Winnebago County, IA
USGenWeb Project






Something of the history of the church denominations represented in both Hancock and Winnebago Counties is presented with the chapter on Hancock County churches.  A repetition here is needless.

The churches of Winnebago County have always been vigorous and active, and the Norwegian Lutheran church is the predominating society of the county.


In 1858 a number of persons in Forest City organized a Methodist Episcopal Church.  The first meeting was held in what was then known as the Maben Hotel, situated on the east side of Clark Street.  Afterwards meetings were frequently held in school houses and in private residences.  Mr. Hankins was the first minister that preached for this denomination in Forest City.  A few of the other early pastors here were:  Revs. Keeler Curtis, John Ball, Birge, A. S. R. Groom and Hancocks.  After the erection of the Norwegian Methodist Episcopal Church, the society occupied that church until 1882, when they built a church of their own.  On February 12, 1877, the church was incorporated under the name of the First American M. E. Church of Forest City, and with the following named persons as trustees:  J. E. Anderson, Eugene Secor, J. Thompson, Abbie J. Secor and C. H. Lackore.  The dedication services of the Methodist Episcopal Church took place June 6, 1883, under charge of Bishop Thomas Bowman of St. Louis.  Rev. J. A. E. Cunningham is the present pastor of this church.

The Norwegian Methodist Episcopal Church of Forest City was organized October 22, 1866, by Rev. A. Johnson.  The following named were the first members of this organization:  N. O. Brones, H. Paulson, Knud Einarson, Ole S. Torgerson, Daniel H. Pederson, Nils Pederson, Peder Sunne, Cerine Einarson, Svend Larson, Guri Larson, Ellen Sunne, G. Erickson and Sivert Pederson.  In 1874 the society built a church edifice at a cost of $3000.  This church is now known as the Norwegian Danish M. E. Church and is in charge of Rev. William Jorgerson.

The first meetings of the Congregational Church ever held in Forest City were presided over by Rev. A. S. Allen.  After preaching a few times at different houses, Reverend Allen called a meeting to be held at Forest City April 30, 1871, to take steps toward the organization of a church here.  This was done and the following were first members:  William Taylor, Harriett Taylor, Leora Taylor, John Millington, Mrs. E. G. Millington and Fannie Millington.  Meetings were held from time to time in the school house hall.  Reverend Allen was, of course, the first pastor of the congregation; other early preachers here were Revs. J. D, Mason, C. F. Dykeman, Asa Countryman and A. B. Hinckley.

The Catholic Church just outside the corporate limits of Forest City was commenced during the fall of 1891, when Father Kelley had charge.  The church, known as St. James, was incorporated March 18, 1912, by Archbishop Keane, Vicar General Ryan, Rev. W. J. Torpey, T. J. Hayes and W. J. Smith.

The First Swedish Baptist Church of Winnebago County was organized about 1872 by Rev. C. Caulson, of Albert Lea, Minnesota.  The first meeting was held at the house of Peter Olson and the following were the original members:  Peter Olson and wife, Lars Olson and wife, and Bert Johnson and wife.  Peter Olson was the first deacon and treasurer.  In 1879 the church built their first house of worship, one mile northeast of Forest City.  On June 19, 1883 the society incorporated with Peter Anderson, Peter Olson and Nils Martinson as the first trustees.  Robert Larson is the present pastor.

The First American Baptist Church at Forest City was incorporated March 15, 1902.  Charles Ferel, Samuel Olson and A. E. Howland were the first trustees.  Rev. A. L. McMillan is the present pastor of this congregation.


The Methodist Episcopal Church of Lake Mills was organized in 1868 by Rev. A. S. R. Groom.  The names of the original members cannot be obtained with certainty, but it is known that among the first members of the Methodist Episcopal class at Lake Mills were:  E. D. Hinman, P. Garnet and wife, James Price and wife, W. A. Chapman, Mary Todd, E. F. Thompson and wife, Pearl Thompson, Mrs. Southwick, Emily Buck, Abby M. Stewart and A. B. Gardner.  E. D. Hinman was the first class leader.  Such ministers as Reverends Curtis, Ball, Burge, Groom, Hancocks, Wiley, Coleman, Adron, Webster, Hook, Shessler, Drake, Platts, Jeffrey, Fancher, Bradshaw, Eyler, Luce, Thompson, Baker, Ward and McBurney were among the early pastors who worked for the maintenance of the society here.  The first church edifice was erected at Lake Mills in 1878, at a cost of $1,500.

The Christian Church in Lake Mills was organized in 1871 by Rev. C. C. Ramsay, of Floyd County, Iowa.  Frank Southwick, William Smith, Mrs. Isadora R. Smith, Charles Smith and wife were the first members.  A small church building was constructed in 1881, costing them about $1,000.  In 1886 the church was given the name of the Missionary Christian Church.

The Roman Catholic Church, St. Patrick's, was built during the summer of 1890, with Rev. J. McMahon as pastor.  The church society was incorporated March 12, 1912, by James J. Keane, Roger Ryan, Rev. W. J. Torpey, J. B. Conley and Francis Shay.

The United Brethren Church at Lake Mills was organized in the year 1888 by Rev. L. P. Mitchell.  The church was built in the same year.  The United Brethren Church was incorporated February 17, 1890, by Willard Chapman, J. R. and A. M. Farmer.


The Methodist Episcopal Church at Buffalo Center had its start soon after the founding of the town.  The society incorporated in 1893 and filed their papers on February 7th of that year, the same being signed by A. B. Russ, Charles Dempsey, W. Frank Becker, James Harper and E. J. Woods.  The First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center was incorporated July 13, 1893.  The first trustees under the incorporation were Otis Chapman, C. E. Welsh, A. A. Harris, and Joseph W. Holt.  The First German Reformed Church of Buffalo Center was incorporated and papers filed September 9, 1899, signed by B. Bruhno, V. W. Jutting and Henry Wagner.  There was also incorporated in 1900 at Buffalo Center the First German Baptist Church.  The incorporators were Thomas Lubben, August Winkleman and Albertus Frust.  St. Patrick's Catholic Church of Buffalo Center was incorporated about the same time as were the rest of the churches of this denomination in the county.  This was on March 18, 1912.

The Congregational Church of Thompson filed articles of incorporation August 31, 1895.  These were signed by G. W. Zimmerman, George E. Cooney and John K. Nutting.  The First Baptist Church of Thompson filed articles July 24, 1896.  The first trustees under the new organization were J. W. Lynn, F. I. Stow and F. W. Thompson. The First Methodist Episcopal Church of Thompson was incorporated in 1898.  The first trustees were: John Batchelor, O. T. Severs, H. B. Taylor, W. L. Bradfield and J. L. Jensen.

A History of Winnebago County and Hancock County, Iowa. Vol. 2.  Chicago:  Pioneer Publishing Company, 1917.  166-68. Print.

Transcribed by Paul Nagy