First Methodist Episcopal Church

The only surviving member at the present time is Nancy Hartzell, widow of the late Michael Hartzell, and mother of Joseph Hartzell, bishop of Africa, who for a number of years has been accomplishing a wonderful work on that continent.. During the formative period of the church it had no place of worship of its own. In its beginning the society met at the home of J. W. Spencer. This was a log house that stood near Seventh Avenue and Nineteenth Street. There Methodist preachers always found a cordial welcome. Without disparagement to others it may safely be said that Mr. and Mrs. Spencer stood sponsors for the church; a relation that they worthily maintained during the remaining period of their lives. About the year 1836 a brick school house was erected in Union Square, now known as Spencer ‘Square, and Methodist services were held in it. In 1843 preparations were begun for the building of a church to occupy the northwest corner of the same Square; a site set apart by the then proprietors for that purpose. The church was finished in the year 1844, under the pastorate of Reverend Isaac Searles. This was a brick building, without ornamentation, built at a cost of about $4,000. It was dedicated in December of the year of its completion. It remained the home of the church for eleven years, until the erection of a. much more commodious and imposing structure, on the site of the present church. The conference of 1843 made Rock Island a station, and Reverend Andrew Coleman was appointed pastor. During the pastorate of Reverend G. L. S. Stuff. 1850-1851, the first parsonage was built; a brick building still occupied as a residence, on Nineteenth Street just north of Fifth Avenue. This house when built was in a field belonging to Mr. Spencer. The second church, as above referred to, was undertaken during the pastorate of Reverend William Tasker, and finished in 1855, Reverend S. G. J. Worthington being pastor. The first conference at Rock Island was held in this church the same year, Bishop Janes presiding. The dedication did not take place until April 20, 1856, when its entire indebtedness was provided for. On the evening of December 5, 1855, four months’ before the dedication, a supper was served in the basement of the church, by the ladies, at one dollar per plate, and six hundred and fifty dollars was realized. It was spoken of as the largest festival ever held in the city. The ferry boat ran free and people came from Davenport, Moline and other adjacent towns, while the good Methodists kept open house for all. A new parsonage was built adjoining the new church in 1856. The Holbrook bell, which still faithfully calls to the several services of the church, was purchased in 1869, at a cost of $1,200. Reverend Richard Haney was pastor.. In 1870-71, under Reverend J. H. Rhea, the church was thoroughly re-paired, an alcove built in the rear of the pulpit for the occupancy of a new pipe organ, the whole expense being about $8,500, which amount was fully met at the time of reopening, on which occasion Doctor E. O. Haven, afterwards bishop, preached. The Central Illinois Conference convened, for the second time at Rock Island, in 1864, Bishop Scott presided. At this time the war of the rebellion was being fought to a finish; the second election of Abraham Lincoln was pending. It can truthfully be stated that of the 2,299 soldiers which went out from this county this church sent her full quota. Bishops Simpson, Peck and Bowman, at different times, occupied the pulpit of this church, as did Doctor William Butler, who told of his wonderful experiences in Mexico and India. The third conference held in Rock Island was in 1883, at the close. of the pastorate of Reverend J. S. McCord. Bishop Andrews presided. His sermon, preached on Sunday morning at the opera house, was one of exceeding power and beauty of diction. At this conference Chaplain McCabe was present, delighting all by his beautiful rendering of Christian song. Reverend R. G. Pearce followed Doctor McCord as pastor. The personnel of the laity of the church is worthy of mention, but space forbids the naming of more than one, who was notably zealous and full of good works, viz: Edward W. Spencer. His birth antedated the organization of the church by two years. He was nurtured in a Christian home and at the altars of the church. He did not disregard the obligations thus imposed upon him. For nearly a third of a century he was Sunday school superintendent and choir leader. He organized and largely maintained by untiring services the young people’s and children’s meetings, while other services of the church were a special care. Others who went out from this church and entered the ministry of the Methodist Episcopal Church were William B. Frizzell, J. W. Frizzell and William A. Spencer. The last named after an honored career has passed on to the other shore. The semi-centennial jubilee of the church was held April 2-5 inclusive, 1887, during