First Baptist Church of Mt. Carroll Celebrates 160th Anniversary
The congregation of the First Baptist Church in Mount Carroll will hold a 160th Anniversary Celebration Sunday, September 8. The day will be dedicated to recognizing the history of the church, 1853-2013.
Events of the day include Sunday School at 9 am, the 10:15 am Worship Service with comments from previous pastors followed by a potluck dinner. An Open House and time of remembrance will take place in Fellowship Hall from 1-3 p.m. The public is invited to join the members of First Baptist for the day’s activities.
Former ministers who have confirmed attendance are Frank Nelson (1956-1959) and Dana Martin (1979-1985). Those that are not able to attend have sent letters for the event.
Church Historian Dick Kehl will have available some early records of the church. Scrap Books of activities will be on display also.
Plans for the establishment of a Baptist church in Mount Carroll were actively undertaken in 1852 when John Rinewalt, writing for the little band of founders, sought a minister from their home community in Pennsylvania. Mount Carroll had become the county seat in 1843. In 1853, there were about 800 inhabitants of the village.
The Rev. J. V. Allison responded to the inquiry. He had been educated and ordained in Pennsylvania. In the spring of 1853, he and his family left Pennsylvania to cast their lot with the Baptists in Mount Carroll.
On the evening of July 28, 1853, a meeting was held at Rev. J. V. Allison’s house for the purpose of forming a church. Mr. Allison was elected chairman and Lewis Chrisman, secretary. Baptist churches in the area were invited to send delegates to be present for the purpose of recognizing the Mount Carroll congregation as a regular Baptist church. On August 26, church letters of the 14 founders were read and accepted. The founding services were held the following Sunday, August 28, 1853, and J. V. Allison was extended the right hand of fellowship as the pastor of First Baptist Church.
Plans had been drawn by the building committee, John Rinewalt, J. V. Allison, and Lewis Chrisman, for a building of stone and brick, to be built on the “N.W. corner of the Reserved Square of the Rinewalt and Halderman Addition”. By November 1854, the ground floor was in use and committees were appointed to provide wood for heating to “light the House of Worship, make fire when necessary, and sweep the house, each person to serve for the term of one month.”
It was not until the spring of 1863 that the building committee was authorized to “finish the House” which was to include a church auditorium, gallery and steeple. The completed building was dedicated May 5, 1863, nearly ten years after the founding. Further building improvements came in the 1870s and 1880s.
In 1881, Mrs. Aaron Cole purchased a church bell weighing 1,881 pounds, which she presented to the church in memory of Mr. Cole. A bell tower was constructed sometime during 1883 costing $1,300. By July 1884, with “their utmost effort” money had been raised and for the first time, the church was entirely free of debt.
On the evening of May 5, 1894, a cyclonic storm destroyed the church building. Only the bell tower and the south wall remained intact. The organ and much of the valuable furniture were in ruins. The clerk, Henry S. Metcalf, noted that “this will not interrupt, however, the usual appointments of the church…the bell will ring tomorrow morning at the usual hour for a service in Cole’s Opera House.”
The first meeting of the church in the re-built edifice was in January 1895. The cost of reconstruction totaled $6,600, which included the windows dedicated to former leaders in the fellowship of the church. Dr. Henry Shimer, who died in August of that year, contributed the circular window at the east end of the auditorium in memory of J. V. Allison. Four to five hundred gathered for the dedication in February 1895. The membership numbered about 150 at the this time.
In 1912, Mrs. N. H. Melendy and Mrs. Della M. Babcock proposed to give $5,000 in memory of N. H. Melendy, for an enlargement to provide more space for church and Sunday School and an addition was built to the west of the church. Considerable alteration of the old building was necessary, the total expense being about $13,500. The dedication was in November 1913.
Subsequent years and changes in the community have further shaped the dynamics of the church. The closing of Shimer College in 1978 brought decline in membership and attendance at First Baptist. Because of the intertwining of the two institutions, what had been a bustling church and Sunday school of 150-200 people in 1900 is now a relatively modest membership of about 85 in the new century.
There is, however, evidence that the church is alive and well. The church celebrated its 160th anniversary and continues to be a moving force in the community dedicated to the work which remains.
(History compiled by Lois Gelwicks from old church records)