Dean R. Karau
In my new book, The History of Wethersfield 2.0 (available on Amazon, with proceeds goign to the Kewanee Historical Society), I traced the history of Wethersfield churches from the village’s founding in 1836-37 to the founding of Kewanee in 1854.
Here’s a brief history of Kewanee’s churches in the first quarter century of our hometown’s history.
The First Baptist Church organized in Wethersfield in 1851. It planned, but never completed, a church building on Tenney St., and then it relocated to Kewanee in 1854 to become the First Baptist Church. Initially, the members worshipped in Cutter’s and Syke’s Halls and other church buildings. Finally, they erected a church at the northeast corner of Main and Third Sts. in 1867. (No. 1 on the 1876 Kewanee map.)
St. Mary’s Catholic Church was organized in early 1854 at the home of Matthew Joyce, located at the site of the soon-to-be-built church on Fifth St. near Chestnut St. In 1855, the congregation built an 18’ x 24’ church, later enlarged and remodeled. (No. 2.) Father Lynch was the first pastor. (St. Mary’s parish was renamed Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church when a new church was built in 1885 on Park St.)
Members of the Wethersfield Congregational Church who moved to Kewanee held services in the Kewanee House, the village’s first hotel, as well as in private homes. They organized in August 1855, and began meeting in a school house. Its first pastor was Charles H. Pierce. They began construction of their wood-framed church building in 1857, it was dedicated in March 1858, and was enlarged in 1871. (No. 3.)
In 1855, a group organized a Protestant Episcopal Sunday school in the Kewanee House. The next year, they organized their church, St. John’s Episcopal Church, and by the end of 1857, their church building was completed. (No. 4.) The first church bell in Kewanee was rung from St. John’s belfry in 1860.
Methodists who had moved from Wethersfield to Kewanee organized in 1855. The First Methodist Episcopal Church congregation built their first church building in 1856 at the northeast corner of Fourth and Burr Sts. (No. 5.) (The congregation dedicated a new church building in 1880 at the corner of N. Chestnut and W. First Sts.)
The United Evangelical Church/St. Paul’s German Church was organized in 1862 by German immigrants who were served by a minister from Rock Island. The wood frame church was built in 1867 and was referred to as “The Little Dutch Church.” (No. 6.) When the Church of Peace was organized in 1876, St. Paul’s shared a pastor with the new church.
The Church of the Latter Day Saints was established in Kewanee in 1862. In 1868, the congregation built its church at what was then a location to the north outside of the village. (No. 7.)
In the early 1860s, members of the Primitive Methodist faith met in Cutter’s Hall and the Methodist Episcopal Church. The members organized in 1865, chose their first board of trustees in 1867, and erected their first church in 1873 on Fifth St. at the end of Tremont St. (No. 8.) The first pastor was J. Hewitt.
The Free Will Baptist Church was organized in 1865. Before organizing, members met at the Swedish Methodist Church, the Free Methodist Church, Cutter’s Hall, and another church. In 1869, they began constructing a church building, completed a year later. (No. 9.)
The Free Methodist Church organized in a Wethersfield residence about 1866. Before organization, congregants met in different homes, a Wethersfield store, and the Swedish Methodist Church. In about 1870, they purchased the Protestant Methodist Church in Kewanee. (No. 10.) In 1877, they built and dedicated a new church building at the corner of First and Main Sts.
In the mid 1800s, the rolling timberland northeast of Kewanee was settled by Germans and French Huguenots who had lived in Germany. In 1867, they established the St. Michael’s Evangelical Lutheran Church (St. Michaels Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche) about a mile west of what is now Francis Park. Services were initially held in the Kuster School, but the parish quickly raised funds to erect their church building next to the school. (No. 11.)
The Swedish Methodist Church organized sometime before 1869, but it was always a small group and could not sustain a regular preacher.
Before organizing in 1869, the Swedish Lutheran Church congregation met in private homes and in the Methodist Episcopal Church. After organizing, the congregation finished its church building the following year at the corner of Grove and South (now Central) Sts. (No. 12.) The first pastor was Rev. Lendholm.
The Presbyterian Church congregation organized in the spring of 1872. They completed their church building later that year on Tremont St. (No. 13.)
The 1876 city directory identified a Swede M. E. Church and placed it at the south end of Park St. I could not find anything else about a church using this name. (No. 14.)
Dissension arose at St. Michael’s between the native Germans and the descendants of the French Huguenots. In early 1876, thirty Huguenots living in Kewanee and Neponset Townships and their families withdrew from St. Michael’s and formed a new church, The German United Evangelical Peace Church (Die Deutsche Vereinigte Evangelische Friedens Gemeinde). In late spring 1876, they dedicated a new church building half a mile to the west of St. Michael’s. (No. 16,) This became the Church of Peace.
On April 15, 1877, 10 Black Kewaneeans organized the African Methodist Church with the help of Rev. S. F. Jones of Princeton. They rented space from one of the Swedish churches and conducted a Sunday School and regular services.
The Wethersfield colonists who migrated westward in the late 1830s were men and women of religion. Kewanee inherited many of them as well as their spirit. As it grew over its first 25 years, Kewanee soon boasted of a large, vibrant religious community comprised of many denominations.