Pioneer Clergymen of the First Presbyterian Church

As published in "Commemorative Biographical Record of Racine and Kenosha Counties" (Chicago: 1906), pages 620-625

The pioneer clergymen who ministered to the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church of Racine, Wis. abbreviated from a narrative compiled by Byron B. Northrop and read Sunday evening, Oct. 5, 1902 at the Semi-Centennial Celebration of the laying of the corner-stone of the church now occupied by the First Presbyterian Society of Racine. The Church was gathered together and organized by the Rev. Cyrus Nichols.

Rev. Cyrus Nichols was born Oct. 31, 1799 in Reading, Mass. and was one of a family of ten children. His parents were in humble circumstances, but all their children were given a good education, and four out of six boys went through college. In early manhood there came upon him that change of heart with is spoken of as being born of the spirit. He united with the Congregational Church at Newburyport, Mass. There he heard in his soul a call to preach the Gospel. In order to prepare himself for this work, he entered Williams College in 1823, and in that training school of great and good men grew in intellectual stature. He supported himself to a considerable extent during his college years by teaching, and after four years of hard work graduated with honor in 1827. He then took a three years' course in the Theological Seminary at Auburn, N. Y., graduating in the spring of 1830. He was ordained to the Gospel ministry by the First Genesee Consociation and licensed to preach June 1, 1830.

Exercising that wisdom for which most young clergymen are distinguished, soon after completing his studies he sought and found a companion for his life work, and was united in the sacrament of marriage, to Miss Dolly D. Hurlbut, on the 25th of July, 1830, at Hoosick Falls, N. Y., in a Presbyterian Church. Miss Hurlbut was a sister of Sidney S. Hurlbut, who afterward removed to Racine and became a prominent and successful manufacturer of wagon brakes.

Having been appointed a home missionary by the Connecticut Missionary Society, he started West on the 1st day of September, 1830, his destination being the new State of Missouri. It took two months by stage and boat to make the journey. Finally, after many trials, tribulations and accidents, he reached his journey's end and settled in Palmyra, Mo., a frontier town, where he remained, sowing the good seed of the Kingdom, and carrying forward the home missionary work in establishing churches and Sunday schools. Twice during his labors in Missouri he visited the East to raise funds for the establishment of a College at Philadelphia Mission, to be known as Marion College. During his sceond visit East, the feeling against Northern men with Abolition sentiments became so violent that all Northerners were driven from the State, and Mr. Nichols did not dare to return even to remove his household goods. These goods, however, were afterward sent to him, but were not all received.

The Territory of Wisconsin in the far Northwest was then attracting attention, and hither this young missionary came, and on the first Sabbath in September, 1836, he preached the first sermon delivered in Racine, taking as his text the 17th verse of the 51st Psalm. Here he continued to labor as a home missionary, preaching at first once a month and afterward on alternate Sabbaths, until January, 1839, when the First Presbyterian Church of Racine was organized, chiefly through his efforts. He therefore stands forth like John the Baptist of old. "The voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight."

Shortly after organizing this church Mr. Nichols removed to Prairie Village, now known as Waukesha. While serving the church in Racine and afterward he preached at Spring Prairie, Port Washington, Pike's Grove (now Somers, [Kenosha Co.]), Caledonia Center, and other places. He was well known in those early years throughout all southern Wisconsin as the "Missionary Herald." Later in life he bought a farm of forty acres in Caledonia, on the Milwaukee Road, to secure a permanent home for his family. There he spent his declining years in the enjoyment of a country home. In 1880 he sold his farm and bought a residence on Prospect Street, in Racine, and with the benediction of an honorable and useful life he fell asleep Saturday, Feb. 10, 1883, aged eighty-three years, three months, ten days. The funeral was held in the Presbyterian Church Tuesday, Feb. 13, and the funeral sermon was preached by Rev. Clarendon A. Stone, of the Congregational Church. The services were conducted by Rev. Eli Corwin, pastor of the Presbyterian Church, and his remains rest in Mound Cemetery. His wife died Jan. 30, 1895, and was buried also from this church, of which she was member, Feb. 2d Rev. Charles S. Nickerson officiating. There are eight children surviving him, ten grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, all useful, highly respected and greatly esteemed in their respective walks of life. His third son, George Calvin Nichols, and his family are members of this church, and his grandson, George Sidney Nichols, often serves as usher.

