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One Hundred Year History of the Minonk Baptist Church

By Harrison M. Parks
Written for the One Hundredth Anniversary Celebration 1858-1958
September 7, 1958

The roots of this church's history are struck deep in the black loam of our state of Illinois. The people who walk through its pages were common God-fearing people, even as you and I. To the earliest of them was given the task of founding a church. Because of what they did, and the far-reaching plans they made, we are privileged today to call this organization the Minonk Baptist Church. It was founded just one hundred years ago.

Text prepared by Donna Rae Eilts
At that distant time the country was new, and the surrounding prairie was mostly untamed. The early settlers preferred to live along the rivers and near the forests. The wide-open prairie was too vast and offered very little shelter. With the coming of the Illinois Central Railroad, about the middle of the nineteenth century, the situation changed. Then the settlers were offered the opportunity of building town and opening up the land. By means of extensive advertising by the railroad, people began to come into the state in large numbers. Many came from New York and New England, in search of a land that offered better opportunities than that from which they came.

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From what we are able to learn, the first white man who came to the region of Minonk to establish a farm was a Frank B. Williams from Vermont. He chose a tract of land adjoining the present site of the City of Minonk and journey to the land office in Peoria to file a claim, only to find that the land had already been taken. The first actual settler within the limits of the township was Samuel Work. Later he became the first station agent in Minonk. He was also our first Justice of the Peace.

Now that it became evident that there was going to be a town, people began to arrive in larger numbers. In the fall of 1854 Charles Dobson put in his appearance, and with Americus Pogue, opened the first grocery store. In December of that year the Minonk post office was established and our Mr. Dobson became postmaster. Jonathan Macey opened the first hotel. It stood on the site of the Woodford Hotel. The first child born in Minonk was Miss Clara Christians, whom some present may remember.

The first school was opened in the winter of 1856-57 and the teacher was Francis Reeder. School was held in a building owned by the Illinois Central railroad, and stood just west of the present Woodford Hotel. As yet, there were no churches. The needs of the community was served by itinerant preachers, and when one came to town people would gather to hear him, with no thought of denomination.

The community continued to attract settlers. The land was still government land and could be had by riling a fee of sixty-five cents an acre. It was extremely fertile. The black soil was a matter of wonder to the people of the East. One old Yankee called it a mixture of tar and mud. Also this portion of Woodford County was very marshy. Many willow swamps dotted the landscape, and they were filled with stagnant water and croaking frogs. Otherwise prairie grass higher than a man on horseback was everywhere. There were scores of rattlesnakes, and prairie chickens without number. Houses were poorly made and on wintry nights snow would sift through the cracks between the shingles and the wolves would howl without. Then in summer came the ague from the miasmic swamps. Quinine was the only remedy to rid this malady.

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Such then, were the conditions surrounding the site of our fair city one hundred years ago. What were then mucky swamps and now well-tilled, productive farms, and where then toiled the hardy pioneer, now lives the modern mechanized farmer.

After Minonk was firmly established, the advance guard of the various denominations began to appear. First came the Presbyterians, followed by the Methodists, and then the Baptists, with whom this historical statement has to deal. The Minonk Baptist Church was organized June 6, 1858 and enrolled the following:

A. H. Danforth, Mary Spandan, Hannah Danforth, Anthony Spandan Mrs. T. Jury, John Terry, Richard Denby, Mary Sheplar, Margaret Denby, George Evans, Frederick Spandan, Louise Evans, John Spandan.

A. H. Danforth was chosen as clerk.

Acting on the invitation of these proposed members, a council was convened for the purpose of examining the article of faith previously adopted by the New Hampshire State Convention and with the thought that, if it seemed advisable, the council would recognize these applicants as constituting an independent Baptist church. Pastors attended the following churches: Rev. Baily of Metamora, Rev. Ketchum of Panola, Rev. Merit of Washburn, and Rev. Fuller of Richland. The church was officially recognized on June 23, 1858.

