The Methodist Church

written by C.E. Carroll


[This essay was written ca. 1955 by one of the original members of the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society.]

Methodist4Elijah M. Haines was Lake County's first historian. He wrote two books of history. The first, published in 1852, describes some of the settlements. His account of Libertyville says: "The County Seat of Lake County was originally located at Libertyville and subsequently removed to its present site, which removal, as might well be expected, somewhat retarded the progress of this beautiful village. Its enterprising inhabitants have, however, nevertheless made it one of the most delightful villages in the County. It contains, at the present time, some three or four hundred inhabitants - two or three stores, a large and commodious hotel, a steam flouring mill and saw mill and, above all, two fine churches with ornaments, with which by the way, our western villages are not frequently adorned, which fact alone, will suffice for the character and reputation of the inhabitants and, the state of society, without further comment. The village has also a division of the 'Sons of Temperance' of about 25 members."

The possession of two churches was probably unique at the time and reasonably so when we consider that Libertyville was only 17 years old and many of the other settlements of the county were even younger and few of them had any churches, but if Mr. Haines had known the whole story about Libertyville, he would probably have been astonished to learn that it had had a church almost as long as it had had settlers.

The first white people to settle in what is now Libertyville Township, came in 1835. These were New York and New England families from long settled communities back east, most of whom were devout members of the Protestant churches of their old home neighborhoods and they had no sooner reached this new land and built their cabins than they began to hold meetings. Of those who settled in and near the present village a majority were Methodists. So the first services were Methodist.

They had no church building but held their meetings at first in the cabin homes. There is some controversy regarding who was the first preacher. Mr. Haines says it was Samuel Hurlburt but this is unlikely since Haines says in another place that he did not settle here until 1837. He might, of course, have been here temporarily as early as 1835 and then came back to settle in 1837. We tried to get this information from Samuel Hurlburt's son, Henry, during his life time here but he was not sure of the dates, tho he had heard his father tell that he preached his first sermon in a cabin on the Locke farm, now owned by John Cuneo. This is just south of the Red Top farm on Milwaukee Ave. and was then owned by Charles Bartlett before he moved to Diamond Lake.

It is more likely that the first preacher in Libertyville was William Royal who, tradition says, did preach here in 1835 and it is known that he did formally organize the Methodist Church here in 1836. Most of the cabins were small and no large gatherings could be accommodated but there were no large gatherings, for in the first two years of the settlement you could almost count the families on your fingers.

Miss Imogene Schanck told, some years ago, that many of the early meetings were held in her father's cabin since it had a floor which many of the others lacked. After the schoolhouse was built, in the fall of 1836, the Methodists often held services there.

In 1836 the Libertyville church was made a part of the Fox River Mission, a circuit of 28 preaching places. Rev. Wm. Royal was the circuit rider for that year. The settlers were evidently very proud of their church and felt that it was a great asset to the community, for Solomon Norton, who came with his family to settle in the Mechanics Grove, wrote to his brother back in New York State in October 1836 to urge him to come here also and in his letter he says, "We have meetings every Sabbath."

From all accounts, the new settlement was an orderly and well conducted community. There was none of the disorder and license so often associated with the frontier. These Yankee pioneers who came prior to 1836 were actually illegal settlers, as the Indian title did not extinguish until that year and the land was not yet open for settlement; in fact it was not even surveyed and the boundaries of a man's claim could be known only approximately and there were as yet no laws or courts to govern, but in spite of all this there was a minimum of friction.

These same settlers who had established the church now set about to build a school. This was of squared logs then known as a block building and it stood just about the middle of the present W. Cook Avenue in front of the Village Hall. This, as we have seen, was the Methodist place of worship also.

The settlers had, in the meantime, been busy in the organization of a civil government to take the place of the State and Federal courts which had not as yet reached them, and they formed what was known as "The Abingdon Compact" or Abingdon Association of Settlers, under which they operated until, in 1837, the Legislature passed laws which confirmed them in their claims and allowed them to file for titles.