Mr. Nichols was an active man. He led a strenuous life. It required courage, zeal and unfaltering devotion of heart to be a missionary in those early days in this frontier settlement. The martyr spirit burned in his breast and wrought itself into the lineaments of his face. He was tall, spare, and sturdy, a fine specimen of a New England man in build and manner. His portrait, kindly presented to this church by his children, and adorned the Sunday-school room, has been thought to resemble the great poet, Whittier. Love for truth, love for humanity and love for the Lord Christ were the controlling forces that wrought in his life and work. Thus his spirit of faith, of sacrifice, of patience and of hope entered into the organization of this church in 1839, and by it he, being dead, yet speaketh.

Rev. Christopher Columbus Cadwell was born in Lenox, Madison Co., N. Y., Dec. 4, 1811, the son of Ebenezer S. Cadwell. The children numbered seven, the scripture number for perfection, three brothers and four sisters. One sister married Mr. Homer Adams, and is now living at Union Grove, in Racine County, and from her these particulars were obtained. Another sister married Dr. Henry Dwight Adams, formerly of Union Grove but now of Whitewater, in this State.

Mr. Cadwell received his theological education at Lane Seminary and came to Wisconsin in 1838. He preached one year each in Racine and Kenosha. He organized churches in Rochester (1839), Burlington and Waukegan (1843) and Paris (1844), and for many years labored with the churches of Rochseter and Caldwell's Prairie, Wis., and fifteen years with the churches of Genoa and Richmond, Ill. In connection with his labors five churches erected house of worship, and there were constant ingatherings as a result of his preaching. At Oneida Lake, Madison Co., N. Y., on the 29th of April, 1836, he was united in marriage to Miss Harriet A. Northway, who died at Waukegan, Ill. (then called Little Fort), July 17, 1844, leaving one son, Caspar Northway Cadwell, who is at the present time a zealous worker in the Presbyterian Church at Logan, Iowa.

In 1869, having a longing for pioneer work, and hoping also to improve his health, he left Genoa and removed to Lamar, Mo. His labors in this new mission field were brief. After attending a meeting of the Missouri State Convention, which closed its session with the tender hymn, "Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian Love," he returned to his home, and was attacked with pneumonia. He died Jan. 8, 1870, aged fifty-eight years, one month, four days. He is remembered as a man of great conscientiousness and strictness of life, enforcing such a life by example and preaching. He was venerated even before reaching his prime, and such was the sweetness of his character that he won the confidence of all young people and their high esteem to such extent that they sought him from near and far when they desired to be united in marriage, that the benediction of so good a man might rest upon them. Another marked characteristic of his family life was the unbounded hospitality of his home, his wife cheerfully bearing the added labor which such generosity imposes. Her life went out at an early age, with only eight years of wedded joy.

Rev. Hiram Foote commenced his labors as pastor of this church Jan. 1, 1842, and remained three years. One of our oldest members recalls that he came from Wiscasset, Maine, was about thirty-four years old, had a family, preached at church services held in a room over the log house used for a jail, which stood where our courthouse now stands. At that time he lived in a small frame house attached to the jail building and afterward built the house now occupied by Dr. S. J. Martin, on Main street, next north of the First Methodist Church. His son was here about two years ago to look at the place. The house of worship was on Wisconsin Street, where Odd Fellows' Hall now stands, and through his efforts was built and finally completed in February, 1843. He was small in stature, wore eye-glasses, had a light complexion, was very pleasant in manner and a good preacher. He removed to Janesville in 1845, during the next twenty-five years ministering to churches at Janesville and Waukesha, and acting as agent for the Congregational Sunday-school Society. He finally removed to Rockford, Ill., where he died Jan. 13, 1880 in the eighty-first year. It is written of him that he was one of the faithful, beloved and best known ministers in southern Wisconsin; that from first to last he wrought steadily and rightously as a devout servant of Christ, ever courageious for the right and truth, and ever gentle to all men.

