, he only stayed from December 1919 to June 1920. His early resignation is not explained in the session record books.

 

The congregation next called the Rev. J. W. White of Winnebago, Illinois. He accepted. Later that year, he was granted a leave of absence of four to six weeks, apparently because his wife had become seriously ill. Rev. C. H. Peren supplied the pulpit in his absence. On February 18, 1921, Rev. White's resignation was accepted with regret by the congregation due to his wife's deteriorating health.

 

Communion Invitations and Educational Loans

Two-and-a-half months later, the congregation extended a call to the Rev. Harry Lothian. Heaccepted, and his installation was scheduled for June 27, 1921. He immediately set to work, establishing committees for youth work and for publicity, as well as holding an every member canvass. All members received a letter inviting them to attend the October 1, 1922 communion service, which significantly increased the attendance that day. Ironically, 15 years later the General Assembly would select the first Sunday in October to be World Communion Sunday, which has a similar component of ingathering and celebrating our connections through Christ.

 

Two other events that anticipated the future occurred around this time. In June 1924, Leonard Parker was granted an educational loan. That loan was followed within the next year-and-a-half by loans to Nancy McRae and Irene Larey, setting the precedent for the Eustice Educational Loan program that would be established in later years.

 

The second event was set in motion when George Millhouse was interviewed for the organist position in mid-September 1924. He accepted the position with the idea that he would begin January 1, 1925. A Miss Whalen was hired to serve as the substitute organist until that time, as well as being named director of the Glee Club. At that point, the salaries were set at $2.00 per week for the organist and $1.50 for the Glee Club director. It seemed as if the music program was set. However, by the end of the year, Miss Whalen resigned and George Millhouse withdrew his acceptance of the organist position. Suddenly, that which seemed to have been settled was thrown into chaos. The answer to the church's musical problems came with the hiring of Miss Katherine Norris, who would end up serving in the position of organist for 56 consecutive years. But who could have guessed that after such a chaotic beginning?

 

On March 8, 1928, Elder J.S. Helm tendered his resignation due to ill health. The session accepted with regret and elected Martin J. Berg to serve as his successor as Clerk of Session. Six months later, Rev. Lothian offered his resignation as well, ending a seven-year ministry, which was characterized by a deep love for his people.

 

100th Anniversary

The Rev. Eugene A. Ballis was elected his successor at a congregational meeting held January30, 1929. The vote to extend the call to him was unanimous. That May, the church recognized the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the Rev. Aratus Kent to Galena. They also decided to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the congregation, although they chose to celebrate the year, rather than the specific date. Therefore, their celebration took place April 12-15, 1931 and included the hosting of a meeting of Freeport Presbytery. At that meeting, Rev. Ballis was elected moderator, but declined to serve due to the pressing responsibilities associated with our church's anniversary celebration. After the four-day event was all over, it was called "a splendid success."

The session gave permission to the Allied Forces for Prohibition to use the church on Sunday evenings for community meetings throughout November 1931. They also approved bringing in Walter Kerrey to hold two weeks of revival meetings - January 3-17, 1932 - in the church. Apparently that revival was successful since 16 new members were received at the first session meeting afterward.

 

In April 1932, a new furnace was installed and an organization for young women, called the Helping Hand, was formed. The Protestant churches on Bench Street shared services on the Tuesday through Friday of Holy Week in 1933, and the third Sunday of May was set aside as "Remembrance Day," which was "dedicated to those who pioneered the way, and to all in our church whose sacrifices and devotion gave us the heritage we possess today."

 

At the annual meeting on April 17, 1935, Louis Obermiller was nominated to be a Trustee, but he declined after having served in that position for 20 years. Many expressions of thanks were offered to him.

 

The Lucy Siniger plaque in the vestibule was dedicated during the worship service on January 12, 1936. Lucy had attended First Presbyterian since infancy and taught Sunday School.

 

The following week, session met to draft a resolution honoring Elder Henry Muchow on his death. It stated: "Born with a happy, kindly and cheerful disposition, which he nurtured throughout his life, and especially so throughout his affliction, Elder Muchow made friends with all whom he came into contact and as a result, the cheer which he dispersed over a period of so many years came back to him in the high esteem and affectionate regard manifested by all who knew him."

