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A History of Livingston County, Missouri
Published by The Livingston County Centennial Committee
The history of the churches of Livingston County is as old as the history of the first settlement, for as soon as a few families made their homes in the same neighborhood, they held religious services of some sort. Sometimes the services were conducted by the pioneers themselves. What is thought to be the first religious service in the county was conducted in this manner in a grove southwest of Utica. A few early traveling preachers came through the county to instruct, baptize, marry, and preach funerals for the pioneers regardless of their denominations. These men were strong characters, God-fearing, made of the same sturdy stuff as the other pioneers. They rode through the country on horseback, carrying all their worldly goods in their saddlebags. Their board was free with the various families they served. Rarely were they paid in money for their work. It would be interesting to know how long it took a preacher to barter his salary of honey for other necessities of life.
One of the early churches of our county was organized in 1838, when the Reverend Aldrich, a Methodist, met a small group of people at the McCroskie school house. In the home of Isham Ware, in Sampsel Township, the Methodists held their first meetings. Over this group, organized possibly during the '30s, the Reverend Jesse Green of Lexington was the first Presiding Elder. In Jackson Township, the Reverend Reuben Aldrich was the first Methodist preacher. In Chillicothe, in 1855, the South Methodists built the first church. They paid $100.00 for the lot which was in the same block where Wigely's Drug Store now stands. After the building burned in 1863, the church built on the present site the second building which, completed in 1866, was used until 1903 when the present Elm Street Methodist Church was built. The organization of Methodists recalls such names as: The Reverend J. McMahan, about 1833; the Reverend Elmore Carlyle, born in Livingston County in 1842; and the Reverend Willis E. Dockery, father of Governor Dockery, both now buried in Edgewood Cemetery at Chillicothe.
The Free Methodist Church in Gravesville was organized in 1898.
The long and colorful history of the Baptist Church of our county begins in 1840, when at the home of Thomas Williams, five miles northeast of Chillicothe, there was organized a Union Baptist Church of Christ, now known simply as the Union Baptist Church. Until 1844, meetings were held at homes, after which they put up a log church for all denominations. The little structure was named Macedonia. This church weathered the turbulent war days even though the church building was burned. In their present building, erected in 1900, they will soon celebrate their 100th anniversary. During the years since Elijah Merrell served as the first minister, 1840-44, three ministers have been ordained: The Reverend J. K. Steen; the Reverend William J. Diegelman; and the Reverend Clay Morris. Another early church. known as the Fairland Baptist Church, was organized in 1847.
Unfortunately, the records giving the early history of the church in Chillicothe were destroyed in 1912. We believe, however, that there existed an active, devoted band of Baptists in Chillicothe as early as the beginning of the little city itself. In 1857, they built a brick edifice at the corner of Webster and Elm Streets. The congregation, divided during the Civil War, joined again in 1869 and organized as the First Baptist Church, with their meetings in the building at the present site. The present building, under the leadership of Doctor Ray Palmer, was erected in 1903 and dedicated May 1, 1904. Among the oldest Baptists in Chillicothe is Mr. Gillispie; Mrs. Lizzie Rice has worked faithfully for her church at Utica since she joined them sixty-six years ago, when she was eleven years of age
The First Methodist Church was organized in 1853, in a little school at Ludlow where in 1888, they purchased and built on the present lot, now occupied by the brick church built in 1907 and 1908. The Chillicothe First Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in 1864. For two years they had been combined with the First Methodist Episcopal Church at Utica. May 28, 1864, the church group in Chillicothe purchased the Cumberland Presbyterian Church house at the corner of Locust and Ann Streets for $650.00. During the Civil War the building was used for a stable for soldiers' horses. It was sold in 1866, after which the Methodist Episcopal Church bought the present church site at the corner of Webster and Cherry Streets. Mr. Era Switzer, father of Ed Switzer, was the carpenter and contractor. The original article of incorporation of the church, dated June 1, 1867, will be displayed with other interesting legal documents at the Centennial. In 1903, the present church building was erected. A number of descendants of the original board of trustees are still living in the county and are members of the present church.
