First Congregational Church
The First Congregational Church - In the early spring of 1850, Rev. Timothy M.
Hopkins, then acting Pastor of the Presbyterian Church of this city, began preaching
in the Court House, with a view of organizing a Congregational Church. This
organization took place February, 1850, consisted of thirty-eight members, most of
whom brought letters from the Presbyterian Church, was named the "First Congregational
Church of Racine," and adopted the articles of faith approved by the Convention of
Wisconsin. The first Pastor was Rev. T. M. Hopkins, and Henry Sheldon and I. G. Parker
were its first Deacons. On the 21st of the following May, was formed the "First
Congregational Society of Racine," electing as its first Trustees, A. P. Dickey,
Philip Bruthwait, T. P. Bruce, Mark Miller and Floyd P. Barker, and as its Clerk, I.
G. Parker. While a house of worship was being built on the ground now occupied by the
Episcopal Church, they worshiped for a time in the Court House that was moved by the
Public Square, two years ago, and afterward in the Ladies Seminary Building. After the
frame-work of their new sanctuary was finished and the roof placed, a passing storm
leveled the structure to the earch; yet on February 5, 1851, the house, estimated with
its lots to have cost
$5965, 38, was dedicated to the service of God. But a few months pass before the
church is again without a house of worship, without a Pastor and with but one Deacon.
On the 2d day of November, 1851, less than nine months after dedication, the sanctuary
was completely destroyed by fire. Even while sorrowful hearts were looking at the
flames which were hastening the destruction of their spiritual home, the death of
Deacon Henry Sheldon was announced. These words are found in the record: "This
mysterious providence of our Heavenly Father was truly afflicting to us, and our
sadness was greatly deepened by the death of our beloved brother, Deacon Henry
Sheldon, which reached our ears as the flames were consuming our loved sanctuary."
Under these somewhat discouraging circumstances and calamitous distress in their loss
by fire, the fathers of the church accepted the gift of their present church site from
Sidney A. Sage, and began to build once more for God. We can but admire their
determined purpose and prompt action. Only eight days passed between the burning of
the church over the river and the meeting, at which it was resolved to build on the
new site a tabernacle, whose dimensions should exceed the old one thirty-seven feet in
width and eighty-four feet in length - more that twice as large as the old one. Octber
9, 1852, less than one year after the church burned, the cornerstone of this house was
laid with customary ceremonies. The Congregational and Presbyterian Convention, then
assembled at the Presbyterian Church, adjourned to take part in these exercises. Rev.
M. P. Kinney made the address of the occasion, a single copy of which is yet
preserved. In a really eloquent phrase he sets forth the good that individuals
assembling here from time to time shall receive and declares that its influence shall
be world-wide and eternal. Though begun so promptly, the new church edifice was not to
go on to completion without further perplexing delay. God had yet other and severe
tests with which to prove the Church's fidelity to Him. Twice had its members
contributed for a house of worship, and as these walls rose nearly to the specified
height, the delightful time when they could praise God beneath their own roof seemed
near at hand, but what was their surprise when a storm leveled its walls to the ground
and fractured every piece of useful timber in the structure. Verily, their comfort in
this continued series of disasters must have been found only in those passages of
Scripture which teach "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth." We do not wonder, now,
that there were some outspoken misgivings about continuing the work of building, for
want of financial ability. Times were hard, and the people were poor. Should they
build again, the new walls would not only have to be laid from the foundation, but the
debris of the fallen walls and broken timber must be cleared away, and much new
material must also be secured. Some said, "our resources are drained; we cannot
rebuild" There were yet a few undaunted ones, who said "the Church had no right to
give up; that this new disaster was of God to test the strength of their faith."
Around these faithful ones the children rallied, and they said, as did the children of
Israel of their desolated Jerusalem, "The God of Heaven, He will prosper us, therefore
we, His servants, will arise and build" Rev. M. P. Kinney was sent to solicit money.
He hoped by this means to secure at least $1,000. He returned after an absence of
about four months, and had secured for the church about $600 in cash, and this by
gifts of less than $10 each. Contributions of material labor and money were received
from friends here. The work of building went forward, and on November 7, 1854, the
church was dedicated to God. Since that day its walls have stood secure. If, in four
years' existance, and church of modern times can show record of having overcome so
many and so serious reverses, let them speak, to show to others what a determined
Christian purpose will accomplish in church building, and for the profit of this
severly-tried congregation. Previous to the coming of the present Pastor, Rev. William
H. Hinckley, there appear as having been Pastors of this church, in the following
order: Rev. T. M. Hopkins, Rev. M. P. Kinney, Rev. Lewis E. Matson, Rev. Mr. Peel,
Rev. T. E. Davis, Rev. G. W. Sargent, Rev. McLeod and Rev. T. P. Sawin. Of this
number, Revs. Kinney, Matson and Sawin were the only installed Pastors. The longest
pastorate was that of Rev. M. P. Kinney; it was about seven years, and during this
time there were ninety-nine accessions to the Church membership. This is the largest
number joining during any pastorate. The average length of pastoral service has been
about three years and six months. The following are the names of the Deacons, in
respective order of election: H. Sheldon, I. G. Parker, S. B. Peck, William Bruce, S.
E. Hurlbut, Thomas Driver, J. H. Fancher, William Silloway, J. K. Sherman, A. J. Van
Ornum, S. H. Sheldon, J. R. Brearley and Charles Peck. Mr. Silloway is the veteran
Deacon of all this number. From an annual sermon of Rev. M. P. Kinney, it appears
there were forty-two charter members of this church. The first Church record was
burned. Of this number, there are now six resident members, viz: A. P. Dickey, J. E.
Lockwood, Mrs. A. S. Lockwood, S. R. Sheldon, N. A. Walker and Martin Eastman. During
these twenty-nine years, there have been 321 members of this Church. There are 128
members, 119 of whom live less than a Sabbath day's journey from the sanctuary.
Composed by Rev. M. P. Kinney, and sung at the dedication of the Church, November,
Oh, God of Jacob, how Thine ear,
Attend our supplicating voice;
In majesty Thyself appear,
And bis us all in Thee rejoice.
Oh, let these walls forever stand,
A monument of Thy rich grace;
Adorned in beauty by Thy hand,
An earthly home, Thy dwelling place.
Here may Thy worship be sincere,
May willing soals Thy praises sing;
And in return to Thou draw near,
And gracious, own our offerings.
Thy name shall be recorded here,
And here display Thy glory, Lord;
Fill every heart with final fear,
And clothe with power Thy sacred word.
So may this house henceforward prove
A place of rest to mortals given;
And better, far, may it become
To them, indeed, the gate of Heaven.
Connected with the Church is a Sabbath school, with an average attendance of 160, of
which J. R. Brearley is Superintendent and R. S. Adams, Assitant Superintendent. Also
the Children's Temperance Band, with a membership of sixty, which number is rapidly
increasing. The society is chiefly in charge of Mrs. William H. Hinckley, the Pastor's