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Early Churches in Grand Rapids

As interesting as the history of early Grand Rapids is the history of the pioneer Christian churches. We are concerned in this record of events with only the denominations which established congregations and erected houses of worship in the city center to about the period of the Civil War. A list of modern churches is given elsewhere in this book.

BAPTIST

The history of the Baptist church begins in 1822. By the Chicago treaty of 1821 the United States government engaged to furnish the Ottawas with a teacher, a blacksmith, some cattle and farming implements, to locate a mission on a square mile of land, and to expend $1,500 annually for ten years for these purposes. The Reverend Isaac McCoy was appointed superintendent of the persons employed to carry into effect the provisions of the treaty. Upon his representation the mission was located on the north side of Grand river, opposite the foot of the rapids.

Mr. McCoy reached the rapids May 30, 1823, but remained only three days. He returned in the spring of 1825 with a boat laden with iron, steel, yokes, chains and other articles, and permanent log buildings were erected at the Thomas mission, south of West Bridge street and west of Front avenue. Mr. McCoy's wife and three children joined him there in September, 1826. He preached to the Indians and taught them in the school attached to Thomas mission which was opened Christmas day, 1826. Mr. McCoy remained until May, 1827.

His successor was the Reverend Leonard Slater. In a short time the latter mastered the Indian language and before he had concluded his stay of nine years he had the New Testament printed in the Ottawa dialect.

Among the first converts of Mr. Slater was Chief Noonday, and at one time about 150 Indian families were attached to the Thomas mission. Four children were born to Mr. and Mrs. Slater during their residence here. The eldest of these, Emily, was named Soman-a-que, "Child of a Chief," by Chief Noonday.

When the eastern settlers began to come in numbers the authorities considered it advisable to remove the Thomas mission. Accordingly, land was purchased at Praireville, Barry county, in 1836, and Mr. Slater, with his family and about fifty Indian families, removed to that place the same year, Chief Noonday, then almost 100 years of age, going with them.

In 1837 the first Baptist church in Grand Rapids was organized. It had seven members--Henry Stone, Thomas Davis, Ezekiel W. Davis, Abram Randall and wife, Zelotis Bemis and Mr. Streeter. The Reverend S. D. Wooster was the pastor. He remained but a short time and for four or five years the little congregation was without a pastor. Several members moved away and the church virtually became extinct. but in 1842 the Reverend R. Z. R. Jones was sent here to resuscitate it. The congregation met in private homes and for awhile in the court house in Fulton Street park. In 1848 the church purchased the old Episcopal house of worship at Crescent and Division. In 1856, at the suggestion of the pastor, the Reverend L. M. Woodruff, the congregation was disbanded and the Tabernacle church founded. This led to an unhappy division of interests, to separation and the reorganization of the First church. About 1859 the two groups united, but in 1861 the Second church was formed. During the next few years both congregations erected edifices, the First where the Fountain Street church now stands, and the Second on North Division between Fountain and Pearl.

The two churches were near one another and neither was prosperous. Accordingly January 11, 1869, the two congregations reunited and organized the Baptist church of the City of Grand Rapids. There were 260 members, who met in the First, then in the Second church. In May, 1872, the cornerstone for a new $90,000 church was laid on the site of the old First. The basement was dedicated in December, 1873, but it was not until April, 1877, that the congregation could worship in the completed structure. The Fountain Street Baptist church, as it came to be known, was burned to the ground May 22, 1917. Thereafter services were held for several years in Powers theater. Members making liberal donations, work was begun on the present house of worship July 10, 1922, and dedication took place in February, 1924. This structure, with furnishings, cost $876,000. Present indebtedness is $175,000.

Recent pastors: The Reverend S. Graves, January 2, 1870, to May, 1885; Kerr B. Tupper, June 1, 1885, to April 1, 1890; John L. Jackson, June, 1890, to November 1, 1896; J. Herman Randall, February 1, 1897, to June 4, 1906; Alfred W. Wishart, October 7, 1906, to the present.