 

A Week of Prayer was held January 3-10, 1937, led by Rev. Ballis and Rev. W. S. Feldwick of a Methodist church in Rockford. The average attendance at those eight services was 52.

 

By 1937, Miss Whalen was back directing the Children's Choir, whose members were given new black-and-white robes sewn by the women of the church—Madames Redfearn, Graves and Green with Mrs. Walter Hibbets cutting the patterns. That fall, the session decided to revive the communion token idea to draw people back into worship on World Communion Sunday. The plan worked, bringing in an "unusually large attendance." Therefore, the idea was repeated the following year with invitations to communion being hand-delivered by the boys of the congregation. Again, large numbers responded.

 

First Female Elder and Pipe Organ

On April 12, 1939, Anna Felt was elected the first woman Elder of this congregation. She was the daughter of former Elder Benjamin Franklin Felt, and she would go on to be the first woman delegate to Freeport Presbytery the following year.

 

In January 1940, the congregation approved decorating the sanctuary at a cost of $485.00. That April, the new Wicks pipe organ was dedicated as a memorial to Jeanette Corwith Newhall, a former member of the church. The Rev. Harold Bowman, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Chicago, preached the sermon at that service. The organ featured more than 400 pipes ranging from those whose diameter was that of a pencil all the way up to those whose diameter was one foot across. The technical work of installing the organ was done by James Weickhardt.

 

The 1940 Christmas Eve service was held from 11 p.m. to midnight in spite of many doubters who thought that the late starting time would inhibit attendance. The church proved to be full. After communion was served, Gladys Ehrler and Irene Larey began the passing of the candlelight. About a month later, a light of a different sort went out when Rev. Ballis resigned due to a physical handicap. His resignation was accepted with regret, and a committee was appointed to draft resolutions of "respect, esteem and love."

 

First Female Trustees and the Hodgson Era Begins

On April 16, 1941, the first two women Trustees were elected—Gladys Ehrler and A. Henning. Around the same time, another new era was looming. In the absence of an installed pastor, the pulpit was being supplied by a young seminary student named John Hodgson. In early October1941, he wrote to the session stating that he could no longer supply the pulpit on a regular basis due to the demands of his senior year at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. However, recognizing Hodgson's gifts as a pastor and as an individual (he had been the valedictorian of his high school graduating class in 1931 and would graduate from seminary magna cum laude), the session didn't want him to get away quite so easily. Therefore, they called a congregational meeting for October 26, 1941 at which John Hodgson was unanimously elected pastor at $1500 per year, plus manse, plus one month of vacation. This would begin following his graduation from seminary. Until that time, they arranged for Hodgson's classmate, Frederick Passler, to fill the pulpit and lead Sunday School classes.

 

Shortly after graduation, Hodgson was given permission from Presbytery to moderate the session, although his ordination wasn't scheduled until Tuesday, October 6, 1942. That date allowed seven of his classmates to take part in the service, including Rev. Leonard Odiorne, who preached the sermon, and Rev. Howard Strong, who gave the charge to the congregation. First Presbyterian member Julius Knautz sang a solo and the Shullsburg Choir, whom Hodgson had accompanied as organist for four years, also sang. The newly ordained pastor then presided at communion for the first time on the following Sunday, October 11, 1942.

 

The congregation had to hold worship services in the Bertsch Funeral Parlors on January 16 and 23, 1944, because the furnace grates had burned out. John Meyers donated labor and materials to repair the furnace. At about the same time, the manse underwent $1000 worth of repairs.

 

Fire Leads to Fall Tour of Homes

Surprisingly, Katherine Norris turned in her resignation as organist as of the end of 1944. However, her salary was raised from $2 to $3 per Sunday, and she was convinced to stay "at least for a time." That proved to be quite some time - about 37 more years!

 

Equally surprising for those of us who know "the rest of the story" is the subject of a meeting held on September 8, 1946. That's when the Session and Trustees met with Rev. Hodgson to attempt to convince him to remain in the ministry rather than give it up and enter the teaching profession. Apparently they were quite a persuasive group because he ultimately remained the pastor of our congregation for 32 more years.

