The Towanda Presbyterian Church By Lillian Michael, 1973 In 1856 there was neither church nor Sabbath School in Towanda. In 1852, Cyrus Jones organized a Sunday School in the Smiths Grove school house, located on the corner across the road from the Jones Brokaw farm. This was the first religious movement in the vicinity. Mr. Jones spoke at the organizing, although at that time he was not a member of any church. He felt the need of a place for young people to meet. He conducted the school for several years, and it was undoubtedly the beginning of the Presbyterian Church. At that time there was no house from the Bloomington Post Office east of Main Street on the road to Towanda through North Bloomington, except the residence of Jesse Fell and W. H. Holmes. As this was before any title had been laid in this area, the fields were dotted with ponds and swamps and the trail between Bloomington and Towanda wound between swamps. There were no enclosed farms north of the Railroad except the Delsell farm where John K. Moore lives. (1879) The first church meeting was held in the Smiths Grove school house without desk or seats, except for a few rough boards gathered up. The Presbytery of Peoria at the regular meeting in Clinton, Ill;, Sept. 17, 1856, in answer to a petition for the organization of a Presbyterian Church at Smiths Grove, McLean Co., ILL., appointed Ministers F. N. Ewing, Robert Conover, Luther Dodd, and Ruling Elder, Joseph A. Barton a committee to organize a church at Smiths Grove, if the way be clear. Nov. 19, 1856, the church was duly organized, the proceedings and membership recorded with the statement, "the Rev. R. Conover has been previously invited by the organization to supply them with preaching for one year, from August 1, 1856." The Charter Memebers numbered eleven: David C. Rayburn David C. Rayburn Sr. John C. Rayburn John M. Rayburn Nancy Rayburn Mary Rayburn Jr. John Slough Martha Slough Mrs. Angeline Ewing Ann Rayburn
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All but two were previously members of Mackinaw Presbyterian Church. Another group of worshipers also met in the Smiths Grove school who organized and became the Towanda Baptist Church. They built their church in Towanda, in 1859. For a short time they shared the use of their building on alternate Sundays until the new Presbyterian Church was finished. At the regular meeting of the Peoria Presbytery at Elmwood, April 17, 1857, the committee reported the Presbyterian Church organized, named Towanda Presbyterian Church, and its name enrolled on the register of Illinois churches. On January 24, 1864, the beautiful new brick building was dedicated debt free, except $150.00 for the Minister's salary. The church cost $4200.00 and was built by a man named Baylor, who had a brick yard one-half mile north of the Railroad bridge. From the first historic notation signed, "R. Conover, Sec.," and later "R. Conover, Moderator and Clerk," until September 2, 1877, same engraving like handwriting made careful note of history, session meetings, baptisms, memberships list, finances, building active-ties, and deaths, even to obituaries of some members. In Rev. Conover's twenty years of pastorate, the church grew from its original membership of eleven to 105 in 1873, with 85 on the roll when he resigned in 1877. With his wife, Harriet (Hattie) Hilts Conover, he owned and resided on a farm on the southern outskirts of Towanda which many years later was occupied by the E. E. Fincham family. He was able to present November 16, 1896, to help celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the church of his labors. The Manse on the ground adjacent to the church, was built in 1895. Following Rev. Conover's pastorate, the church was served by regular ministers and student pastors until 1895. In 1924, the interior was re-decorated and a new roof built. The building was torn down January 16, 1973. Ministers Rev. Conover Rev. Alva Covert Rev. T. L. McMurray Rev. Charles Williamson 1865-1877 1896 1897 1898
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Rev. Paisley Rev. Wm. Bodell Rev. D. K. Campbell Rev. George S. Sutton Rev. E. V. Haeden Rev. Bert Baker Rev. Corl Rev. Wm. Bodell Rev. D. K. Campbell Rev. Charles W. Hamand Rev. Earl O'Neal
1900-1907 1910 1912 1927-1929
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Illinois State University, Milner Library, Normal, IL, 61790 - for the Towanda Area Historical Society/Towanda District Library
Towanda Area Historical Society/Towanda District Library
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