A Record of Settlement, Organization,
Progress and Achievement
Volume 1
Chicago, Illinois
The Pioneer Publishing Company


To the Methodist Episcopal denomination belongs the honor of having been the pioneer in the religious field of Dickinson County. A circuit was established here in 1859, with headquarters locally at Okoboji in charge of Rev. Cornelius McLean. It is said that the very first settlers were Congregationalists, but later were outnumbered by the Methodists. Doctor Prescott and several other men had held brief services prior to the coming of a regularly appointed pastor.

The first religious services in the county were held at the old Gardner cabin on West Okoboji Lake on Sunday, May 11, 1857. Rev. J. S. Prescott conducted the meeting. In the history of Dickinson County (1902), the following is said in regard to this first meeting: "Prescott was a speaker of extraordinary ability and one to whom it was a pleasure to listen, no matter what a person's particular religious ideas might be. But that fact was not known then. It became patent later on. On the evening preceding that Sunday morning, word was sent around to the different cabins that there would be religious services at the Gardner place, the following day. Accordingly at the appointed hour the crowd assembled to the number of fifteen to twenty. It was an unique sight, especially to those who had just come from the East, to see those rough looking, hardy pioneers on their way to church, come filing along, either singly or in parties of two or three, dressed in their red shirts, without coats or vests and with their rifles in their hands, their ammunition slung from their shoulders, and leather belts around their waists, from most of which dangled revolvers. Singular as such a spectacle would be at the present time, it was strictly in keeping with the surroundings on that occasion. As the parties arrived they disposed of their arms by standing them in the most convenient corner and then arranged themselves about the room on stools and benches or anything else that would do duty as a seat. The parties were mostly strangers to each other at that time, and whether they were about to listen to the wild harangues of a professional 'Bible whanger,' as a certain type of frontier preachers were then designated, or to be treated to an intelligent and interesting discourse on some live topic, they did not know, nor did they much care. It was a change, and the novelty was enough to bring them out. Promptly at the appointed hour the exercises were opened by Prescott reading the hymn, 'A charge to keep I have,A God to glorify; A never dying soul to save And fit it for the sky.'

"Wheelock led the singing, assisted by C. F. Hill and Lawrence Furber. Next was prayer by Doctor Prescott. And such a prayer. After the dangers, hardships and privations that little party had endured for the last month, it certainly was a spiritual and intellectual treat not soon to be forgotten. He made a fervent appeal that the divine blessing be vouchsafed there and then on this first attempt to establish and foster the growth of a true and genuine religious sentiment, that should broaden and deepen as the settlement that was then being founded should grow older and stronger.

"After prayer a second hymn was sung, and then the text announced, 'Be strong and show thyself a man.' The sermon was one long to be remembered by everyone who heard it. It was a plain, simple and direct appeal to everyone present to realize the position which he at that moment occupied. They were reminded of the importance of asserting there and then the principles and practices which should govern them in the future. They were reminded that 'like seeks like' in emigration as in other things, and that in the moral, intellectual and religious tone of the society which they then inaugurated they would see the counterpart of the emigration they would attract. If the first settlers adopted a high plane of moral and intellectual development, the emigration that would follow would be of the same high character. "On the other hand, if the standard were made low, it would be the low and depraved class that would be attracted by it. In conclusion he appealed to all present to use their best endeavors to build up in this frontier country such moral and social conditions as they would wish to have their names associated with by future generations. The entire discourse was delivered in that plain, simple and yet dignified and scholarly manner that always commands respect and admiration. After the close of the services the parties all filed out as they came, and it is not recorded whether any luckless ducks or chickens fell victims to their marksmanship on their return to their cabins, but considering the scarcity of provisions at that time, such a violation of the Sabbath would have been deemed excusable if not justifiable." So transpired the first religious service in Dickinson County.
Doctor Prescott is given credit by all authorities for inducing the Methodist Conference of 1859 to send a preacher to the frontier settlements. There were four counties in the circuit at that time—Dickinson, Emmet, O'Brien and Clay. The circuit was made every three weeks. Following Reverend McLean came Reverends J. A. Van Anda, J. W. Jones, W. Hyde, Seymour Snyder, W. A. Richards, W. W. Mallory, G. Brown, William Preston and J. E. Cohenour to this circuit.

