Iowa History Project
Semi-Centennial Celebration June 3-5 1893.
Central Presbyterian Church 3829 Grand Ave. Des Moines, Polk Co. IA.
Submitted by Kaye
Rev. Albert B. Marshall, D.D., Pastor
Central Church Organized June 4, 1848, with 6 members
Rev. Thompson Bird, P, 1848-1866
Rev. W.W. Wetmore, S.S., 1865-1866
Rev. Thomas O. Rice, P., 1867-1871
Rev. M.L.P. Hill, D.D., S.S., 1873-1875
First Church Organized June 4, 1848, with 13 members
Occasion Supplies 1848-1851
Rev. G.M. Swan, S.S. 1851-1852
Rev. J.M. Lippencott, S.S. 1853-1855
Rev. R.T. Drake, P. 1857-1860
Rev. D.R. Hughes, D.D., P. 1864-1866
Rev. A.A. Dinsmore, D.D., P, 1867-1872
Rev. William John Gill, P. 1872-1875
The Central And The First Consolidated-Nov 15, 1875.
Rev. William John Gill, P. 1875-1878
Rev Samuel H. Thompson, P., 1879-1880
Rev. John B. Stewart, D.D., P., 1881-1887
Rev Samuel E. Wishard, D.D., P., 1887-1890
Rev Howard A. Johnston, D.D., P>, 1890-1893
Rev Albert B. Marshall, D.D., P., 1894-
Historical Address-delivered Sabbath, June 5, 1898, by Rev. A.B. Marshall, D.D.
"Hitherto hath the Lord helped us." 1 Sam. 7:12.
The Indian title to the lands of central and western Iowa expired at 12 o'clock on the night of the 11th of October 1845. The event was announced by the discharge of a musket from the Agency House of Fort Des Moines and at once a scramble for claims ensued. Enterprising pioneers, anticipating the passing of the empire of the redmen, had pushed across the prairie from the East into the vicinity of the fort and were waiting for this hour and on its arrival, at once took possession of the lands which they desired. They did not tarry for the dawning of the day, but at first, in the feeble light of the setting moon, and then guided by the glaring of burning torches, they roughly surveyed thousands of acres within what is now known as Polk Co, dividing them into homesteads, which as soon as log cabin could be erected upon them, became their places of residence. Other settlers soon joined them and by the spring of 1846, there were in Polk Co. a population of not less than 300 persons, one-half of whom had taken up their abode in and about Ft. Des Moines.
With the advent of the early settler into central Iowa came also the pioneer preacher. it has been a characteristic of the growth of our nation that the gospel messenger has kept step with the vanguard of civilization throughout all the years of its development. By the side of the pioneer court house and the pioneer school house stands the pioneer church. The first minister of the gospel in this community was a representative of the Methodist Episcopal church and then came the pioneer of the Presbyterianism, the Rev. Thompson Bird, a member of the Presbytery of Des Moines (New School). He preached in Des Moines for the first time on the first Sabbath of Jan 1848. He was just the man for the work which awaited his coming. Qualified both by the temper of his mind and his training to build where no other had as yet laid foundations, he did much to give moral and religious tone to the developing community.
During the spring of 1843, the community was also visited by the Rev. Salmon Cowles, an "itinerant missionary" of the Presbytery of Iowa, who had been commissioned to hold services among the new settlers on the Des Moines River. Out of the labors of these two ministers, grew two churches, each of which was organized on Sabbath, June 4, 1848. One of them was an Old School Presbyterian Church and was called at first the Presbyterian, and later, the First Presbyterian Church of Ft. Des Moines; the other was a New School Presbyterian Church of Ft. Des Moines.
The organization of two Presbyterian churches upon the same day in a community where one church of our persuasion might have well provided for the religious culture of the people, reflects the unhappy division of our denomination into "old school and "new school" which existed 50 years ago, as the consolidation of these same churches about a quarter of a century later reflects the reunion which took place in the autumn days of 1869 in the long divided church.
The Central Church
The story of the organization of the Central Church is thus told in the records of the session of the church. The entry is in the very neat handwriting of the Rev. Mr. Bird, who recorded the minutes of the meeting of the session with very great care for many years.
Ft Des Moines, Iowa June 1, 1st Sabbath, 1848
The Rev. Thompson Bird having been directed by the Des Moines Presbytery at its sessions at Yellow Springs, Oct 1847, to occupy and make this one of his preaching places, began his labors here on the first Sabbath in Jan 1848.