 

However, perhaps a part of what persuaded him at that moment was the sudden, unexpected need of the congregation that grew out of a fire in the church on Sunday, November 17, 1946, which caused the church building to be "badly ruined." The congregation decided to meet in the Odd Fellows Hall while the repairs were being made. The damage was so extensive that the first worship service to be held in the newly decorated sanctuary after the fire did not occur until July 27, 1947, a full eight months later.

 

Meanwhile, at the first annual meeting after that fire - held April 16, 1947 - Rev. Hodgson offered his resignation to the congregation. No action was taken on that resignation and—unlike what happened following similar responses to the resignations of Rev. McLean and Rev. Warren—in this case, the subject was never brought up again. At that same meeting, the congregation voted to add fluorescent lights "in the cave of the main auditorium." Also Charles F. Nagel resigned as Clerk and was replaced by Fred Grimm.

 

By November, the bills for fire-related repairs had all come in. The total cost was $19,918.19. Insurance paid $8880.45, leaving a balance of $11,037.74, which was quite a hefty sum in those days—four-and-a-half times the pastor's salary. In response to those bills, a committee was appointed to raise money for the church. The ultimate outgrowth of that committee's work was a little event called the Fall Tour of Homes, which became a 55-year tradition that restored the congregation's financial standing, as well as helping to transform Galena into a popular tourist destination. Eventually, the Tour helped to raise significant amounts of money for charities, while serving to distinguish us within the community. Not bad for an idea that no one was quite sure would work when it was first proposed. It is important to note that for the first thirty-one years of its existence, Gladys Ehrler was chair of the Fall Tour Committee, which is quite an impressive accomplishment.

 

On October 10, 1948, Katherine Norris and Walter and Gladys Erhler—three people who were already heavily involved in the ministry of our congregation - joined the church.

 

A new carpet was added to the sanctuary in 1953 at a cost of $4068.50. Three years later, protective glass was installed on the outside of the stained glass windows.

 

A new "rotary system" for Elders and Trustees was put in place beginning with the officers elected for 1958. This system means that officers are elected for three-year terms and can serve a maximum of two such terms before being required to stand down for at least one year. It is the system we still use. Prior to this, Elders were elected for life, while Trustees were elected for specific terms of office, but could be reelected as often as the congregation wished. The new system also made another change - only members of the church could be elected to office. That caused a problem for Jim Pletting, who was a nonmember serving a term as Trustee. So he was named an advisor to the Trustees, effective January 1, 1958.

 

On January 13, 1958, attorney James Hansgen was asked to draw up incorporation papers for the congregation. Also, William Whippo resigned as Clerk; Palmer Eustice was elected his successor.

 

Three Congregation Merger Talks

At the annual meeting in January 1959, a youth group was organized, and it was reported that the sanctuary had been redecorated and the sidewalks repaired.

 

Later that year, the major issue became talks about the potential merger of the three Presbyterian Churches in Galena - the South and the Hill, along with First Presbyterian. After a lengthy process, the other two churches voted in favor of the merger while First Presbyterian did not. Therefore, the Hill and South churches combined to form Westminster Presbyterian Church. If the truth be told, the main reason our congregation voted to remain apart from this merger was due to the fact that, as part of the merger, Presbytery mandated that the current pastors would have to leave after a transition period so that the newly combined congregation could call a new pastor of its own. By that point, Rev. Hodgson no longer wanted to leave nor did the congregation want to lose him. Therefore, that requirement was enough to guarantee a vote in this congregation to remain separate.

Rev. Hodgson was a talented musician, and he served as the church's Senior Choir Director for many years, where he was known to demand the highest standards. The same could be said of congregational singing. If he felt that a hymn was being sung too slowly, he would begin to clap in rhythm to speed it up. He would regularly play the piano in worship, often in duets with Katherine Norris on the organ. After years of dreaming about it, he was able to start the Galena Choral Society, which was made up of people of all denominations in town. Through that organization, he arranged for the choir of St. Mary's Catholic Church to join our choir for worship on Christmas Eve, 1966, performing in both church buildings.

 

Several months later, when our congregation celebrated Rev. Hodgson's 25th anniversary as pastor, the St. Mary's Church choir again came and performed at that service. Other guests included a number of Rev. Hodgson's friends from his hometown of Shullsburg, Wisconsin. Gladys Ehrler served as mistress of ceremonies during the program that followed worship. Organist Katherine Norris and vocal soloist Julius Knautz were also honored for their years of service to the church.