PARK CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH

The First or Park Congregational church was organized September 18, 1836. The first service was held in the dining room of Myron Hinsdill's residence, the Reverend S. Woodbury of Kalamazoo officiating. There were 22 charter members. April 10, 1837, the Reverend A. D. McCoy came to be pastor for one year. The Reverend James Ballard followed. March 29, 1839, the church was reorganized with 60 members. Worship was held at various places until the congregation, for $3,700, purchased in December, 1841, the Catholic church erected by Louis Campau at Monroe and Division avenues. This building was occupied 27 years. In 1867 it was sold and the present edifice, on the east side of Fulton Street Park, was erected, and dedicated November 28, 1869. Well remembered pastors of this church are Mr. Ballard, the Reverend S. S. N. Greeley, who joined the army as a chaplain during the Civil War, and the Reverend J. Morgan Smith, whose pastorate continued for 20 years. The present pastor is the Reverend Charles W. Merriam.

Two missions of this church have become independent congregations---the Second on Plainfield avenue, and the South. Smith Memorial also was started as a Sabbath school under the direction of Park members.

ROMAN CATHOLIC

Roman Catholic missionaries undoubtedly were the first ministers of the Gospel to teach Christianity to the Indians in the Grand river valley. Father Gabriel Richard and other priests from Detroit had visited the Indian villages in the vicinity of Grand Rapids some years before Louis Campau came.

In 1833 Bishop Fenwick of Cincinnati sent Father Frederic Baraga here to establish a permanent mission among the mixed population of Indians and whites. He selected a tract of about 65 acres on the west bank of the river opposite the head of Island No. 4, and there erected a frame building for a chapel, and just north of it a small dwelling.

Soon the Catholics on the east side desired a chapel or church. Accordingly a building for church uses was partly constructed on the west side and in incomplete state was moved across the river on the ice and placed on a lot on the south side of Monroe avenue east of Market. There it was completed-- a large frame structure with dormer windows. It was painted yellow and for years was a conspicuous building in the pioneer settlement. The first parish which worshipped in this edifice was called St. Andrew's, and it dates from June, 1833.

In 1834 the Reverend Andreas Viszoczky, a Hungarian priest, was sent here as Father Baraga's assistant, and succeeded him as pastor in 1835.

As St. Andrew's parish grew its members desired a more suitable and commodious house of worship. Louis Campau in 1837 built a church at the southwest corner of Monroe and Division avenues. However, Uncle Louis never deeded to the bishop the ground on which this structure stood, but worship was held there for some time.

Later pastor and flock worshipped in the Indian village chapel, in a small red schoolhouse on Division avenue between Michigan and Crescent streets, or in private dwellings. Finally, in 1847, the bishop sold for $4,000 the lands years before granted by the government to the west side mission and with $1,500 of these funds Father Viszoczky purchased the Richard Godfroy house and the land on which it stood, at the southeast corner of Monroe and Ottawa avenues. There a stone church was built in 1849. The house upon the grounds became the priest's residence.

Unfortunately, this residence was destroyed at 3 a.m. January 14, 1850, by a fire in which the aged mother and sister of Father Kilroy, assistant priest, perished. This fire destroyed all the parish records. The unfinished church was somewhat damaged, but it was soon completed and dedicated August 11, 1850, by Bishop Peter Paul Lefevre. While building progressed services were held in the residence of Maxine Ringuette, on Market avenue.

In the winter of 1872-73 the grounds at Monroe and Ottawa were sold to Moses V. Aldrich for $50,000, and the stone of the old church was used in the foundations of the present cathedral on Sheldon avenue. Before that year Father McManus had begun the erection of a fine schoolhouse opposite the cathedral, on the second floor of which there was a chapel blessed by Bishop Borgess March 27, 1874. Thereupon the old church was vacated and services held in the chapel until the dedication of the new St. Andrew's by the same bishop, December 19, 1876.

The Roman Catholic population increasing steadily, new parishes were organized. The first of these was St. Mary's, which built a church on First avenue in 1857. This frame structure was moved and converted into a school, and in 1874 the present St. Mary's edifice was built.

