Established in 1850 through the ministry of a circuit-riding preacher, St. James has continually witnessed to Jesus Christ from the corner of West Grove and Columbine Roads and in the neighboring communities of Forreston, Mount Morris, Leaf River, Byron, Polo, Freeport and beyond. The Old Stone Church across the road, built in 1859, is a testimony to our Reformed and Lutheran forebears who built it. The current building, erected in 1900 and remodeled several times over the years, is representative of the constant evolution of the ministries of St. James Congregation.
Although the church has never been served by a full-time pastor of its own, it has become known for its robust and excellent ministries of music, education, social ministry and evangelism. Through organizations, which include the Sunday Church School, Vacation Bible School, Adult and Youth Choirs, Handbell Choirs, the Singing Mothers, Luther League, Women of the ELCA and Men in Mission, the congregation carries the message of Jesus Christ into many hearts and lives. Generous stewardship is exercised in support of global missions, local food pantries, Lutheran World Relief (in the form of over 150 quilts assembled and completed annually by the women of the church) and in benevolence contributions of more than 22% of budget to the Northern Illinois Synod and the greater church. A variety of fellowship activities provide opportunities for the growth and strengthening of our community in Christ.
What cannot be captured on paper is the joyful and enthusiastic spirit which pervades every gathering of the people of St. James. The warmth and openness of our congregation offers a genuine welcome to anyone who might join us in worship and ministry. It is our prayer that God would continue to bless and guide our congregation through many more years of vibrant and dynamic ministry.
In Christ's name,
Former Pastor Donna Hacker Smith, (pictured above)
In early years the area near St. James was mostly prairie country, except for Burr Oak and West Grove. The very early settlers shunned the prairie and chose the timber as the most congenial location in which to live. In the early winter of 1839-40, the settlers of the West Grove area united together and erected a log schoolhouse which was used for school and religious purposes for some years. A stagecoach and pony express trail went south from the present church area. An early post office in the area, called "Boonsboro," was located on the present Ray Ridenour farm, 2 miles southeast of St. James Church, was located on the south side of the present West Grove Road. A later history mentions two church buildings, one owned by the German Reformed, the other by the Albrights and the United Brethren in Christ. Andrew Stengel was one of the early settlers at West Grove. He lived in a log cabin in the timber east of the church. He was a blacksmith, and some of his descendants are members of St. James today.
Some early pioneer families were also the Lutheran faith. In approximately 1850, St. James Lutheran church was organized by the Rev. Nicholas Stroh (pictured on the right), a Lutheran pastor who came from Halifax, Dauphin Co., PA, to Oregon, IL. He was a circuit rider pastor who also established congregations in Adeline, Brookville, Mt. Morris, and Oregon. Some of his descendants still live in the Oregon area.
Families of the Lutheran and Reformed congregations worshiped together in earlier years with services most likely held in the smaller stone building which also served as a school. The three record books show baptismal and communion records of members of both congregations, first in 1850 and later in following years.
In 1862 the property, where the present Old Stone Church stands, was purchased from Michael Garman. The deed, dated 26 June 1862, was recorded 7 June 1862 in Record 29 and was issued to the Lutherans and Reformed alike.
Early history indicates that the stone for the thick walls of the church was quarried from the area west of the present church building. Andrew Stengel, one of the earliest settlers in the area, hauled the stone up the hill with team and stone boat.
Some recorded facts area given as follows in the 1976 Bicentennial history of Ogle County: "The Lutheran church shall be called St. James--(Previously listed in some records at St. Jacob's church.) Each congregation shall have equal right in said church, but neither church shall have the right to introduce new measures."
"As long as there are three German members in either congregation, there must be some German preaching and neither church shall be allowed to elect preacher in said church unless he stands in full communion with synod of one or the other above named denomination."
The Lutherans and Reformed united in their services for some years until November 18, 1856, when the Reformed group organized their own congregation. It was then decided, "The Lutherans have the use of the church one Sunday, the Reformed the next. The use of the church is for the entire day."
Later history records state: "The Lutheran congregation, St. James, West Grove, 1869 reconstituted by electing and installing a new church council. It became incorporated: John Link, Henry Rebman, and George Horst, Sr., were elected and installed as trustees."
A news item printed in the Forreston paper in 1877 is as follows: "The Communion service at West Grove last Sabbath, were very impressive and greatly attended with a temperance meeting on Sunday night. The day was of unusual interest." No mention is made of which congregation held this service.
Rev. Nicholas Stroh continued to serve the Lutheran congregation until 1880 when he retired. Professors Max and L. Fritchel of Wartburg Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa, as well as theological students of Wartburg, served 1889 - 1904. A well-preserved confirmation photo of the class of l899 shows the following members: Charles Stengel, Anna Borneman, Benjamin Horst, John Horst, Emma Wilt, Clara Diehl and George Horst.