It is recalled by one of our oldest residents that he had two elder brothers, Lucius and Horace, who were noted as great revivalists and temperance preachers. They were enthusiastic and persuasive pulpit orators, and could move an audience with wonderful power. Hiram was a fluent and pleasant speaker, with great flow of language, but lacked the force and impressiveness of his brothers. He was a kindly and lovable man, and is gratefully remembered.

Rev. Zephaniah Moore Humphrey was born at Amherst, Mass., Monday, Aug. 30, 1824. his father was Herman Humphrey, president of Amherst College, and he was named in honor of Dr. Zephaniah Moore, the only preceeding president of that great institution. It is worthy to notice that his birth occurred when a new era of marvelous improvements and the spread of knowledge opened upon the world. The year after his birth the great Erie canal was completed, thus connecting the Great Lakes of the West with the Hudson river and the ocean. Six years before his birth the first steam vessel (called the "Savannah") crossed the Atlantic from New York to Liverpool, but regular trips only began to be made several years later. Seven years after his birth Morse's electric telegraph was invented. When he was five years old Joseph Smithson, an English lover of knowledge, bequeathed half a million of dollars to the United States of America, to be devoted to the increase of knowledge among men, resulting in the establishment of the Smithsonian Institute at Washington. Thus the spirit of great thoughts and great achievements hovered over his childhood and molded his character, shaping it into beauty and power.

His mother was Sophia Porter, a woman of distinguished lineage. Three of her brothers were celebrated preachers, and her nephew, Noah Porter, was one of the illustrious presidents of Yale College.

These brief and simple statements lead us to expect of this child of prayer and faith great goodness and great strength of mind and heart. There were three brothers and two sisters: James, a lawyer in Brooklyn, N. Y., and a member of Congress; John, a pastor at Binghamton, N. Y., and Lucy and Mary who married ministers. Mr. Humphrey was educated in the schools of Amherst, and graduated from Amherst College in 1843, when nineteen years old. On Thursday, the 9th of October, 1850, he was ordained and installed as pastor by the Milwaukee Convention acting as Presbytery. He was the first minister installed as pastor over this church. It is recorded in the memorial sketch of his life, that in writing home he described Racine as "a charming city, beautiful for situation, on a fine bluff between Lake Michigan on the one hand, out of which the sun rose in the morning, and a vast stretch of rich prairie on the other, behind the western edge of which he was seen to go down, often amid gorgeous accompaniments, at evening." His first pastorate became a success, and pastor and people grew in mutual love and sympathy. The little church on Wisconsin street became too small for the large numbers that desired to attend upon his ministrations, and the society immediately proceeded to the erection of this stately edifice in which we now worship.

It is a matter of wonder that the small congregation of fifty years ago should have had the faith and courage to undertake the building of a house of worship that answers every purpose of this generation, and yet remains the largest in this city. It is narrated of Mr. Humphrey that when the house was first opened for inspection he was so pleased and gratified that he danced up and down the aisles like a boy. The church was dedicated in June, 1852, and his father, then president of Amherst College, preached the dedicatory sermon. Mr. Humphrey resigned May 24, 1856, and accepted a call to Plymouth Congregational Church, Milwaukee.

He remained only three years in Milwaukee, and then accepted a call to the First Presbyterian Church of Chicago. This change was made because he had become convinced that the organic structure of Congregationalism was neither scriptural nor expedient. The pressure of experience led him to prefer the Presbyterian to the Congregational Church polity. After nine years' service in Chicago he was called in 1868 to Calvary Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, where he remained seven years. He was elected Moderator of the General Assembly when it met in Chicago in 1870, the most distinguished honor in the gift of the church. In the spring of 1875, he was elected to the Chair of Ecclesiastical History and Church Polity in Lane Theological Seminary, and Cincinnati. In the congenial work of student life he spent six years, when in the autumn of the year and of his life he was attacked by a violent cold, which developed into pneumonia, and Sabbath evening, Nov. 12, 1881, he fell asleep.

