Sandburg's Hometown

June 1, 2015

Central Congregational Church, Galesburg, IL

Old First Church - Part II

by Barbara Schock

On June 21, 1846, the first services were held in the Old First Church. It continued as the center of the religious, cultural, political and public life in Galesburg for many years. The congregation was composed of both Presbyterian and Congregational believers.

The two denominations had agreed to a “Plan of Union” in 1803. It was an attempt to cooperate in proselytizing in the states which were later known as the Midwest. A parting of ways began when the Congregationalists insisted they could not associate with slavery in any form, whereas the Presbyterian members in the southern states were often slaveowners..

In 1851, Reverend George Washington Gale and thirty-seven members withdrew from Old First Church. They organized the First Presbyterian Church. Both churches continued to flourish with increasing memberships.

The members of the Old First Church changed the name to the Church of Christ in 1858. Nevertheless, in the popular mind, it continued to be known as the Old First Church. A few years later, a group of members decided to establish the First Congregational Church. It was domiciled in a new brick building on South Broad Street. The first pastor of the church was Edward Beecher of the famous family of preachers.

In 1895 the Old First Church and the First Congregational re-combined and named their church Central Congregational. They decided to build a new edifice. The Old First Church was torn down in December of that year. The new building would stand on the site of the former church on the Public Square.

Gottschalk and Beadle, a Galesburg architectural firm, designed the new building and O.C. Housel was the contractor. A Romanesque style building of red sandstone was selected. The auditorium was constructed in a semi-circle for the best sight lines and sound distribution. Two thousand worshipers could be accommodated during services.

The cornerstone was laid June 10, 1897, and the facility was occupied on December 5, 1898. The church was filled to capacity at afternoon and evening dedicatory services. The newspapers of the day reported at length about the up-to-date features of the new building. The sermon of the Reverend Clarence A. Vincent, D.D., pastor of the congregation, was reprinted in full.

Central Congregational Church cost $75,000 (more than $2 million in today's money) to erect. Beautiful stained glass windows were installed in the church commemorating pioneer families of Galesburg. A large organ enhanced the church services.

The Brick Church on South Broad Street, the daughter of Old First Church, was sold to Knox College for $10,000 with the Central congregation forgiving half the cost. It was named Beecher Chapel in honor of the first pastor. It would continue to serve the college as a chapel and the Conservatory of Music. In 1966 the old brick building was torn down to the regret of many citizens of Galesburg.

Knox College and Central Church continued to have a close relationship with commencement exercises being held in the church for many years. Funerals were conducted from the church for many well known Galesburg citizens, such as Mary Ann “Mother” Bickerdyke, a Civil War nurse; Mary Allen West, an original settler and Women's Christian Temperance Union lecturer; veterans of the Civil War; former mayors of the city and several men who had served in the United State Congress.

Today the church is in need of repairs and restoration. Current members of the church hope to raise enough money to save one of the most beautiful buildings in Galesburg.

Carl Sandburg was not a member of the Congregational or Presbyterian Churches in Galesburg. His family belonged to the Lutheran denomination, which had a sterner theology. Nevertheless, Sandburg 's appreciation for Old First Church was great. In his writing he expressed admiration for the fortitude and determination of those pioneers who contributed their labor and time, because they had little money, to erecting of the Old First Church. He knew their faith had been strong and their sacrifices had contributed to the upbuilding of the city of Galesburg.

Sandburg's Hometown
Date Title
June 1, 2015 Old First Church - Part II
May 25, 2015 Old First Church - Part I
May 18, 2015 Marbles
May 11, 2015 Pawnee County, Kansas
May 4, 2015 Detective Stories and the Real Thing
April 27, 2015 Professor Isaac A. Parker
April 20, 2015 Celluloid Collars
April 13, 2015 Asparagus
April 6, 2015  Mayor John C. Stewart 
March 30, 2015 Basket Ball
March 23, 2015 The Courthouse of Knox County, IL
March 16, 2015

“Trifles make perfection...”