During the pastorate of Rev. Seymour Snyder the first camp meeting in northwestern Iowa was held in a grove at what is now known as Fort Dodge Point. This was in 1864. Reverend Lamont of Fort Dodge was the presiding elder at this meeting. Every year for a time these meetings were held at different places, including Dixon's Beach, Omaha Beach, Gilley's Beach, Pillsbury's Point and near Spirit Lake. In the early '80s these camp meetings were discontinued.

When Reverend W. A. Richards took charge of this circuit the first religious revival in Dickinson County was held during the winter. In January a series of these revival meetings was held in the old Center Grove schoolhouse. The school was a small log building and was literally packed with people at each meeting.


During the pastorate of Reverend Cohenour the first church building of the Methodist Episcopal Society was erected at Spirit Lake; this was also the second church building in the county. The courthouse had been the scene of all their meetings prior to the erection of the house of worship. The new church was dedicated on September 1, 1878. From that time until the present the following pastors have served in Spirit Lake: Rev. P. H. Eighmy, W. H. Drake, Bennett Mitchell, F. J. McCaffree, G. W. L. Brown, W. T. Cole, H. B. Green, Joel A. Smith, F. Saunderson, F. E. Day, W. D. Phifer, W. T. McDonald, W. M. Todd, E. E. Lymer, Todd, Gerkin, Kettle, Brown, Lorry and S. H. Turbeville, the present incumbent. In 1892 the church building was remodeled extensively and used until 1914 when the beautiful new home of the society, costing $30,000, was dedicated.
The old church building, which was used then for other purposes, was burned in the summer of 1916.

The Baptists first were in Dickinson County in the winter of 1872-3, under charge of Rev. W. A. Dorward. The society erected a church building in the summer of 1874, which was the first erected in this county. It was dedicated July 26, 1874. Rev. J. L. Coppoc was the next pastor of the Baptist church. One of his brothers was executed for sharing in the John Brown raid on Harper's Ferry. Another escaped to Canada. Reverend Coppoc was succeeded by Revs. W. H. Whitelaw, B. H. Brastead, W. H. Dorward, Charles Andrews, ————— Broadbridge. After this for a time the church was used by the so-called Church of God, first under Reverend Guenter, then Revs. J. W. Ault and William Megan. In the summer of 1902 improvements were made on the church structure.

At one time a society of Congregationalists existed in Spirit Lake, services being held at the courthouse most of the time. Rev. J. R. Upton was the leading figure in the work of the denomination here, remaining something over twelve years. His departure left the society in bad circumstances and most of the members joined other churches.

The Presbyterian Church of Spirit Lake was first organized December 11, 1881, by Rev. A. K. Baird, and G. N. Luccock, with seven members. W. H. Bailey, Thomas Cousins, D. R. Chisholm and Moses Thompson were prominent early members. The first pastor was Rev. G. N. Luccock, and was followed by supplies until 1901, namely: Revs. J. R. Grosser, R. A. Paden, J. H. Carpenter, A. M. West, C. E. Freeman, H. J. Frothingham, W. H. P. McDonald. Rev. Bert A. Rayson, who came in 1901, was the first regularly installed pastor of the Presbyterian society here. Then came Revs. E. Winslow Brown, H. M. Bell, F. H. Gamel, A. S. Wight and M. E. Lumbar.

During the first few days the church services were held in Beacon Hall, but during the winter of 1885-6 steps were taken toward the erection of a building. On July 26, 1886 the cornerstone of the building was laid with fitting ceremonies. The structure was first used for services December 12, 1886, and was dedicated July 24, 1887.