The next oldest organized denomination in the county is the New Providence Cumberland Presbyterian group, 1855. In 1906, they joined the union of Presbyterian churches. In Chillicothe, in 1858, the Presbyterian Church was organized by the Reverend Ralph Harris. In 1933, this group celebrated their 75th anniversary. At the outbreak of the Civil War the church was seized, the bell sold, and negroes quartered in the building. An appeal to the Governor of Missouri restored the edifice to the congregation. At one time the minister here was the Reverend Sheldon, father of Charles Sheldon, who wrote "In His Steps." In 1892, the present place of worship was constructed.
The history of the Christian Church begins very early, indeed. In 1844, the Reverend John S. Allen, an early Missouri preacher, who later filled an appointment at Lily Grove, wrote that some day they could tell their grandchildren how they worked, traveled, and lived on hazelnuts. In Chillicothe this group met first in the old red court house, and when they built their first building they shared it jointly with the Baptists, who sold their interests in 1856. When in 1864, at Trenton, the religious publication, "The Christian Pioneer," was destroyed by fire, Elder D. T. Wright moved the business to Chillicothe. This was the first Christian religious publication in the state. At this church was organized the State Missionary Society, and here, too, Alexander Campbell preached in 1859. In 1889, when the group moved into a new building, the question of using an organ with the services came up. Not until 1892 was the organ introduced, whereupon one member rose and left, and another cried at the desecration. In 1893, a clerk's notes read: "The matter of the organ's use is now accepted and peace reigns in the church."
Uncle Jimmie Hutchison, one of the oldest men in the county at the time of his death in 1914, attended church here. In 1926, the cornerstone for the beautiful new Christian Church was laid, and in 1927 the building completed at a cost of $93,000.00.
In 1857, Father Hogan, the first Catholic Priest in Livingston County, organized a Catholic Church, and by 1860 the group bad moved into and dedicated the St. Joseph's Church in the south part of town. John Graves donated the lot for this church. It was built with stained glass windows that were shipped by boat to Hannibal, thence by rail to Shelbina, the western terminus of the Hannibal & St. Joe Railroad, thence by wagon to Chillicothe, where they arrived safely, not a square inch of glass broken. Sometime after, vandals broke the windows and plain glass had to be substituted. The corner stone of St. Columban's Church was laid in1879 and dedicated by Bishop Hogan in the presence of in immense crowd of people. The present St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Chillicothe was not built until 1895. By 1877, there were enough Catholics at Utica to build a church.
1868 saw the beginning of two denominations, the Episcopalian and Congregational. In Chillicothe, in this year, the Grace Episcopal Church was organized. By 1875 they had erected and consecrated their building. The Congregational Church at Dawn was organized in the year 1868. Three other groups of this denomination have existed, but the church at Dawn is now the only one active,
In 1887, when the Milwaukee Railroad established a division here, enough families came to warrant the organization of the Christian Science Church. This denomination meets each Sunday in the hall on the second floor of the Gunby Building on Washington Street. In 1936, the group purchased grounds on North Locust Street, where in a few months their new building will be erected.
By 1925, work began toward organizing the St. John's Lutheran Church. This was accomplished in 1931 and the group purchased the Eylenburg home on Walnut Street. Four years later the building was remodeled, and here each Sunday a growing congregation meets.
Twenty-five years ago the Church of Christ was organized in Highview. No instruments are used to accompany the singing in the services of this church.
The Negroes of our county attended church with their masters until the close of the Civil War. In 1865, Mt. Zion Baptist Church was organized in a little school house, and in 1869 the African Methodist Episcopal Church began its existence.
Our many denominations have smaller churches throughout the county; and each little church serves adequately the people of its neighborhood. How many of us remember with pardonable sentiment, the grandest church in the world - the church of our childhood and manhood!