 

In his later years, Rev. Hodgson became ill with diabetes. He retired on August 6, 1978, after 36 years as pastor of this church. He is remembered as an excellent preacher, who memorized his sermons. Therefore, he didn't use any notes when he, in his own words, "gave them the preach." He was a gentle man, who "couldn't be beat." At his retirement, Rev. Hodgson was named Pastor Emeritus, the first such honor given by the First Presbyterian Church.

 

Front and Center

After such a long pastorate, the denomination requires an interim pastor so the congregation can get used to different styles and different ways of doing things. The interim who followed Rev. Hodgson was the Rev. Dr. Gene Straatmeyer, who was serving as a professor at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. Dr. Straatmeyer made a number of changes in things, such as the order of worship, so that he could serve as the lightning rod to defuse the reactions of those who didn't like change before the next installed pastor was brought in. Among others things, he asked people to sit down front and eventually - probably to his surprise - they did. He also asked for prayer concerns before the Pastoral Prayer. He served as interim for about two years.

The next pastor was the Rev. William B. Harnish, who was installed on February 10, 1980. Rev.Harnish graduated from the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary in 1960 and continued in graduate school until 1963 at the University of Iowa School of Religion, where he received an honorary doctorate. He was ordained March 10, 1963. Prior to his service in this church, Rev. Harnish had been pastor of the Hus Memorial Presbyterian Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and the First Presbyterian Church of Phillips, Wisconsin, as well as having been executive director of the Linn County, Iowa, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program.

 

In 1980, the Ladies Aid and the Guild were dissolved and reformed as the United Presbyterian Women. The two circles within that organization were named in honor of two outstanding women of the church, Anna Felt and Myrtle Heer. Mrs. Heer was well-known for her work with the Sunday School. Miss Felt, as has been reported, was the first woman Elder of the church. Later, the Heer Circle disbanded and a new circle of younger women was formed, named the Carolyn Kent Circle.

 

On January 4, 1981, Katherine Norris retired as organist after serving the church diligently for fifty-six years. Her musicianship was excelled only by her faithfulness. In March of that year, she was named Organist Emeritus. She was replaced by a highly gifted musician, Pam Ohms, who went on to serve faithfully as organist for the next 17 years.

 

A major milestone was reached in 1982 with the establishment of the C. Palmer and Eunice Eustice Educational Fund. This fund, along with the Virtue Educational Fund, provides loans to church members interested in pursuing higher education.

 

In 1983 a Ford van was purchased to transport elderly parishioners to and from church services and related events. It was also used for a variety of other functions such as youth group activities and trips to Presbytery. It remained in the congregation's ownership until the mid-1990s when the costs of its upkeep outran its usefulness.

 

Capital Improvements and 150th Anniversary

A number of major improvements to the church building were made in 1985. The church steeple was structurally repaired, and its exterior was brought into the twentieth century with the addition of vinyl cladding designed to eliminate constant painting. Access to the sanctuary by elderly and handicapped worshipers was improved with the installation of an elevator. A new sidewalk, providing a level approach to the church basement, was added at the same time.

 

During his tenure, Rev. Harnish participated in several pulpit exchanges, which took him to Wales, Scotland, England and New Zealand. The congregation also celebrated its 150th anniversary and buried a time capsule during those festivities.

 

Rev. Harnish built up the Sunday School and the Youth Group, and arranged for the children to participate in the worship service the first Sunday of the month. In 1987, he was elected by Blackhawk Presbytery as a commissioner to the 200th General Assembly. Unfortunately, controversy erupted within the congregation in 1990 and Rev. Harnish eventually resigned as of Sept. 15th of that year.

 

On February 8, 1991, the congregation called Rev. Linda Burger to be interim pastor. In early June, a Pastor Nominating Committee was elected and a Mission Statement was approved. In August 1991, three new committees were created: Mission & Stewardship, Membership & Evangelism, and Fellowship.

 

On March 8, 1992, Jim McCrea, a recent graduate of the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, was invited to lead worship at the church in order to be considered by the congregation to be its next pastor. He remembers opening the bulletin before the service that day and seeing that the anthem was "Who Is This Man?" He was elected by a vote of 84-1 and would begin his tenure April 1, 1992. Between the election and the arrival of the McCrea family in Galena, Dr. Emil Hospodar organized large work crews—involving some 56 members in all—to rehabilitate the manse, but also to help in the healing process.