These early Methodists were evidently self-sufficient and fully capable of establishing their own church, school and law. After the new territory was formally opened for settlement there was a rapid increase in population and the need for a church building was apparent. Dr. Jesse H. Foster had settled here in 1837 and at an early date purchased some of the land at the west end of what is now Church Street. In all he bought some 18½ acres at this point and since this was part of Sec. l6, the section or square mile of land which the State set aside to be sold for the support of schools ineach township, the Doctor was obliged to pay a high price for it. In fact he paid $1.75 per acre when the government price for adjoining land was only $1.25.

This tract situated at the corner of the "Mechanics Grove" road was an ideal spot for the church so in 1844 Dr. Foster, joined by James Hutchinson, another early settler who lived just west of town, donated land for the building and shortly thereafter they, with other men of the church, erected a building. This was the first church built in Lake County.

There was a small house on the lot just north of the church which Hutchinson owned and in 1849 he donated this for a parsonage. Some years later Dr. Foster donated a strip two rods wide on the north side of the parsonage lot, by a so-called "perpetual lease." This first church was destroyed by fire in 1866 and for a time the Methodists were without a church of their own but are said to have used the building which the Congregational people had built on Milwaukee Avenue just south of the present Town Hall. This is the second church Elijah Haines referred to, in his history. There is quite a story connected with it.

This was not a Methodist Church but its history and that of its people is so interwoven with ours that we ought to talk about it. Until 1837 the Methodist [church] at Libertyville was the only church in Lake County but in that year there was a movement afoot to start a Congregational Church. History does not say so, but it is probable that the coming of Mercy Hitchcock Payne in that year triggered the movement. She was a widow with four grown sons, one of them, Joseph, a Congregational minister. Her son Alfred had come to Lake County in 1835 and settled just west of the present village of Mundelein where his old home may still be seen on Route 176 just east of 83.

The three other sons came with the Mother by wagon from Hartford, N.Y. followed shortly by her father, Oliver Hitchcock, and he took up the land on the north side of 176 just west of 83.

On February 20, 1838 a meeting was held in the cabin of Alfred Payne for the purpose of organizing a church. There were sixteen persons present who joined and the meeting was conducted by Reverend John Blatchford, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Chicago, who acted as moderator and preached the sermon. At that time the Presbyterian and Congregational churches were closely allied in the North West, and in many cases, "Union" churches were formed under a minister of either denomination in newly settled communities, and it was quite simple for a church to shift from one allegiance to the other as the preponderance of membership changed. This society, then, organized first as a Presbyterian church and the founders were:

Elisha and Cornelia Clark 
Hiram and Melinda Clark
Mathew and Lucy Hoffman
Ira and Phoebe Harden
Mrs. Mercy Hitchcock Payne
Oliver and Nancy Payne
Alfred Payne
Nancy Gridley
Paulina Norton
Emmeline Schanck

The first elders were Elisha Clark, Hiram Clark and Oliver L. Payne. It is interesting to note that of the 16, twelve had come from Hartford, New York and many of them had settled about the present village of Mundelein and the Mechanics Grove.

The congregation met at first in the cabins of members and had no regular minister but depended on such supplies as they could get. Sometimes Reverend Samuel Hurlburt, the Methodist, addressed them but in 1842 they engaged Reverend Joseph H. Payne, son of the widow Mercy. He gave one half of his time to the Half Day church which had been organized in 1841. In 1844 this church entered into the Rock River Association of Congregational churches and decided to move its place of worship to Libertyville and build a church as they had been assured of more members and increased revenue there.

Union1The meeting house was built in the Spring of 1845 on the lot now occupied by our Town Hall. It stood a little further west and south than the present building. Tobias Wynkoop donated the timber and thereby hangs another tale, too long to tell here, and the men of the congregation built the church but the hoped for support from the people of Libertyville did not materialize and the Congregationalists were, at last, forced to sell their church to the Township, and it was used as a Town Hall until 1892. This was the building the Methodists used for a time after their church burned in 1866.

A note in John J. Halsey's History says that Rev. Horace Trumbull had the field at Libertyville from 1852 to 1854 and that “he built the parsonage” so it is evident that the house donated by James Hutchinson in 1849 did not long endure.