the pastorate of Reverend G. J. Lucky. It was an occasion of great interest, and spiritual profit to the church. The principal addresses made at that time fortunately are preserved in book form, entitled, Fifty Years of Methodism in Rock Island. There is no relation in life outside of the family, so close and tender as that experienced in the church, that which constitutes Christian fellowship. Reverend G. W. Gue followed Reverend Luckey in the pastorate. Not later than the second year as pastor, he began to whisper in the ear of one here and there that the proper thing to do was to build a new church. It was not a little thing to undertake, and, furthermore, very many seemed quite satisfied to continue to worship in the old sanctuary, so long their spiritual home; as at its altars many have been born into the kingdom of their Lord and Savior; while from its doors loved ones had been borne to their last resting place. Hallowed associations made it precious. Having put his hand to the work, Reverend Gue was not one to turn back. He was persistent and continually at it, two very important elements in the accomplishment of a purpose. To write the history of this enterprise is more than now can be under-taken. Consummate thought sanctified by prayer and the earnest effort of all the people made possible the accomplishment of the work undertaken. The corner stone of the edifice was laid September 24, 1889; Bishop Ninde, by invitation, was present and made the principal address. Many of the pastors of other churches in the city were present and participated in the service. A year and a month from the laying of the corner stone the church was dedicated, October 26, 1890. The long cherished hope had eventuated in ultimate fruition. The cost of the-building was about $45,000, which amount was provided for previous to the dedication. At the end of four years as pastor Reverend Gue was transferred to Portland, Oregon. He has since, together with his estimable wife, passed to his final reward. Reverend F. W. Merrell succeeded Reverend Gue as pastor. He served the church faith-fully and well for five years, the membership of the church being largely increased during that period. Near the close of his pastorate, at the instance of Captain T. J. Robinson. who made the donation, a new pipe organ was placed in the church. This necessitated quite a change in the auditorium which, together with other improvements, made an expense of about $7,000. Reverend C. O. McCulloch succeeded Reverend Merrell as pastor. His service for a period of five years was fraught with great blessing to the church. During the fourth year of his ministry a new parsonage was built, at a cost of $4,000. To secure that amount, besides nearly as much more of indebtedness before the work was undertaken, required strenuous effort. Reverend Mc-Culloch, however, proved equal to the task. At the end of his fifth year he was appointed to Macomb. Reverend R. B. Williams was the successor of Doctor McCulloch. An event of no little interest occurred during his fifth year, being the occasion of the meeting of the board of bishops, lasting for the most part of a week. Also the same year the church was beautifully frescoed. The conference that met for the fourth time in Rock Island, September 11-18, 1907, through its presiding bishop, Earl Cranston, gave him the appointment to the Rock Island charge for the seventh consecutive time. This action which was in accord with the request of the local quarterly conference for his return, makes further comment on his pastorate unnecessary. In 1906 the society purchased the adjoining lot on the west, adding greatly to the sightliness and value of the church property. As an auxiliary society, the first to be organized was the sewing society, in 1843. In many respects it has proven the better half of the church. It would be monumental if the total of its giving and providing could be shown. Other societies have added greatly to the usefulness of the church. The Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society, organized in 1870; the Home Missionary Society, organized in 1883; and the Epworth League, with other minor organizations, are all working to the one end, the up building of Christ’s kingdom. The Sunday school, the most important arm of service, must not be over-looked; indeed it is from this source, more largely than any other, that the church recruits its membership. As a distinctively Methodist Sunday school it was organized in 1845. J. W. VanSant being elected superintendent. In the years that have intervened much earnest effort has been put forth. Sometimes the superintendent and teachers have felt despondent, but the work has gone bravely on and it certainly is beyond human ken to measure the good that has been wrought. Surely God has been gracious to his people.

Source: Historic Rock Island County, pub. Kramer & Company, Rock Island, Illinois, 1908

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