"History of the Danville Congregational Church"
from History of the Danville Community
Transcribed by Karen McAtlin, 15 Nov 2011

 The Congregational church was organized on Saturday, June 29, 1839 at the home of Samuel Jaggar, two miles west of Danville. Rev. Reuben Gaylord, the minister in charge, recorded in the following words what happened that day:

"Sabbath, June 30, 1839, at Danville—Spent the forenoon on Saturday visiting people of that settlement, and in afternoon preached them from the words, 'come out from among them.' Several then present their letters and were organized into a church. On Sabbath Brother Turner (of Denmark) came to assist me, and at noon the organization was completed and we sat down for the first time in our infant territory at the table of our Blessed Lord."  


On Saturday the following people presented letters from churches in Illinois, Ohio, New York, and Massachusetts and were constituted into the church: Samuel and Pamela Jaggar, Cordelia Terril, Harriet C. Hall, Mary Corning, Anna Messenger, Amanda Higley, and Sarah and Reuben Gaylord. On the same day, the following people were admitted without letter, but by means of examination: Hemen and Eleanor Seymour, Thomas K. Hurlbut, Betsy Mathews, Lucinda More, Ebenezer Messenger and his daughter Fanny, and Adaline and Charles Burnham.

Because the next day was Sunday, they met again and more members were added. Those who joined by confession were Mary A. Messenger, Peter More, and Lydia Humphrey. Those who joined by letter were John C and Irene Hitchcock; John and Eleanor Hitchcock; Madison and Lucy Miner; and Rachel, John, and Lucy Hitchcock. The newly-founded church west of Danville was the second Congregational church to be organized in Iowa. The first had been organized in Denmark by Rev. Asa Turner. Although the Burlington Congregational Church was founded in 1838 and one in Dubuque was founded earlier in the same month as the Danville church, these were originally Presbyterian churches and have later been changed to Congregational churches.

At that time both the Congregational and Presbyterian churches were co-operating to send missionaries to the Middle West. Most of the new churches being formed were Presbyterian churches because their form of organization seemed to be more suited to the country. However, Rev. Gaylord believed the Congregational form of church organization was more suitable, and thus, the Danville church was Congregational instead of Presbyterian.

Both Rev. Gaylord and Rev. Turner were graduates of Yale College and Yale Theological Seminary. Rev. Turner helped to found Illinois College in Jacksonville in 1829, and Rev. Gaylord taught there for two years before he entered the seminary. While at Yale, Gaylord became interested in the Iowa Territory and, on petition to the American Home Missionary Society, he was commissioned to work at Mt. Pleasant.

In August of 1839 the young church at Danville asked Rev. Gaylord to be their half-time pastor, realizing that he served other communities as well. In 1843 when the Iowa, or Andover, Band came to supply ministers, Rev. Gaylord was able to serve full-time at the Danville church. He was installed on May 19, 1854 with a salary of "not less than $150 per annum." During his pastorate here he lived in a two-room log cabin just east of where Fred Mathews later lived. Rev. Gaylord continued as pastor and clerk until 1855, when he and his family moved to Omaha.

As in other churches, the first members met in homes and later schools. In 1854 services were held in the "Old Danville School House" located three miles southwest of Danville on a farm owned by O. L. Huntington (now owned by Herald Grinstead). Still later the church met in the Plank Road school near Jimtown which, at that time, was new. The Huntingtons, who were an important family in the Hartford neighborhood, were also important in the Congregational church. Mrs. Huntington became a member on August 25, 1839 and her husband, O. L. Huntington, joined in 1844. Their daughter, Sabeth, married George Mix who as a clerk of the church for 21 years and a deacon for over 50 years. Mr. Mix was especially known for his work towards beautifying the church grounds. Two granddaughters of Mr. and Mrs. Mix, Mrs. Ada Waters and Mrs. Florence Drinkall, are still members of the Danville Congregational church. The Huntington-Mix-family has recently completed 125 years of continuous membership.

In 1843 the first movement was begun to build a church, and in that year a committee was appointed to raise $600 for the project. Deacon Elizur Porter, an important man in the Congregational church, deeded the land where the first church was built. It was located between the later homes of Milton Ritchey and S. H. Sater. The completed church was forty feet long and thirty feet wide, and it was dedicated on August 18, 1847. A cemetery was laid out west of the church, and later a grove of maples was set out near it. The remains of the cemetery can be found on the Glen Dockendorff property.

For a period of years beginning in 1854, the Danville Congregational Church refused aid from the American Home Missionary Society as long as the society continued granting aid to churches who had slave holders as members. The pastor's salary was then $450 a year, but part of this money had previously come from the AHMS. After the Civil War the Danville church again received aid of about $200 a year from the society.

