First Congregational Church

First Congregational United Church of Christ in Council Grove. Taken after 1902 (Courtesy of Morris County Historical Society.)

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.

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