The first meetings were held in the old east side schoolhouse. Funds for an independent structure were not available at that time. On July 30, 1859, after a year and a month without a pastor, Rev. C. D. Merit accepted a call and on the same day was received by letter.

Benjamin Hall, who succeeded A. H. Danforth as clerk was instructed by the church to collect $11.00 for the purpose of buying a lot for an edifice. Lots were cheap then; for it was mostly open prairie. Our present lot was finally purchased.

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The years that followed were the dark years of the Civil War. Many of Minonk's young men took part in the struggle. There were several from our church. Efforts were made to keep in touch with these men, and to let them know that the church had their best interests at heart.

After having been without an edifice for six years, the Baptists finally had the satisfaction of seeing a new structure completed and dedicated on October 30, 1864. The building committee consisted of Rev. C. D. Merit, D. P. Kenyon, G. P. Danforth, S. D. Cushing and M. A. Cushing.

From the church minutes, I quote the following report of the building committee: "A building has been erected according to plans and specifications and accepted by us at the cost of, including furnishings and organ, $3,691.27."

The dedicatory exercises took place in the forenoon of a bright and clear Sunday.

During the years that followed, the original structure was remodeled and enlarged several times before it was finally torn down. Also, during these years many new members were added to the Minonk church from the old Merdian Baptist church, which held its meetings seven miles west of Minonk in the Washington school building.

The membership of the church had now expanded to two hundred and the building was too small. Plans were therefore made to remodel. An extension of sixteen feet was added to the north end of the building at a cost of $850.00. This amount was raised by subscription.

The church was now passing through an era of prosperity. New members were being received at each monthly business meeting and many on Sundays. Incidentally, the pastor's salary was now $1,000.00 a year. Originally it had been $200.00 a year.

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On Sunday morning, January 30, 1876, Rev. Merit, our pioneer pastor, resigned. However, his resignation was not accepted. On the following year he again resigned because of poor health. This time his resignation was accepted. He was our leader for almost eighteen years, longer than any other pastor.

On March 4, 1877, Rev. Sutherland became the next preacher. According to reports his pastorate was an uneventful one. During this time, however, they did purchase a new organ. Twenty dollars was allowed for the old one, and the remainder of the debt was to be paid in sixty days. Rev. Sutherland resigned on April 5, 1879, having held the pastorate for two years. He was a quiet, amiable man and later became president of the Grand Island Theological Seminary at Grand Island, Nebraska.

Rev. Caldwell came next and filled our pulpit from January 1, 1880 to May 16, 1881.

Rev. J. C. Shipp next appeared on the scene. He can be remembered by some of the present membership. His pastorate was also brief. Upon just what date he took up his duties the records do not show, but they do show that he resigned on August 24, 1882. He married a local girl. She was the sister of the late Mrs. R. H. Parks.

Rev. Murch came next, and filled the pulpit from October 8, 1882 to January 20, 1884. After his resignation the vacancy, was temporarily filled by Rev. S. B. Rundle. The next pastor was Rev. Coffman and he, was followed by Rev. Burnham.

Up to this time we had no parsonage, it being necessary for the ministers to occupy any house that was available. It seems that Rev. Burnham sparked the idea of a parsonage. It was finally built just east of the church where it now stands, and was to cost not over $800.00. The date must have been 1882 or 1883. As far as we can estimate, our present parsonage is the original one; but doubtless has been remodeled.

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Rev. Burnham resigned soon after the parsonage was completed, and Rev. J. C. Shipp returned. This time he stayed three years.

In 1891 the old church building was again remodeled. There had been two entrances at the south end. Instead, they placed one in the center. Cherry colored connected chairs replaced the old unpainted benches. In fact, the church was quite "up to date."

Rev. Shipp again resigned in 1892. He; was followed by Bro. Swift, who was a most energetic and gifted young man, as his name might indicate and while here was ordained to the ministry. Rev. Wylie came in June 1893. This same year the church received word of the death of our first pastor, Rev. Merit. Rev. Wylie remained with the church for four years. He was a powerful revivalist, and conducted his own special services.