When the sad news came to Racine that the first installed pastor of this church had passed from earthly to eternal rest there was sorrow in many hearts who remembered him with grateful tenderness. Rev. Dr. Eli Corwin, who was pastor of this church at that time, preached a memorial discourse, taking as his text, "A strong man, if wise is a power, indeed." The funeral was held in Chicago, and he was buried in Rosehill cemetery, beside his children.

Rev. Charles Josiah Hutchins (with his twin brother Dr. Chauncey B. Hutchins) was born Thursday, Sept. 8, 1825, at Waterford, Erie Co., Pa. He prepared for college at Waterford Academy and entered Yale University in 1845, graduating in the class of 1849. In this class was Timothy Dwight, one of his closest friends, who afterward became a great president of that great college. He took a post-graduate course at Yale Theological Seminary, and continued his studies in Andover Theological Seminary, where he graduated in 1854. His first charge was the Presbyterian Church at York, Pa. From there he was called to the Congregational Church at Kenosha, his third parish being Racine.

The wisdom of young clergymen was again verified to the surprise of many, and on Wednesday, April 3, 1861, Miss Clara Anna Shepherd and Rev. Charles J. Hutchins were married in this church by Rev. Roswell Park, D. D., rector of St. Luke's Episcopal Church. There was, of course, a little shadow of disappointment that some of his charming young parishioners had not found favor in his sight, but that, like a summer cloud, soon vanished when with joyful spirit and sweet girlish delight, she cast in her lot with this society, and entered upon the duties of a pastor's wife. Usually letters are not granted by the Episcopal Church to other bodies, but that nobly good man, Dr. Park, gave her a letter of fellowship and blessing to this church and July 7, 1881, she entered into covenant with us.

After four years of successful work in this parish he began to feel that his hold upon the congregation was somewhat weakened, and March 22, 1865, he tendered his resignation, which was accepted, and the Presbytery dissolved the pastoral relation. It will interest many to learn that seven children (the scripture number for perfection) were born to this happy couple, married in this church forty-one years ago: Clara Rebecca, born in Racine April 13, 1862; Chauncey Samuel, born in Racine, Sept. 28, 1866; Clinton James, born July 6, 1869, at Fulton, N. Y.; Emily, born in 1871 in Petaluma, Cal. (died within a week); Charles Dawson, born in Petaluma March 9, 1873, and Shepherd Reed, born in Petaluma Nov. 28, 1874, both of whom died the same day in September, 1876, of diptheria; and Laura Sophia, born in Petaluma Jan 29, 1878. Clinton James Hutchins is a business man in San Francisco, married, and with a daughter eleven years old. The two daughters, Clara Rebecca and Laura Sophia, the oldest and youngest, are now living with their mother in Honolulu.

Rev. Walter Scott Alexander pastor 1866 to 1872, born Saturday, Aug. 29, 1835, at Killingly, Conn. died in Cambridge, Mass., Tuesday, May 15, 1900.

Rev. Daniel E. Bierce pastor 1873 to 1880, born May 12, 1834, died Tuesday, March 2, 1897, in Cleveland, Ohio. He was buried in Mound Cemetery, Racine, March 5, 1897, beside two of his children.

Rev. Eli Corwin, D. D. , pastor 1880 to 1888, born Oct. 30, 1824, at Wallkill, Orange Co., N. Y., died in Chicago Aug. 19, 1899.

Rev. Charles Sparrow Nickerson, D. D., pastor 1892 to 1901, was born Sunday, April 30, 1860, at Beverly, Ohio. He resigned in June, 1901, and accepted a call to the Walnut Street Presbyterian Church at Evansville, Ind. He was succeeded by

Rev. George Murray Colville, D. D., from Jamestown, N. Y., who was installed by the Milwaukee Presbytery Tuesday evening, Oct. 15, 1901.




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