In connection with the history of the Presbyterian Church now existent in Spirit Lake, it will be interesting to note the facts of a Presbyterian Church society which once existed here, but which disappeared— no one knows where. At the spring meeting of the Presbytery of Fort Dodge, Synod of Iowa North, held at Jefferson, Iowa, April 28, 1871, a Presbyterian Church was organized for Spirit Lake with twelve members. The report was received and enrolled. No elder or regular pastor was named. At the fall meeting of the Presbytery at Boone, Iowa, September 3, 1873, Revs. A. M. Darley, W. H. McCaskey and G. R. Carroll were appointed to supply the pulpit from October, 1873, until April, 1874. Then the society is mysteriously dropped from the Presbytery roll and no further mention is made. All that is known is that the church has gone.
On December 8, 1886, a society known as the Guild of the Good Shepherd was organized with the following charter members: Mrs. D. F. Van Steenburg, Mrs. Leroy Davis, Mrs. W. W. Stowe, Mrs. J. W. Cory, Mrs. Henry Thompson, Mrs. William Vreeland and Mrs. G. P. Hopkins. Reverend Walker was the first pastor of this society. The services were held in Beacon Hall, the Baptist Church building or in an empty store room until the chapel was constructed. The cornerstone of this latter building was laid August 7, 1894, and the completed house was opened for use October 28, 1894. The building cost about $3,000. John Cravens, W. W. Stowe, William Hayward and A. W. Osborn had charge of the building operations.

The German Lutherans first came into Dickinson County in 1869 and 1870, locating northwest of Spirit Lake, in Spirit Lake and Diamond Lake townships. Among them were: P. Bergman, C. Britch, C. Horn, Peter Vick and Henry Bibow. A meeting was held in the cabin of P. Bergman in 1871 and preaching given by Rev. T. Mertens, a pioneer circuit rider of the denomination. Rev. E. H. Scheitz succeeded Mertens. Other early pastors were: Revs. C. W. Waas, E. W. Mensing and John Becker. After a time meetings were discontinued in the private residences and held in the new Swailes schoolhouse; in 1879 the first church building was constructed at Spirit Lake, followed by a second one in 1895. In 1884 the charge was made to include Spirit Lake, Estherville and Jackson, and was first in charge of Rev. A. Goppelt.

The first Catholic services in Dickinson County were held in 1873 at the home of Oliver Sarazine. This meeting was conducted by Rev. J. J. Smith of Emmetsburg, who held services at long intervals until 1881, when Rev. M. K. Norton took charge of the mission. Norton and Oliver Sarazine procured about $1,500 in the spring of 1882, with which to pay for the erection of a church building, which was accomplished the following fall. Rev. L. Carroll followed Father Norton here. Until 1898 the church in Spirit Lake was in charge of the pastor at Spencer, and then was placed in the hands of the Estherville pastor, Rev. J. R. Daley, and later Rev. Joseph Murtagh. The new $10,000 Catholic church was dedicated October 13, 1907, with an address by Father O'Conner of Oelwein.


The upper room of the Case House in Milford, in the early days, was fitted up with a stage, etc., and utilized for all kinds of meetings, including religious services. Rev. J. R. Upton, sent to the frontier settlements by the Home Missionary Society of the Congregational Church, first preached in this old hall. He was a homesteader in Excelsior Township and extended his religious efforts over the entire county. He organized a Congregationalist Society in Milford about the year 1872, but was not the regular pastor. Not until June, 1883, was a regular pastor supplied to this church, this being the Rev. T. W. McHoes, who worked at both Milford and Lakeville settlements. The two societies were practically one at this time. The Home Missionary Society of the Congregational Church had supported the church for several years at the start, but eventually withdrew all assistance and the young society was left to fight its own battles, a fight none too easy for the young organization. In 1888 the Home Missionary Society dispatched another pastor to this county—Rev. N. L. Burton, and a reorganization was effected. Prominent among the members at this time were: Mr. and Mrs. Charles Tinkham, Mrs. T. S. Seymour, Mrs. Wilkinson, Mrs. W. A. Cook, Mrs. C. A. Bunker and others. This reorganization had the effect of removing the growth and prosperity of the society and many new members came into the church. The first resident pastor was Rev. L. R. Fitch, who came in 1890. Revs. Arthur Weatherly, Gardner and Webber were immediate successors of Fitch.