 

In 1992, our congregation shared summertime Saturday evening services and adult education classes with Westminster, and we helped fund a new building for the Sonshine Center mission in Schapville.

 

On October 18, 1993, we hired R.J. Leek as our first student pastor in the McCrea era. We have rarely been without one—or occasionally two—ever since.

 

Another Attempted Merger

At an annual meeting on Jan. 30, 1994, the congregation approved "with great enthusiasm" a motion to have the session discuss with Westminster the possibility of merger. Thus began a ten-month process of regular shared worship services, Christian Education and fellowship events.

 

The merger terms originally agreed upon were:

  • Name of the combined church is to be United Presbyterian Church of Galena.

  • Maintain both buildings for a minimum of two years.

  • Rotate services between the two buildings each three months.

  • Maintain the manse for a minimum of two years.

  • All funds with specific purposes will continue that way.

  • Special funds will accrue to the benefit of the new congregation.

  • Existing fund-raisers will continue and be supported by members of both previous congregations.

  • Board to consist of 12 elders, 6 Trustees and 8 Deacons.

  • Schedule of events set, leading to merger on Jan. 1, 1995.

  • Two-thirds vote required to approve.

  • Submit final terms to Presbytery for their Nov. 8, 1994 meeting.

  • Worship time to be 10:30 a.m. with Sunday School during worship.

 

The two present pastors will become interim pastors for a period not longer than Dec. 31, 1996.

Only two of those terms proved to be anything significantly less than unanimous - the last two listed. A large number of people in our church preferred to hold Sunday School outside of the worship hour, but a vote of the congregations left that term the way it was presented. The second issue arose when the Westminster congregation wanted to allow the pastors of the two churches to be called co-pastors, which would make them eligible to compete to be the sole pastor of the combined congregation two years after the merger. The steering committee of the two churches changed the term to reflect that, in spite of being warned that Presbytery would never approve that particular part of the agreement, because it would invite controversy in the fledging church. Sure enough, when the terms were presented to Presbytery, all of them were acceptable with the exception of the one making the current pastors into co-pastors. Therefore, Presbytery tabled their action on the request for approval of the merger. The vote in the two churches was set for November 13, 1994. Following presentations at both churches by a member of the Committee on Ministry to explain why Presbytery tabled their action, the congregational votes were taken. Our congregation passed the merger proposal 51-16, which was more than the two-thirds needed. Westminster also had a majority in favor, but with a total in favor of 55-42, the percentage was 57 percent, which was shy of the two-thirds majority. Therefore the merger did not take place.

While this process was taking place, Rev. McCrea was asked to teach the Beginning Hebrew class at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary during the Fall 1994 semester. He also took a trip to Israel and Italy during late December and early January, celebrating his 40th birthday in Jerusalem.

Sanctuary Renovation

In the spring of 1995, the congregation undertook a project to redecorate the sanctuary with new paint, new carpet and new pew pads, along with re-staining and repairing the pews. Jim Holman took the lead with significant help from his three brothers—Bob, Ken and John. Approximately 30 other members were involved as well. When the project was complete, we celebrated during worship by giving everyone a sugar cookie, since the color the walls were painted was called "Sugar Cookie."

 

In 1996, two discussions were held which resulted in no action being taken at that time; however, both provided a glimpse at future decisions. The first discussion arose out of a recommendation by Choir Director/Student Pastor Scott Bean that we consider the purchase of a new hymnal. When the proposal reached the congregation, it proved to be controversial, so the idea was dropped. The second discussion was the first of many meetings about what to do about the Fall Tour of Homes. Rising costs paired with lowering attendance and income gave hints of what was to come. The Fall Tour discussion would continue, in various forms, for the next nine years.

 

In April 1997, the Westminster session contacted our session asking us to consider reopening merger talks. We took the idea to our congregation and asked them to do the same. Our congregation was willing to pursue further talks, but it turned out that their congregation was not, so the offer was withdrawn.