St. James church, on the west side, was built in 1871-72, when Father Pulcher was pastor of St. Andrew's. St. Adalbert's church, Fourth and Davis, was dedicated in the spring of 1882. St. Joseph's, Rumsey near Buchanan, was consecrated in 1889, and the chapel of St. Alphonsus congregation, on East Leonard, was occupied January 6, 1889. Since that date a number of other parishes have been organized.

The pastors of St. Andrew's parish succeeding Father Viszoczky after his death January 2, 1853, were the Reverends Edward Van Pammel, 1853 to 1857; F. J. Van Erp, 1857 to 1859; F. X. Pourrott, 1859 to 1860; Thomas Brady, 1860 to 1862; Joseph Kindikens, 1862 to 1872; P. J. McManus, 1872 to 1883; when St. Andrew's became a cathedral of the diocese of Grand Rapids.

The diocese was created May 19, 1882, by Pope Leo XIII. The first bishop was the Right Reverend Henry Joseph Richter, consecrated April 22, 1883. Bishop Richter died December 26, 1916. His successor was the Right Reverend Michael James Gallagher, who had been appointed coadjutor bishop of the diocese July 5, 1915, and consecrated September 8 following. He was transferred to the diocese of Detroit July 18, 1918. He was succeeded by the Right Reverend Edward D. Kelly, who had been made auxiliary bishop of Detroit January 26, 1911, and promoted to the diocese of Grand Rapids January 16, 1919. Bishop Kelly died suddenly March 26, 1926.

The fourth bishop of the diocese of Grand Rapids will be the Right Reverend Joseph Gabriel Pinton, born at Rockland, Michigan, October 3, 1867, ordained to the priesthood November 1, 1890, appointed bishop of the diocese of Superior, Wisconsin, December 3, 1921, and consecrated bishop May 3, 1922. He was transferred to Grand Rapids June 25, 1926, but as yet has not taken official possession of his see.

EPISCOPAL

St.Mark's Episcopal church w organized at a meeting called October 6, 1836, by seventeen persons: John Almy, S. M. Johnson, George Coggeshall, John P. Calder, Henry P. Bridge, D. A. Lyman, John Thompson, John Beach, John W. Peirce, Samuel L. Fuller, Adams N. Lothrop, William Annis, James Annis, Michael Deemes, C. C. Nelson and C. I. Walker. David J. Burger, who had been sent here as a lay reader in August of that year by the Right Reverend Samuel A. McCoskry, the first bishop of the diocese of Michigan, presided. Mr. Burger was chosen to represent the newly formed parish in a convention soon to be held in Detroit. He went to Detroit, and while there was ordained a deacon, but he did not return here and the parish languished. Yet the bishop conferred the rite of confirmation upon a class of two persons here Sunday, June 17, 1838 at the first service of its kind held in Grand Rapids.

November 18, 1839, the church was reorganized and vestrymen and wardens elected. The Reverend M. Hoyt was called as the first rector, at a salary of $600 a year. During the winter of 1839-40 services were held in a frame building at Monroe and Crescent. In the spring of 1840 the congregation set about erecting a house of worship. Charles H. Carroll and Lucius Lyon had donated a piece of ground at the northwest corner of Division and Crescent. To this was added a lot on the west, purchased by the society for $100. ON this land a frame structure, 27 by 41 feet, with posts 14 feet high, was erected at a cost of $800. It had a seating capacity of 170. This house was consecrated by the bishop April 25, 1841.

After Mr. Hoyt resigned the parish for a year and a half had no rector. The Reverend Francis H. Cuming of St. Andrew's, Ann Arbor, was called May 24, 1843, at a salary of $400 a year. He entered upon his duties October 1, and within a year thereafter it became necessary to increase the seating capacity of the church building. This was done by cutting the structure in two and inserting a section 20 feet in length. This added 60 sittings.