In 1900 the Reformed congregation sold its interest in the Old Stone Church to the Lutherans for $250. Conrad Wolf, Conrad Horst and Henry Borneman were three of the committeemen representing the Lutherans in this transaction.
In earlier days the Old Stone Church had an altar that was also used as a pulpit. The small table in front of the altar was used when Holy Communion was served. The altar (now in our basement Fellowship Hall), was moved into our present building in 1936 and used in the sanctuary until a new altar was built in 1955.
The church had two side aisles. Pews were painted white, trimmed in brown; center pews were joined in the middle -- with shorter pews at outer side of aisles. Men and women entered separate
doors and were seated separately. The carpet is believed to have been brown and white in color. The original aisle carpet "runners" are in the building.
There were two round iron, wood and coal stoves, one on each side at front; and stovepipes led to a center stovepipe to the roof chimney. Some of our present "older" members remember worshiping in the old church, and in Sunday School class -- sitting in the shorter pews that were built on three sides of the stoves, especially on a cold winter day. We also remember how the walls of the church would "sweat" in the wintertime when the building became warm. Fire in the stoves was usually started on Saturday so the large room would be warm enough on Sunday.
A small outside building at the front, (left side), housed wood, coal and other supplies on one side. The other side was our "outside restroom."
Singing at services was without the help of an organ until a reed pump organ was acquired. Usually one of the older men would start the singing of the hymns. Stories were told that if the singing did not go well, the leader would refuse to finish the hymn, suddenly close his hymnal and sit down!
Some of the first organists were Rose Horst (Hartje), Anna and Rose Borneman, and Carrie Wilt. Rev. H.E. Bruns, the last Pastor to serve in the stone church, was also a very fine organist. Carrie and Alice Wilt served as choir directors. In later years a fine musical group was composed of five young men: Merville, Leland and Donald Horst and Emerson and Orville Borneman.
Near the Old Stone Church was West Grove schoolhouse, (located on the east side of the cemetery fence). The school was destroyed by fire in 1935. A white frame church also stood in the area near the school (denomination not known). This church was also destroyed by fire in earlier years.
West Grove Cemetery (originally named West Grove Union Graveyard) was officially organized at the first meeting of the Association in 1842. Michael Garman donated the land. The black iron fence was built in 1899. The fence was painted white in the early 1980's by Cemetery Board members and perhaps some volunteers, who spent many days at this task. The memorial stone, marking the "West Grove Cemetery - founded 1842", was given as a memorial by one of the Board members in 1984. A few years later the flagpole was also given as a gift by a Board member.
Members of St. James have served on the West Grove Cemetery Board for many years including, Fred Stengel, Orville Borneman, Ralph Derby, Ray Ridenour and David Nelson.
Another Pastor who served St. James Congregation in the Old Stone Church after founder Rev. Stroh, Professors Max and L. Fritschel of Wartburg Seminary, and seminary students was: Rev. Hossfeld 1904 - 1910.
During his pastorate St. James parish was united with Emmanuel Lutheran (rural) Congregation at Paynes Point, (located southeast of Stillman valley and north of Chana), to form a two-point parish. (Pastors lived in the parsonage at Paynes Point.) Although 25 miles separated the two congregations, this two-point parish continued until Rev. Jan Horne became St. James first (part-time) resident Pastor in July 1975.
While the Lutherans at West Grove continued to worship in the Old Stone Church, the members of Trinity Reformed congregation held their service in their new church across the road. The following news item (date unknown, but probably in the 1920's) is taken from an area newspaper account:
MISSION FESTIVAL AT TRINITY REFORMED CHURCH - WEST GROVE
"The Missionary Festival for the Reformed Church of Northern Illinois was held at the West Grove church last Wednesday.
The Illinois Central Railroad stopped their train at the two-mile crossing (west of the church) and teams were there to convey the forty or more people who had come from Freeport, Orangeville and Dakota to the church.
There was a morning and afternoon session. The services consisted of songs, recitations and addresses. The addresses were delivered by Rev. C. M. Rorhbaugh of Freeport, Rev. Bloesch (from Adeline) who spoke the German language and the Rev. H. K. Miller of Sendal, Japan.
The offering amounted to $123 which amount will be equally divided between the Reformed Church at Yamagata, Japan, which was recently destroyed and to help raise $500,000 as a Jubilee Fund. Rev. Heidenreich of the Lutheran Church read the Scripture lesson and offered prayer. The church was filled both morning and afternoon.
Both at noon and in the evening a very bountiful repast was provided for all those present. As one looked on the heavily laden tables he had to think that this was a feast for a king. The day was an ideal one and every one decided that the festival was a grand success."