Rev. Moon came next and was followed by Rev. Wallace, in July 1900. It was at this time that the building of a new church began to be seriously considered. The old structure was no longer adequate. Mrs. Louisa M. Parks, who died in December 1902, had left a fund of $2,000.00 as her contribution toward the building of a new edifice. Rev. Wallace was untiring in his efforts to stimulate interest in this new undertaking. He was successful and the project was finally launched. In 1906 Rev. Wallace resigned, with the satisfaction of knowing that the church would be built.

That same year the old structure was torn down and the present one commenced. Rev. McCormick was our pastor at the time. Temporary services were held upstairs in the Pickard building, and also in the old German Baptist church, which stood where John Denson's home now stands.

In November 1907, the cornerstone of the new edifice was laid. Work progressed during the winter and the following summer, and during the holidays of 1908 the completed structure was dedicated.

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At the time of the dedication the church had no minister, Rev. McCormick having resigned after a pastorate of two years. Rev. W. H. Tolliver became our next pastor and remained with us from January 1, 1910 to May 26, 1912. He; in turn, was followed by Rev. J. C. Oranger, who remained with us from August 4, 1912 to August 1, 1917. We remember him as a man with a powerful voice. He also built up the largest men's class the church ever had.

Then came Rev. N. J. Hilton who stayed with us from November 1, 1917 to March 21, 1922. While he was here, Dr. Charles Shepherd, a young returned missionary from China supplied the pulpit for a couple of months. He became interested in a local girl, Miss Esther Parks, and they were married on June 1, 1918.

Rev. L. C. Taylor followed Rev. Hilton and he remained here from September 17, 1922 to December 16, 1928. We all liked him and he remained for almost six years.

Rev. V. C. Oltrogge, a graduate of the Moody Bible Institute followed Rev. Taylor. He remained from April 1, 1929 to September 24, 1933.

We next called Rev. S. L. Buchanan. He came from New York, and was highly recommended. We were well pleased with his pastorate and with his fine family. Rev. Buchanan was with us almost 12 years, being second only in years of service to our pioneer pastor, Rev. Merit.

Rev. Kennell filled our pulpit from July 23, 1945 to September 30, 1947. He was a young man of sterling quality. It was during his pastorate that the new Hammond organ and chimes were purchased, which have always added so much to the effectiveness of our services. The organ and chimes were dedicated to the memory of our young men who at that time were serving in World War II. The lighted cross was given to the church by Mrs. Jessee Underwood in memory of her husband who made the supreme sacrifice in the same war.

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From June 6, 1948 to January 1, 1950, Rev. Daehler was our pastor. He resigned on account of poor health.

Rev. E. R. Williams was with us from October 22, 1950 to November 30, 1953. He was an admirable young man, and besides his good preaching, was a fine singer.

Rev. Charles Auerswald was with us from February 21, 1954 to October 6, 1957. After he left the church gave a call to Rev. J. Leon Furrh. He accepted the call and delivered his first sermon on June 1, 1958.

So ends the succession of pastors the Minonk Baptist church had in one hundred years. They were all dedicated men of God and all of them tried to the limit of their ability to justify their work here. From the first pioneer pastor to the current one, they all taught the word of God.

It is interesting to note that from our ranks have come several who have themselves became ministers. We have Lester Boyd, Ben Jochums and Glenn Harms. The latter is still a student in Northern Theological Seminary. Some of our girls have married ministers in other places. Some of our people have become doctors and professional leaders. One was a Y.W.C.A. leader in various cities of the Midwest for many years.

The church thanks Rev. Robert L. Taylor for the work he has done here in the past several months. He has been our minister pro tem in time of need, and we will not soon forget his efforts.

Finally, we are deeply obligated to Mr. Arthur Harms, one of our own members, who has so competently filled our pulpit at times when occasion demanded his help. We feel that he has been one of our most useful members. His singing has added much to his ministration.