First Congregational Church

congregational church post card

Postcard from 1910.

This past Sunday the First Congregational United Church of Christ of Council Grove marked its sesquicentennial.  Along with the festivities of the day (such as ice cream, pie and the releasing of 150 balloons) Pastor Christy Alexander was officially installed as minister.  It was a fitting time to reflect upon the past and look forward to the future.

On December 17th 1862 a group of interested citizens met in the home of Robert M. Wright for the purpose of organizing a Congregational Church in Council Grove.  Then on January 23rd 1863 a meeting was held at the Brown Jug school house to incorporate the new church.  The trustees elected at that meeting were Robert Wright, Charles Columbia, Henry Akin and Samuel Wood.  For a number of years the congregation continued to meet in the Brown Jug.  Brown Jug or Little Brown Jug school house (as it is known either way) was built in 1860-61.  It got its name from the native wood that remained unpainted for many years causing it to turn brown.  In later years it was painted brown to perpetuate the name.  In 1919 the Brown Jug was moved north of its original location to 218 Chautauqua Street where it stands today as a residence.

When the Brown Jug became too cramped the congregation moved to Huffaker Hall which was located on the second floor of the building at 200 West Main Street.  July 27th 1871, the trustees discussed constructing a church building the congregation could call their own.  In September of that year, brothers Benjamin and James Scott began construction on the new brick building.  It was erected a bit up the hill north of the present structure.  On the 10th of April 1872, a strong wind storm damaged the church while in construction, but repairs were made and work continued.

Samuel Scott gives us an amusing anecdote concerning construction.  “While B.R. and J.P. Scott was building the old brick Congregational church in Council Grove (as it has been razed) they were raising the steeple or spire, with a very high “gin” pole, and had a colored fellow turning the windlass.  The “gin” pole broke, and everyone yelled.  The darkey started toward Elm creek, which was about one-half mile south, on a swift run, and has never been seen since.  The Scott Bros. contractors owed the darkey $17.00, and to this day.”

The first Congregational Church as seen in the 1873 photograph of Main Street.

The Reverend Lauren Armsby served as the first ordained minister there beginning June 17th 1873, and served until 1902.  In 1898 it was feared the walls of the church building were not sound and so services were held elsewhere until a new building could be made.  Construction on the new church began in March 1899 just south of the old building.  It was completed in time for dedication August 6th 1899.

The house which stands at 19 North Belfry Street was built in 1902 as the parsonage for the Congregational Church.  It stands on the site of the original church.  A barn was also built at that time west of the house.  In 1926 an addition was made to the north part of the sanctuary and the barn was torn down at that time and supplied some of the lumber.

Many other changes occurred over the years but one of particular note was in 1965 when the present lights were installed in the sanctuary replacing the chandelier which now hangs in the Cottage House above the main stairway.

Dunlap Methodist Church

Photograph of Dunlap Methodist Church taken in 1909. (Courtesy of Americus Township Library.)

The charter for the Dunlap Methodist Church was signed May 22nd 1880.  The first services were held in a school house in the north part of town until an appropriate house of worship was finished in 1883.  The following year the edifice was dedicated.  Joseph Dunlap donated the lots on which the church was built.

Initially the building was nearly identical in architecture to that of the Dwight Chapel and the Skiddy Methodist church, all having been constructed about the same time.  The Dunlap church had a pressed tin ceiling, oil lamps, wooden pews and a large stove which sat to one side of the center aisle.  In 1893 a bell was purchased and installed in the tower.

Eugene Kramer drew up plans for an addition in 1906, but it was not built until 1913.  In December of that year the annex was dedicated with nearly 400 people in attendance.  In 1963 the church underwent a remodel and then in 1978 the new fellowship hall was completed.  The sanctuary and fellowship hall were again remodeled in 1993 and 1994, respectively.

Although I have not been able to verify this claim, for what it’s worth Mabel Chandler Harris is said to be the first woman in Kansas history to be ordained as a minister of the gospel by the Methodist Church.  She was ordained March 6th 1927 by Methodist Bishop Frederick Lette.   If so, the Dunlap church has a significant place in Kansas history as Mabel served as pastor there for many years.  After Mabel’s death November 22nd 1961, her home was dedicated to the church by her only child, Florence Ethel.

Interior of the Dunlap Methodist Church taken in 1909. (Courtesy of Americus Township Library.)

From The Orel Clyde Harris Lineage by Wylie Vernon Harris written in 1976, we are able to learn a little about the early religious atmosphere in the Dunlap area. “As was mentioned before, all of the Harrises (sic) were devout Presbyterians when they arrived in America, but conditions caused many of them to adopt other church membership.  Elizabeth Ann Roof Harris, a devout Dunkard, seemed to have brought John J. into that Church and apparently their nine children were brought up in that religion.  Finding no Dunkard meeting houses on the Kansas Indian Reservation when they arrived in 1870, the Harris House was used as a meeting place for the few Dunkards in the community.  One of their interesting customs was to wash the feet of all worshipers in the horse trough before entering for the service.”

“Although reared as a Dunkard Wiley C. Harris joined the Americus United Presbyterian Church in 1878 and all eight of his children were baptized in that Church.  But over the ensuing years for various reasons several of them left that Church and became members of other denominations.  Even Eliza, after the death of her husband, Wiley C., in 1899 became a member of the Dunlap Methodist Church.  It is rumored, however, that this change may have come as a result of her personal interest in the Methodist minister rather than any change in her religious beliefs.”

In June of 1967 the Dunlap Methodist Church was renamed the Dunlap United Methodist Church because of the merging of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church.  In 1975 it became part of the Santa Fe Trails Parish which, at that time, was a cooperative of eight churches.      The Dunlap United Methodist Church held its last service July 8th 2012.  It then consolidated with the United Methodist Church of Council Grove that August.

Dunlap Methodist Church after the 1913 addition. (Courtesy of Americus Township Library.)

On May 29th 2013 the deed to the Dunlap Methodist Church building was signed over to the Morris County Historical Society along with a $25,000 donation for maintenance.  The Historical Society’s main goal at present is preservation of the structure.  Locals will also be active in fundraising and maintaining the lawn and building.  It was decided at a recent board meeting to accept a bid by Sigles and have a new metal roof put on the building.  The shingles received a lot of damage this past summer during a high wind storm that passed through southeastern Morris County.  Board members have expressed a desire to use the Dunlap church as a museum with displays and or literature to perpetuate the diverse and rich history of the Dunlap area; which includes the Kaw Indians, Pap Singleton and the Exodusters, M. K. & T Railway, cattle and agriculture and of course information on the once thriving and prosperous town nestled in the beautiful Neosho River Valley.