West Grove, October 7, 1900 The following is an account of the dedication of the new Trinity Reformed Church, building, now St. James edifice. This article was printed in the October 10th, 1900 issue of the Mount Morris Index.
The dedication of the new Trinity Reformed Church at West Grove, set for Sunday, October 7, 1900, was the principal topic of conversation over a considerable extent of territory last week, and hundreds of people for miles around planned to attend. Saturday evening a drenching rain fell and was followed later in the night by a cold wave such that the plans for attendance by many were spoiled, but notwithstanding these adverse conditions, the crowd in attendance was very large, estimated in Masse.
Sunday morning at 9:30 o'clock, a farewell service was held in the Old Stone Church, after which the procession formed and proceeded to the new edifice where the morning service was held.
At noon the assembled crowd partook of a dinner spread upon long tables in the church yard, an equal to which one seldom is fortunate enough to encounter. The eatables were brought in by folk of the surrounding country and the amount of it was astounding. Ordinary pails and baskets were ignored by the liberal farmers' wives and great clothes baskets full of good things ere brought in to fill the long tables. Everybody made it a point to be there for dinner and probably over five hundred were fed. At this time over two hundred vehicles of various kinds were counted in the vicinity of the church, and others arrived later. (Former older members of St. James told of attending this dedication at a younger age-- and remembered a large tent in the woods across the road where possibly horses and buggies were tied and to be used in case of rain.)
After the many visitors had been fed, the two o'clock session was opened and carried out. The Pastor of the church is the Rev. J. L. Mayer who is an excellent speaker and an energetic church worker. His flock numbers about eighty."
"The church is 40x52 ft. on the outside. The main audience room is 40x52 ft. with a 21 ft. ceiling. The remainder of the building is taken up by a lecture room 16x28 ft. which is divided from the large room by a rolling partition which can be pushed up into the ceiling like the top of an office desk. A partition of the same kind of room divides the lecture room into two parts for Sunday School classes. The pulpit furniture and all other furnishings of the church are of the finest oak. The pews in the main room are circular in shape and of the latest pattern. Altogether, the church is said to contain as fine furniture and to be as modern in every respect as any church in Ogle County. The windows are the most noticeable feature of the church. The front window alone cost not less then $250 and contains $175 worth of beautiful colored glass. The furniture the interior cost in the neighborhood of $500."
The entire cost of the church was almost $4,000, all of which was very liberally subscribed by the members before the work was completed. The Building Committee consists of Christ Zumdahl, August Korf, Antone Piper, Fred Muller and Lewis Paul, and all deserve much credit for the successful work and spared neither time nor money to make the church a credit to the community.
The building was contracted for and built by Buser & Mumma of Mount Morris. They commenced the work in April and turned it over to the Committee completed on September 1, 1900."
Additional note of interest: The 1976 BICENTENNIAL HISTORY OF OGLE COUNTY shows a small photo of the church when built in 1900. An enlarged copy of this photo is posted on the wall in the narthex. Mary Ellen Ridenour tells us that the small pine trees shown in the photo were planted by her mother's father, Fred Muller, who was on the Building Committee of the church at that time. Some of these pines are still standing and thus 100 years old today.
These additional notes are taken from our oldest book that contains only minutes of each year's annual congregational meeting
The first Minutes are dated January 1898. Trustees and Deacons listed are Conrad Wolf, Conrad Horst, John Diehl, Martin Muller and Heinrich Wilt.
January 1900 Minutes listed the same officers with John Diehl as Secy.
Others who served as congregational officers in those early years were: Mr. Funk, Henry Wilt, Henry Borneman, John Lang, George Diehl, Charles Stengel, Charles Horst, Joseph Stengel, Ben Horst and George Horst.
John Borneman listed as janitor, 1919 - salary $11.00 per year, but services were held only one Sunday a month, in the afternoon, not mornings as previously stated. Elmer Borneman (father of Calvin) was elected janitor and received a $25 salary increase since services were now to be held every other Sunday -- January 1920.
MINUTES ARE WRITTEN IN ENGLISH BEGINNING JANUARY 1921 with William Stengel as Secretary, motion made to take Sunday School expenses out of church treasury; motion made that Minister's salary be raised to $450 (Pastor Taurus), providing we have service every other Sunday during suitable season of year.
No annual meetings held in 1923 & 1924, except for report of Treasurer, George Horst.
Minutes of March 8, 1925: It was decided to get a new organ for the church, with Mrs. Anna (Borneman) Tutt, Mrs. Rosa Hartje and Mrs. Kathryn (Stengel) Meyer to select the organ. Also, that at the opening of each service, the minister read the text in German and also in English.