The rapid development of the lower town induced the parish officers to secure a new site, and the land on which the present pro-cathedral stands was acquired. The new structure was consecrated September 9, 1849, although it had been occupied since the preceding October. The towers were erected in 1851. In the fall of 1849 the first pipe organ brought here was placed in this church.

In May, 1861, Dr. Cuming was granted leave of absence to become chaplain of the Third Michigan Infantry, and went to the front with his regiment. In October following he resigned as rector after having held the position for 18 years. He died in the following year. In 1872 St. Mark's was enlarged and repaired and the chapel at the southeast corner erected.

In the meantime St. Paul's Memorial chapel on Turner avenue was established as a mission, for which St. Mark's erected a building in 1869. This building was consecrated in 1870 and the next year its congregation became an independent parish. Grace mission was started in 1873 and organized as Grace church in 1875. The chapel became a separate parish, organized under the name of Trinity.

The Diocese of Michigan was divided in 1874 and the Diocese of Western Michigan created. Pursuant to a call by the bishop a special convention was held in St. Mark's December 2, 1874, to perfect the organization of the new diocese and to elect a bishop. The choice fell upon the Reverend George De Normandie Gillespie, D. D., rector of St. Andrew's church in Ann Arbor, who was consecrated in this structure February 24, 1875. Bishop Gillespie died March 19, 1909. His successor was the Right Reverend John Newton McCormick, who had been consecrated bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of Western Michigan February 14, 1906.

METHODIST

In August, 1835, the Ohio Conference of the Methodist Episcopal church formed the Grand River mission, extending nearly the entire length of the river. The Reverend Osbond Monett was placed in charge and the Reverend Henry Colclazer was made presiding elder. Mr. Monett's preaching stations were Portland, Ionia, Grand Rapids, Grandville and Grand Haven. He rode the circuit once in four weeks, holding services in the cabins of the pioneers.

As there were a number of Methodists among the early settlers of Grand Rapids, Mr. Monett founded the first Methodist Episcopal church here in the winter of 1835-36. There were six members: Mehitable Stone, William C. Davidson, Diantha Davidson, Knowlton S. Pettibone, Mrs. K. S. Pettibone and Mrs. Eliphalet H. Turner. Their meetings were held in Henry Stone's house on the west side of Bond avenue between Michigan and Crescent. This was the first English-speaking Protestant organization in Grand Rapids.

In 1836 the Michigan conference was created, and sent missionaries to this district. About September, 1840, the use of the court house was secured for services. In 1841 the Methodists bought a site at the southeast corner of Division and Fountain for $200 and soon began erecting a church on it. This house of worship was dedicated in June, 1843. The church records show 52 members in 1843.

The membership of the mission grew steadily until it was thought the hour had arrived for it to become a station and self supporting, which was effected November 8, 1844, when the following board of stewards was chosen: Charles F. Babcock, William C. Davidson, James Ewing, Samuel B. Ball, Henry G. Stone, Gaius S. Deane and Horatio Brooks; also trustees, consisting of Messrs. Ball, Babcock, Davidson, Stone, D. D. Van Allen, G. S. Deane, and Harry Dean. The name then adopted was the First M. E. Church of Grand Rapids.

The mortgage on the lot remaining unpaid, both church edifice and ground were sold under the hammer by Sheriff C. P. Babcock March 26, 1846. But L. R. Atwater, then the recording steward of the congregation, purchased the property and deeded it to the trustees. In that year the Reverend Jacob E. Parker was placed in charge of the station here, remaining but one year. Baxter's History records: "It may have been fortunate for him and his people that he was single, for the treasury was so low that two brethren offered their services as sexton free of charge, each for one year, in which position they afterward often supplied fuel from their own woodpiles, carrying it to the church on Saturday evening.."

In August, 1848, the women of the congregation purchased a parsonage lot at the northwest corner of Fountain street and Bostwick avenue for $100.

The membership grew, and in 1851 an addition was built on the front of the meeting house, making the seating capacity 225.