March 9, 2015 Uncle Tom's Cabin
March 2, 2015 Martha Sandburg Goldstone
February 23, 2015 Devotion
February 16, 2015  Gumbiner's Pawn Shop 
February 9, 2015 White Bread
February 2, 2015 The Monarch Club
January 26, 2015 The Silver Dollar
January 19, 2015 The Fulton County Narrow Gauge Railway
January 12, 2015 The Four Corners
December 22, 2014 Swedish Christmas
December 8, 2014 Christmas 1878
December 1, 2014 Bunker Boots & Shoes
November 24, 2014 Galesburg, Illinois
November 17, 2014 It was Buffalo Bill's Day
November 10, 2014 The Election of 1896 (A follow-up story)
November 3, 2014 The Election of 1896 (continued)
October 27, 2014 The Election of 1896
October  24, 2014 The Rissywarn
October 20, 2014 The Parlor Stove
October 13, 2014 Ashes to Ashes
October 6, 2014 Jesse James
Sept. 29, 2014 Lester T. Stone, Public Servant
Sept. 22, 2014 It's Who You Know
Sept 15, 2014 Mother of the Illinois Flag
Sept 8, 2014 The Scissors Grinder
Sept 1, 2014 Baseball
August 25, 2014 Howard K. Knowles, Capitalist
August 18, 2014  Alcoholic Beverages
August 11, 2014 Soda Water
August 4, 2014 Sweet Corn
July 28, 2014 Marching Through Georgia
July 21, 2014 The Knox County Fair
July 14, 2014 The Panic of 1893
July 7, 2014 The Rev. T. N. Hasselquist
June 30, 2014 The Knox County Courthouse
June 23, 2014 The Family Photograph Album
June 16, 2014 Parades
June 9, 2014 Lingonberries
June 2, 2014 Where We Live
May 26, 2014 Old Main
May 19, 2014 Rhythms of the Railroad
May 12, 2014 Spring Tonic
May 5, 2014 The Milkmen
April 28, 2014 Gray's "Elegy..."
April 21, 2014 Off to War
April 14, 2014 Swedish Easter
April 7, 2014 A Father's Face
March 31, 2014 Secret Societies
March 24, 2014 George A. Murdock, Merchant
March 10, 2014 Trade Cards
March 3, 2014 The Demorest Medal
February 24, 2014 Rip Van Winkle
February 17, 2014 Cabbage Soup
February 10, 2014 Lincoln's Birthday
February 3, 2014 4  The Colonel
January 27, 2014 The Lincoln Penny - A Little History
January 20, 2014 Walking to Work
January 13, 2014  A Small Abode
January 6, 2014 Birth of a Poet
December 30, 2013 Christmas 1880
December 23, 2013 Swedish Christmas
December 16, 2013 The Reporter Sees Santa
December 9, 2013 The Coming of Christmas
December 2, 2013 The Fire Boys Talk
November 25, 2013 Galesburg Will Feast on Turkeys and Cranberries - Thanksgiving 1893
November 18, 2013 Mary Sandburg Johnson
November 11, 2013 Carl Sandburg's Bicycle
November 4, 2013 Lace Curtains
October 28, 2013 The Front Room
October 21, 2013 A Warm Breakfast
October 14, 2013 Marion D. Shutter
October 7, 2013 Cigars and Consumption
September 30, 2013 Forrest F. Cooke & August Sandburg
September 16, 2013 Forrest F. Cooke, Mayor
September 9, 2013 Dusty Streets
September 2, 2013 Typhoid Fever
August 26, 2013 Coffee and Water
August 19, 2013 A Horse! A Horse!
August 12, 2013 Gaddial Scott
August 5, 2013 The Racetrack
July 29, 2013 John Peter Algeld - Part II
July 22, 2013 John Peter Altgeld - Part I
July 15, 2013 Tramps, Tramps, Tramps
July 8, 2013 Lady Liberty
July 1, 2013 Galesburg's Fourth
June 24, 2013 John H. Finley
June 17, 2013 The World's Columbian Exhibition
June 10, 2013 Fruit Short-Cake
June 3, 2013 Horatio Alger, Author
May 27, 2013 Memorial Day, 1887
May 20, 2013 Professor Jon W. Grubb
May 13, 2013 Beginnings of Lombard University
May 6, 2013 Young Sandburg’s View of Lombard College
April 29, 2013 Thinking
April 22, 2013 Robert Colville, Master Mechanic
April 15, 2013 The Galesburg Opera House
April 8, 2013 Grocery Stores and Sample Rooms
April 1, 2013  A Hearty  Breakfast 
March 25, 2013  The Lost Wallpaper Legend 
March 18, 2013 Martin G. Sandburg
March 4, 2013 The Edison Talking Machine
February 25, 2013 Joe Elser, Civil War Veteran
February 18, 2013 Remember the Maine...
February 11, 2013 Lincoln's Birthday
February 4, 2013 Curiosity