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HISTORY OF SPENCER'S GROVE CHURCH AND LOCALITY

Adapted from material written by Mrs. Wilmer J. Robison, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. November 1969.
Sources included church and cemetery records, Benton County Histories and notes from individuals.
Available on LDS FHL Film #987654 Item 1.

Spencer's Grove Methodist Church is located in a small wooded area which has always been known as Spencer's Grove. It is located in northern Benton County, Iowa on Highway 50 just west of the town of Walker and south of Independence. This highway was once a stage coach road and the Spencer home in the Grove was a stage coach stop.

Early settlers in the area first held church services in their homes. After a small one-room brick school house was built in 1859 "The Union Society" was organized and preaching services, prayer meetings and church school sessions were held in the school building. Transient ministers held "Revival Meetings" from time to time. It was after one such revival in 1861 that the Union Society was re-organized to become the Union Free-Will Baptist Church.

Soon with a membership of fifty this congregation raised $1,400 and built a church on land donated by Abner N. Spencer who also contributed labor and funds. Later the Baptist membership dwindled while individuals of Methodist preference increased. The Methodists organizing a congregation in 1878 then used the Spencer Grove church building together with the Baptists. In 1903 arrangements were made to deed the property to the Methodist Church under the pastorate of Rev. L. D. Stubs since the ministry had actually been under the Methodists for thirty years.

The present church building, dedicated 22 Oct. 1905 was begun in 1903 under Rev. Stubs and was completed under Rev. Will Kerwin. Services were held for more than eighty years in Spencer Grove, first in the old Baptist Church, then in the present Methodist Church building. The church building, altho no longer in use as such is being kept in repair under the direction of the Woman's Society for Christian Service, which, as the Ladies Aid, was organized in 1893. A Church Preservations Committee, provided with funds from pioneer descendants and interested neighbors, takes charge of the needed repairs.

The Spencer's Grove Church, in a beautiful setting, has an interesting history. The old head stones in its cemetery tell the names of the early settlers as well as those who came later but still early enough to be considered pioneers.
Some of the early names were:

Arnett       Clark         Gunn         Kizer        Osborn       Spencer
Azbill       Creamer       Hall         Knowlton     Patten       Stahl
Bare         Crossland     Hand         Kolp         Porter       Starks
Bernard      Drain         Hind         Larson       Powell       Syers
Barr         Dibble        Hoffman      Manwell      Rankins      Waddle
Boardman     Evens         Hopkins      Mathews      Reed         Waitman
Bremmer      Fish          Hunt         McCalley     Rezzier      Walker
Brown        Fleming       Hurd         Meggers      Robey        Whitney
Burd         Francis       Johnson      Moody        Robison      Williams
Campbell     Fulton        Kilso        Moses        Rogers       Young
Champlain    Goings        Kenney       Nellist      Soules
Chase        Grover        King         Newton       Spaulding

The first recorded land entries in Polk township, Benton county, Iowa were in November 1845 by Caleb Hendrys and Samuel M. Lockhart. Further entries were made in 1846 by Joseph and Jacob Remington, Malinda Lockhart, Barney D. Springer and William Mitchell.

Abner Nutting Spencer, for whom the Grove was named, was born in Orange County, Vermont 11 May 1820. His father was a native of Connecticut, a college graduate, a lawyer and a judge. Abner, bought up on a farm, came West at the age of twenty and worked in Benton County for four years. He then returned to Manchester, New Hampshire where he married Judith Abaigail Osborne, daughter of Macajah and Mary (Cogswell) Osborne. Judith was born about 1825. Abner N. Spencer's mother was Martha Nutting from whom he received his middle name. The parents of Abner's wife, Judith Abigail, lie buried in the Spencer's Grove churchyard.

Abner N. Spencer entered a claim on 160 acres in Section 10 of Polk township on 27 September 1848 and later enlarged his holdings to 640 acres. A grant in December 1848 was signed by Zachary Taylor and another in July 1855 by Franklin Pierce.

On this land Spencer built a home in 1858 that became the show place of the area. It was then the center of interest to those passing through in covered wagons on their way west. Hospitality was always extended to these travelers and to others traveling by stage. The house was large and roomy, constructed with brick, hand made from clay on the farm. The first luxurious carpet on the floor of the "best room" was made possible by trading a cow. At one time a 15-foot-high fence enclosed a deer and elk preserve on this 640 acre farm. This beautiful $3000 home, now gone, for years continued to be an attraction to visitors even tho no longer used as a dwelling.

All but one of Abner N. Spencer's eight children lie buried in the Spencer Grove churchyard. Two died in infancy, two in their early teens.

1. Josephine ..................... m. J. D. Burrell of Urbana, Ill.
2. Victoria Martha .. 1850-1862
3. Frances J. ....... 1851-1853
4. George Coggswell . 1854-1926 .. m. Minnie Knutz
5. Willie C. ........ 1857-1871
6. May .............. 1860-1884 .. m. Henry Barr, two sons - Clifford, Jay D.
7. Frank P. ......... 1863-1931 .. m. Ella (1863-1947) m. in 1882?
8. Ada .............. 1871-1872
Charles H. Spencer, 1/3/1825 - 1/19/1904, younger brother of Abner N. Spencer came to Iowa in 1849 and took 200 acres of land. He then went to California in 1852 traveling by oxteam. He soon returned, however, via the Isthmus of Panama. He worked for his brother, Abner, until 1855 when he married Mary P. Rice, 6/12/1835-2/7/1907, daughter of James and Mary (Hunt) Rice who were both born in Danville, Virginia.

Charles H. and Mary (Rice) Spencer were the parents of nine children. Death dates are given for those who were buried in Spencer's Grove Churchyard.

1. Emma .......................... m. John T. Robinson, Grant City, Mo.
2. Ashbel ........................ Lived in Lake Benton, Minn.
3. Harriet .......... 1859-1865
4. Edwin M. .........     -1873
5. Charles F. .................... Was a Banker in Lexington, Neb.
6. Victor G. ........ 1866-1936
7. Minnie ........... 1869-1901 .. m. James D. Hoffman (1867-1958).
8. Louis H. ......... 1871-1871
9. James W. ...................... Was in the lumber business in St. Louis.
Victor G. Spencer, son of Charles H., and his cousin Frank, son of Abner N. were perhaps the last of the Spencers to live in the locality of the grove that bears their name.

Victor attended the common schools and one year at Tilford Academy in Vinton. He completed his education at Northern Illinois College in Fulton and then attended the American Institute of Phrenology ¹  in New York. He taught school for six years and then became a farmer. He lived on the old homestead, accumulated 211 acres, and raised Hereford cattle and Norman horses. He was an ardent Democrat, an admirer of William Jennings Bryan. After the death of his mother, Mary (Rice) Spencer, Victor married Lilla M. (Francis) Kelso, 1864-1947, widow of John Kelso. Lilla was the daughter of Almon I. Francis, a Civil War Veteran born in New York and Elizabeth Girton, born in Pennsylvania.

Frank Spencer, and his wife, an eighteen-year-old bride, lived on the old homestead from 1881 to 1901. It was there that five of their six children were born.

1. The study of the shape and protuberances of the skull, based on the now discredited belief that they reveal character and mental capacity.



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