The first steps toward the erection of a church building were taken in 1890, when the Home Missionary Society contributed the sum of $400 and the members of the church supplied the remainder. The church was begun in 1890 and finished and dedicated in 1891. An addition to the building was erected in 1901.

In the new town of Milford Rev. H. L. Smith was the first preacher of the Methodist Episcopal denomination. He spoke at Milford, the Bennett schoolhouse, the Pillsbury schoolhouse, Westport schoolhouse and Davis schoolhouse. The first church building in Milford also was erected by the Methodists, which structure was dedicated October 28, 1883. Rev. J. T. Crippen had charge of the dedication, assisted by Presiding Elder Gleason and Revs. Mitchell, Keister and Smith. Reverend Crippen was from Mason City. Reverend Smith was followed in this charge by Revs. M. Keister, __________ King, ________ Shoemaker and ________ Pendell. During the summer of 1901 many improvements were made upon the old church building.

The Baptist Church in Milford was organized in the summer months of 1882, by Mr. and Mrs. Roswell Osborn, A. K. Turneaure and others. The first meetings were held in the old schoolhouse in the old town of Milford. Reverend Braistead preached to the members, also holding meetings at Spirit Lake. Reverend Andrews next supplied the pulpit here and was followed by Rev. J. E. Mclntosh, the first resident pastor. Rev. T. E. S. Lapham came next. A church building in the new town was started and finished in 1891.

The first Catholics in the vicinity of Milford were residents of the township outside of the town. The first services of this denomination were held at the home of Daniel Ryan, about three miles southeast of Milford, in the summer of 1884. Father Norton, of the Spencer and Spirit Lake circuit, had charge of the meetings. The schoolhouses and the hall over the Ellis Store were also used as meeting places. Reverends Carroll and McCauley were also rectors at this time. In 1889 a church was built in Milford. The church is known as St. Patrick's. The Lutherans erected a church in the southern part of Okoboji Township in 1890.


The first religious services in Silver Lake Township were conducted by Rev. J. R. Upton in 1870 and 1871. Rev. G. Brown, of the Methodist Episcopal Church, also held a series of meetings at the home of J. B. Drew. D. W. Lounsberry, of no particular denomination, also held early services. The building of the schoolhouse in 1873 provided the settlers religiously inclined with a place of meeting, and the practice of using the various homes declined. Rev. J. B. Edmunds, a homesteader himself, is known as one of the first preachers to hold meetings in the school-house. The early services were largely union affairs, no denomination predominating. This condition continued until 1883, when the Methodist Episcopal Church established the Lake Park Circuit, Reverend Hild in charge. The Methodists also built the first church in the town in 1891. Reverends Cheney, Keister, Woolery, Olds, Barnes, Clearwater, Shoemaker were some of the circuit preachers here.

The organization of the Presbyterian Church in Lake Park was consummated in 1893, with eight members. Reverend Clapp was the first preacher. A church was erected in 1895. Reverends Ramer, Valier, Mapeson and Hoyt have been pastors of this church.


The pioneer church in Superior was the Baptist, being established soon after the town was started. The church building, the first one in the town, was built in 1890. Braistead, of Spirit Lake, first held services here. The Methodist Episcopal Church began shortly after the above, using the schoolhouse and the Baptist Church building until the society erected their own structure in 1901. The German Lutherans, Methodists and Congregationalists established themselves in Terrill soon after the opening of the town and all erected buildings in the early years of the twentieth century.