In March, 1853, it was decided to build a two-story brick parsonage. The work was begun July 6, but the funds were at an end before it could be completed in the fall. It was December of 1854 before the manse was occupied by the pastor. The membership in September, 1856, was 196.

During the winter of 1866-67 Julius Berkey, O. R. Wilmarth and T. Tradewell visited several towns to obtain a suitable plan for a new house of worship. Returning, they recommended one for an edifice to cost $60,000 and the plan was adopted. The old "white" church was removed to a lot in the rear and the new structure begun in the fall of 1867. It was formally opened June 13, 1869, Bishop E. R. Ames officiating.

This brick edifice, long known as the Division Street Methodist church, and the lots on which it stood, were sold in 1913 to the Keeler brothers, for $50,000, and the site for a new church building at Fulton street and Barclay avenue was purchased. After destruction of the old church had begun and while the new was building, the members held services in the St. Cecilia auditorium. The present beautiful First Methodist Episcopal Church at Fulton and Barclay was dedicated in April, 1916, free from debt.

At the quarterly conference of the First M. E. church in June, 1855, a resolution was adopted that a second Methodist church should be organized, on the west side. There had been Methodists on that side for several years previously, and in 1853 Pastor Andrew J. Eldred began holding services there. In June, 1855, the "Methodist Episcopal church, Grand Rapids, West Charge," was organized with the Reverend Amos Wakefield as pastor. The house of worship, built at Second street and Turner avenue, was popularly known as the Second Street M.E. church.

The East Street M. E. church was organized in 1874. This became Trinity church in 1908 and is now Trinity Community church.

PRESBYTERIAN

The First Presbyterian church, now at Scribner and First, was founded October 26, 1855, with the Reverend Courtney Smith as pastor. Twelve members of Park Congregational church had been dismissed for that purpose. The congregation had 25 constituent members, who chose these officers: Elders, Sarell Wood, John Terhune, George W. Perkins, Elihu N. Faxon and Henry Seymour; trustees, John Terhune, Geroge W. Perkins, E. Morris Ball, Boardman Noble, Sarell Wood, Elihu N. Faxon and A. H. Botsford. A small chapel was built on Front street, at a cost of $1,000, completely paid for. The congregation prospered and soon purchased the site for a new house of worship at First and Scribner, where a building was begun. The walls and part of the roof had been completed when the financial crisis of 1857 stopped further progress, leaving a debt of $8,000. The edifice remained unfinished until 1872.

The Reverend Courtney Smith became the founder and first pastor of the Westminster Presbyterian church, several members of the First church following him to his new charge. An organization meeting for Westminster church was held June 7, 1861, and on the 12th articles of association were adopted and these trustees chosen: C. H. Chase, W. E. Grove, L. L. Riggs, C. J. Dietrich and A. H. Botsford. There were 25 charter members. Until 1865 the congregation occupied the Swedenborgian house of worship. Then the opposite corner, southwest corner Lyon and Division, was bought and upon it erected a brick edifice, which was occupied until 1875. The present site, LaGrave avenue and Weston street, was then purchased and the chapel on it completed in 1876. This was occupied until the present church, on the foundation laid in 1875, was completed, October 1, 1885.

DUTCH REFORMED

The First Reformed church was organized August 12, 1840, at the residence of the pastor, the Reverend Hart E. Waring, who as missionary came here from New York to form a "Reformed Protestant Dutch church," as it was then called. The twelve constituent members included Samuel F. Butler and wife, Hezekiah R. Osborne and wife, Adelaide Waring, wife of the pastor, Billius Stocking and wife, George Young and wife, James S. Horton, Daniel C. Stocking and Abraham Horton. Services were held at various places until in the autumn of 1841 the Kent company offered the congregation a large lot at the southwest corner of Michigan street and Ottawa avenue on which to erect a permanent home. The material for the edifice, 38 feet by 50, was stone taken from the river bed. Ground was broken and the cornerstone laid May 9, 1842. The basement was completed in the fall of that year, but dissensions and other troubles followed and the edifice was not dedicated until June, 1861. The structure was destroyed by fire May 3, 1872. The site was sold and the congregation bought the old Second Baptist church on North Division street.