 

In 1998, the idea of purchasing new hymnals was brought up again. This time, it sailed through the congregation easily. A committee was set up, which ultimately recommended the 1989 United Methodist hymnal. The congregation approved that recommendation, and the hymnals were first used on Feb. 16, 1999, following a "Farewell to the Old Hymnal" service that was celebrated the Sunday before.

 

Millennium Party

On December 31, 1999, the congregation threw a Millennium Party, gathering for games and snacks in the basement in the evening and then going upstairs for a worship service beginning at 11 p.m., which ended by having all in attendance ring the bell at midnight to welcome in the new millennium. That January, the pastor helped lead a group - including Diane and Donald Burch - on a trip to Israel and Egypt. Rev. McCrea also began the first of several terms as president of the United Churches of Galena that month.

 

In February 2000, the church website was up and running, making us the first church in town to have one by more than a year and a half. In October 2000, all new baseboard heating was installed in the church basement.

The next year, the Grace Episcopal congregation approached us about having shared worship services during Lent while their building was being restored. Our session agreed, and we enjoyed five Sundays together, planning two Episcopalian, two Presbyterian and one "Presbypalian" service. At the end of that series, they invited us to worship with them in their newly redecorated sanctuary at which time they gave us a photograph of our church's front doors as a symbol of what they saw as our open doors and open hearts.

 

Kitchen and Office Renovations and the Electronic Age

In May 2001, a committee was created to redecorate the church kitchen. The project was completed the following summer.

 

On April 16, 2002, the Fellowship Committee planned a Mystery Dinner. Part of the mystery turned out to be a surprise celebration of Rev. McCrea's 10th anniversary with the congregation.

 

One month later, the congregation hosted two guests from the Imenti Presbytery in Kenya—Elias Mukindia and Francis Kahiko. And so began our relationship with the Linus Waruiru Day Care Centre in Meru, Kenya.

That summer, an electronic screen and LCD projector were added to the sanctuary for use in showing PowerPoint presentations and movies. Fortunately, they were not affected when the church was hit by lightning two different times in the summer of 2002.

 

In the summer of 2003, the steeple was repainted, while new homemade pictorial directories were distributed that November.

 

On April 25, 2004, we celebrated the 175th anniversary of the arrival of Rev. Aratus Kent in Galena with an "Old Fashioned" church service and a sermon about Rev. Kent written by Rev. Ballis in 1931.

 

In early 2005, work began on renovating the church office. The project was spearheaded by Jerry Grant, with help from Julie and Jim Musich and Fran and Dick Peterson. The work was completed by July, and the results were dazzling. That year also saw the first third of a tuck-pointing project (the south wall and the southern half of the back wall) to repair the outer walls of the church building. The second third (the front wall including the steeple) was completed in 2006. The final segment will be done in 2007.

 

Fall Tour Ends; Future Begins

In June 2005, the congregation sadly ended the Fall Tour of Homes after 55 years of service to the church and to the community. The vote to end the Tour was unanimous.

 

In May 2006, a new sound system was purchased that greatly improves the clarity of our worship services. And the Trustees undertook a number of projects to spruce up the church building in preparation for our 175th anniversary celebration.

 

As we look ahead, we do so knowing that the history of this congregation is secure, and we trust that our descendants will continue to serve faithfully and joyfully as an outpost of God's grace in this community far into the future.

 

 

Additional Historical Items

For a copy of a sermon delivered by Rev. Aratus Kent in January, 1861 about the early history of this congregation, click here.

For a copy of an article written by Rev. Aratus Kent's niece about her trip from New York to Galena with her aunt and uncle in 1831, click here.

Founding Pastor

Rev. Aratus Kent

1841–1848

Rev.  S. G. Spees

1848–1856

Rev.  John McLean

1866–1872

Rev.  David Clark

1887–1899

Rev. Ralph Maclay Crissman, Ph.D.

1903–1912

Rev. LeRoy Warren

1912–1918

Rev. Harry Lothian

1921–1928

Rev. Eugene A. Ballis

1929–1941

Rev. John Hodgson

1942–1978

Rev. Bill Harnish

1980–1990

Rev. Jim McCrea

1992–present

First Presbyterian Church

106 N. Bench Street

Galena, Illinois 61036

(815) 777-0229

WORSHIP

    Sundays, 10 a.m.

 

SUNDAY SCHOOL (Sept – May)
    Adults: Sundays, 9-9:45 a.m.
 

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