According to previous notice, publicly given, on the Sabbath above named, the following persons were, at their own request, organized into a church under the name of the Central Presbyterian Church, Thorntown, Ind., Samuel Kellogg Kirkpatrick of the Presbyterian Church, North Liberties, Philadelphia, Penn; his wife, Mary Kellogg Kirkpatrick of the same church; Mrs Ruth Jane Shell, Mrs Frances Guerant and Miss Hannah Yates of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
The organization seems to have been without the office of Ruling Elder until April, 1851, at which time James Boyd Sr., chosen by the congregation to fill that office. Of the 6 persons who entered into that organization only, Mr. Anna P. Bird, the wife of the presiding minister, survives. She came to Iowa with her husband and 3 children, viz.: William K., Empson and Louisa, in the fall of 1847 to work out a noble purpose. Her home was a humble log cabin in which she not only ministered to her family, but organized and conducted a young ladies seminary for a time. She endured the hardships of pioneer life with fortitude. She supported her husband throughout his years with a good woman's affection and wisdom, and has attained to a beautiful old age, greatly beloved by the circle of friends around her.
The meeting for organization was held in one of the "dragoon houses," the 4th building from the North end of the "Officers Quarters," which had been erected on the West bank of the Des Moines River, just north of its junction with the Raccoon, for the comfort of the United States troops, who, until 1846, occupied "The Point" as Fort Des Moines. The site of that cabin which was the birthplace of the Central Church is now the Northwest corner of First and Market Streets.
History does not tell us how many persons were present at that meeting held upon that summer morning, nor whether with prophetic sight they beheld in outline the fine proportion into which the church then planned would develop, but it shows that the Lord accepted the offering then made unto Him, and began at once to bestow upon His worshippers, although few in number, the blessing which he has promised to those who remember Zion.
Places of Worship
The services of the Central Church were held for a time in the barrack building in which the organization was effected. During that next year they were transferred to the new and better cabin which the minister had provided as a place of residence for his family and after the 1st of January 1850, the congregation assembled in the court house which, completed at that time, at once became not only the common temple of justice for the county, but as well the common temple of worship for the town in which it was located.
Meanwhile, the Rev. Mr. Bird, was industriously gathering materials for the erection of a church edifice, which the expanding proportions of the congregation began to make very necessary. On April 30, 1851, the church was organized into a body corporate and politic, and J.E. Jewett was elected president and Rev. Thompson Bird secretary and treasurer, and Messrs. Hoyt Sherman, F.G. Burbridge, Thomas Boyd, James Boyd Jr., Aemelius T. Reynolds were selected to serve as trustees. A little later the congregation purchased the Southwest corner of Fourth Street and the first alley south of Walnut Street (a location now occupied by Munger's hotel) and in 1853, proceeded to erect upon it the much desired house of worship. The committee, under whose supervision the work was done, was comprised of the following named gentlemen: Rev. Thompson Bird, R.W. Sypher, Barlow Granger, J.E. Jewett, and J.D. Davis. The building erected was a frame structure 26 feet wide and 40 feet long. It was first used for church purposes in the fall of 1853, but for want of funds to procure needed materials, it was not completed until the summer of 1855. It was enlarged 2 years afterwards by the addition of 26 feet to its length.
Those were the days which tested the faith of Christian workers. The people were poor, and materials were scarce and expensive. They could not afford a stone or brick foundation, and so their sanctuary was upheld by wooden supports. The stoves by which it was heated were furnished by a church in Illinois. The fuel was donated by a member of the church who had timberland some five miles away and was delivered at the church by one of the trustees who was the fortunate possessor of a wagon and a team of horses. The bell was the gift of the Rev. Dr. Sprague of Albany, whose interest was enlisted in the struggling church and its heroic pastor by the favorable representations made to him by Mr. Barlow Granger, a former citizen of Albany, who had recently taken up residence in Des Moines. Those earnest workers deserved the success which they achieved by perseverance and self-sacrifice in the early years of the life of our church. The building erected was popularly and appropriately called "Bird's Church." It cost him years of toil. it was the exponent of his faithful ministry in Des Moines. It was also the place where he preached the gospel until compelled by an illness from which he never recovered. It was destroyed by fire Nov 1, 1867.
The next edifice erected was the imposing structure now standing on the Northeast corner of Eight and High Streets. The lots which it occupies were purchased in 1867 for the sum of $3,500. The committee which superintended the erection of this building consisted of Messrs. B.F. Allen, T.O. Rice, C.P. Luse, J.A. Davis, H. Huntinton, T.K. Brooks and George J. North. The corner stone was laid on the 5th day of Sept. 1867, and the completed structure was dedicated with appropriate services on the 2nd day of Jan 1870. It is a two-story brick edifice about 65 feet wide and 100 feet long and was erected at a cost of $60,000. It was the first great church auditorium in central Iowa, and few others of equal capacity have since been erected.
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