SECOND REFORMED

The Second Reformed church, with an edifice on Bostwick avenue near Lyon street, was formed by the pioneer immigrants from the Netherlands, the first of whom, Francis Van Driele, arrived in 1847. These Holland immigrants had seceded from the state church of their fatherland. At first they worshipped in the basement of the First Reformed Church. In the summer of 1849 the Reverend A. C. Van Raalte organized the church and installed officers. A brick edifice was erected on Bostwick avenue in 1854, and the first pastor, the Reverend H. G. Klyn, called. Soon there was dissension and the church lacked prosperity. But later the congregation grew and a new and larger house of worship was constructed in 1870. In 1876 it was suggested that two chapels be erected, and thus the Third and Fourth churches were started, and in 1886 a large number of members were dismissed to form the Fifth church. The members of the Fifth church erected their first house of worship, a frame structure 30 by 64 feet, in four days.

HEBREW

The first Hebrew congregation here was not organized until October, 1871, when a meeting for that purpose was held at the residence of Benjamin Geis. Seventeen men were among the founders, and they chose the following officers: President, Julius Houseman; vice-president, Benjamin Geis; treasurer, Jacob Barth; secretary, Jacob I. Levy; trustees, Moses May, Nathan Rodman, and Henry S. Pressberg. Besides these founders were Jacob Wolf, A. Leavitt, B. Hart, J. Kuppenheimer, D. M. Amberg, Henry Weil, Isaac C. Levi, A. Rodman, S. A. Hart and H. Kuppenheimer.

The first place of meeting of the congregation was Peirce's Concert hall on Canal (Monroe) street, dedicated July 19, 1872, by Rabbi E. Epstein of Milwaukee.

In 1875 the congregation removed to the Godfrey block on Ionia avenue, where services were held until August 28, 1882, when it entered the Temple Emanuel at Ransom avenue and Fountain street.

SWEDENBORGIAN

Lucius Lyon awakened so much interest here in the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg that a meeting of some 75 persons was held in the court house, January 18, 1849, at which the New church was formed, Charles Shepard, president; Welcome Yale, vice-president; A. C. Westlake, secretary and treasurer. April 4, 1849, George Coggeshall, W. L. Coffinberry and Robert Hilton were appointed a soliciting committee and Robert Hilton, Robert I. Shoemaker and David Burnett a building committee. August 27 following a constitution was adopted and in 1850 Lucius Lyon gave the congregation a building site at Lyon and Division, on which a church was erected and opened for service April 4, 1852.

Several other religious organizations occupied this edifice from time to time and it witnessed the birth of five congregations and the death of two.

UNIVERSALIST

The first Universalist society was organized by the Reverend H. L. Hayward, who came in April, 1858 and preached in Luce's hall one year. After his departure the society was without a pastor until the spring of 1862, when the Reverend A. W. Mason came to remain two years as pastor. From 1864 to 1868 no stated services were held. A house of worship was built in 1868, on Pearl street between Ionia and Ottawa avenue, where the Chamber of Commerce building is located. The society then secured the Reverend L. J. Fletcher as its pastor. He remained until June, 1870, to be succeeded in turn by the Reverends W. C. Brooks, Richmond Fisk and Charles Fluhrer. Charles W. Garfield was for some years the superintendent of the Sunday school at this church.

LUTHERAN

The German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Immanuel was organized in March, 1856, and the first pastor entered upon his duties June 15 following. The first trustees were Christopher G. Blickle, Christopher Kusterer, Henry Bremer, John Schneider, Christian Kusterer, and Frederick Oesterle. A small house of worship was begun in September, 1857, at Michigan and Division and completed early in 1858. A transept was added in 1872. A brick edifice replaced the original structure in 1890. 

 


Transcriber: Ronnie Aungst
Created: 16 January 2000
 URL: http://kent.migenweb.net/etten1926/earlychurches.html