The first church, built in 1847, was replaced in 1868 by a second church. This church was built on the same site at a cost of about $3000. The dedication services were conducted in November, 1868 by Rev. E. P. Smith. Later, in 1874, a bell was bought and hung in this church. It was the same bell which rings today in the present church. The first parsonage, given by Deacon Porter in 1874, was a lot with building north-of the-church.—-At the same time that the parsonage was given, the church bought additional adjoining land for $200.

Over the years, several missionaries have gone out from the local congregation. One was Luella Miner, the granddaughter of John Hitchcock, who became president of Union College in Peking, China. She was there during the Boxer Rebellion when missionaries in China were persecuted. Another missionary was Elizabeth Jaggar, the daughter of Samuel B. Jaggar. She married D. W. Burton, an uncle of Mrs. Reuben Gaylord, and went to Sierra Leone, Africa. She died on a return trip to America and was buried in mid-ocean.

In 1901 a committee was set up to raise $1050 for a new personage which was built where Glen Dockendorff now lives. That house was later moved and is now the home of Eugene Thornburg.

Before 1903, the church formally existed as two separate organizations. The "Society" had about the same members as the "Church", but it conducted the business matters. The Society elected a secretary and the trustees. The Church elected the deacons and a clerk. In 1903 the Church and the Society were incorporated into one body.

Recent changes to the church building include the removal of the bell tower in 1999 and
renovation of the sanctuary in 2000. Photo courtesy Brian McMillin, IOWAbackroads.

The present church and parsonage were built in 1920 and dedicated on December 5 of that year. The cost was over $35,000 and was raised by subscription at the time of the dedication, except for a $1000 grant and a $2000 loan from the Congregational Church Building Society. The loan was repaid by 1938. The building committee for the construction of the present church was Willis Mathews, chairman, Walter Mathews, and Everett Asby. The solicitors were William Beck, Ollie Mathews, Fred Wagner, and Lee W. Mix.

The Congregational Church in the United States traces its beginnings to the Pilgrims who came to America on the Mayflower. It has since, however, changed its official identity somewhat. First it merged with a branch of the Christian Church and became the Congregational Christian Church. Then in the 1940's and 1950's leaders of the Congregational Christian Church and the Evangelical Reformed Church considered a merger. Debate was hot both for and against the proposition, but it was finally passed and became effective on June 25, 1957. Since then the official name has been the United Church of Christ, but the old name is still frequently used.

The Danville Congregational Church today is well organized and has many strong members. The women's group is called the United Women's Fellowship, and its president is Edith Unterkircher. The women's group is divided into two circles, the Friendship Circle and the Daytime Circle. The former is composed of the younger women and meets in the evenings. Its president is Norma Thornburg. The Daytime Circle has for its president Mrs. Vern Mathews. Each circle meets about once a month, and four times every year the two circles meet together.

It is important in writing the history of a church to mention the current officers because these are the leaders of today. In the Congregational Church the Board of Trustees is composed of James Kelley, Howard Waters, Ralph Shaver, and John Hand. The deacons are Wayne Williams, Wendall Mathews, George Mathews, Marion Drinkall, and Martin Beck. Other leaders include Sunday School Superintendant—-Mrs. George Mathews, choir director—-Mr. George Mathews, and organist—-Mrs. Paul Kellar. The youth group, called the Iowa Pilgrim Fellowship, is lead by Mrs. Ada Waters.

The Danville Congregational Church today has a strong membership of over 100, a fine church, and a good location in the town of Danville. It is rich in history and has a past to be proud of. Today's church has come a long way from its meager beginnings in the country more than 125 years ago. It seems likely to make even greater advances in the future.

Ministers of the Danville Congregational Church

1839-1855Reuben Gaylord
1857-1865Aaron Leonard
1865-1868D. B. Davidson
1868-1878E. P. Smith
1878-1882J. D. Baker
1882-1883Mr. Bowers
1884-1896L. T. Rowley
1896-1899Charles R. Shatto
1899-1904G. D. Tangemann
1904-1906C. E. Drew
1906-1909Charles F. Sheldon
1910-1914William H. Bicker
1914-1917A. H. Linder
1917-1919A. H. Smith
1919-1926Virgil B. Hill
1926-1934Victor H. Ruring
1934-1937Walter A. Snow
1938-1942Matthew Kelly
1943-1944Lambert Orton
1945-1948Rufus Derry
1948-1949L. P. Dorrity
1949-1956A. L. Eddy
1957-1959Donald Voss
1959-1964O. C. Huff
1964-Joseph Mayer


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