In 1868 the Methodist [congregation] joined with other denominations in the building of the Union Church, a handsome frame structure with a very tall steeple, designed by A. B. Cook. This stood on the site of the present Episcopal Church. Services were held there until 1882. This was the year the railroad came. That is, the spur or branch line from Rondout was completed into Libertyville.

Methodist1This was a boom time and things changed fast. That year the Methodists built a small chapel 24' x 42' of their own, about where the parsonage now stands. This was their church home until 1892 when the large church was built on the corner of Milwaukee Avenue and School St. at a cost of $4,142.66. The chapel was then sold for $150.00 and was removed to a lot on E. Church Street where it was remodeled into a residence and is still in use.

The Milwaukee Avenue building survived the fire of 1895 - the only structure left standing in the block. It was sold with the lot in 1912 when the present church was started. The old church building was removed to Ellis Avenue where it still serves as a dwelling.

Our church is the oldest institution of any kind in Lake County and has had a powerful influence on the life of the community as it undoubtedly had on the entire county in the early days, for Lake County attracted devout people and became known as a church-going settlement.

There were 42 churches of various denominations established prior to 1870, when there were only about 19,000 people of all ages in the county. The population was largely rural and the roads very bad. It is unfortunate that so few of our local records have come down to us. We have no list of the founding members. In fact the earliest records available are those kept by Reverend S. F. Demming in 1847.

There is also a record of a quarterly conference of the circuit held at North Prairie in 1843. The Rock River Conference was formed in 1840. The first church building, in 1844, was during the pastorate of the Reverend Michael Decker.

We were, at first, a part of the Fox River mission, a territory about 75 miles square, presided over by Reverend William Royal, assisted by Rev. Samuel Pillsbury. There were 28 preaching places, including Libertyville, and these two men traveled the circuit on horseback from one point to another. In 1836 the Fox River mission was divided and the north part which included Libertyville was called the Lake circuit, still under Rev. Royal, but his health failed in that year, and Rev. Washington Wilcox was appointed to finish the term.

Tho the new circuit was smaller in miles it had now 32 preaching places which the pastor must serve every four weeks. In 1837 after a further division, our part of the territory became known as the DuPage circuit under Rev. Wilcox. In 1838 Elgin was made head of the circuit which was now 40 miles square and was supplied by the Reverends J. W. Fink and J. M. Snow.

Rev. Fink was a single man and boarded at Wheeling. A new division, in 1841, made Libertyville a part of the Lake circuit and then in 1847 we became a part of Little Fort circuit, which included Waukegan. In the Conference minutes of 1849, the name "Libertyville Circuit" appears for the first time - our town being the head of the circuit and the pastor, Rev. F. A. Read, preached also at 8 other places.

Methodist3Newly married, he lived here with his bride and held camp meeting in the summer, on the bank of Butler's Lake between Cook Avenue and Lake Street. Butler's Woods was the frequent site of Ladies Aid meetings and Sunday school picnics in the early times and the beautiful oaks that sheltered those gatherings still stand, along Laurel and Cook Avenues.

At the time we built our Milwaukee Avenue church (1892) we were connected with Fairfield, Wauconda and Diamond Lake, with Rev. John MacGuffin as Pastor but in 1896 under Rev. John Lee,we became a one-point charge for the first time. It was during the pastorate of Rev. M. E. Dix in 1899 that the old parsonage which had served since 1852 was torn down and the present parsonage built.

The present church building, which cost about $45,000, was dedicated in 1913 during the pastorate of Rev. Whipple. Our church has been served since its inception, by a total of 48 ministers.

The name of Rev. Samuel Hurlburt comes up frequently in the history of the early days and he seems to have helped out in many different places. Halsey says he performed the first marriage ceremony in Lake County in 1839, that of Rachel Burlingham to Elbert Howard. We must admit that there were earlier marriages in the territory but it wasn't called Lake County until 1839.

Libertyville had had saloons for many years but in 1917, largely due to the efforts of the Methodists, the village voted dry and so remained until the repeal of National Prohibition.

Postcard images provided by the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society.