Church and school history of Aurora, Il
From: The Past and Present Kane County, Illinois
Wm. Le Baron, Jr. & Company
Chicago 1878

(This was extracted from the history of Aurora, Illinois.)


In the Fall of 1837, the first church in the place was organized under the direction of the Methodist Episcopal Conference. Rev. Worthington Wilcox was its first pastor, and the first meeting of the society was held at the house of Samuel McCarty. Its first church edifice was erected in 1843, the membership at that time having increased from seven or eight to between thirty and forty. The names of the first Board of Trustees were Samuel McCarty, C. H. Goodwin, Mr. Brown, C. F. Goodwin and John Gilson. The present imposing stone edifice was commenced in 1871 and dedicated December 27th, 1874. It cost about $50,000, and will seat 1,200. Before the Methodists had commenced their first building, the Universalises had established a society, August 8, 1842, and in the same year had built a church. Its first pastor was Rev. G. W. Lawrence. Their elegant stone building now standing, on the East Side, at the corner of Main street and Lincoln avenue, was erected in 1866. If the moral status of a city is to be measured by the number of its churches, Aurora will rank high among her sister cities, for no less than nineteen buildings dedicated to the worship of God now rise in her midst. The first Baptist organization commenced its existence March 29, 1844. It was established about two miles from the city, in a little school house in Mr. Vaughn's neighborhood. There were at first only ten members, and Rev. J. Blake officiated as pastor. About 1847, they decided to hold their services in the village, and in 1851 commenced to build a church, which was completed in the following year, and is still occupied by them. Catholic priests from Elgin and Chicago were in the habit of visiting the few members of their church who had settled in Aurora, as early as 1848. They frequently held meetings in school houses or in private dwellings, but it was not until 1849 or 1850 that Bishop Vandeveld purchased of Austin Mann nineteen acres of land for church purposes. This property was situated on Broadway, and is now a part of the tract occupied by the tracks and buildings of the C., B. & Q. Railroad. A church was erected on this tract about 30x40, and, after standing there about a year, was blown down. Father La Bell was the pastor. It was afterward raised again and occupied a short time, but Messrs. Hall having donated to the church two lots, located on the corner of Pine and Spruce streets, and two more lots having been purchased, a stone building, 102 feet in length by 42 in width, was erected in 1855-6. This edifice remained a number of years; a pleasant parsonage was built near it, and the society was becoming independent, when it took fire and burned down. A Cathedral was then built on Fox street, which is still occupied. The German Catholics met for a time with their English speaking brethren, but in 1859 they resolved to erect a separate building, where they might hold worship in the language of "vaterland.". Accordingly, two lots were purchased, where the church and parsonage now stand, the former being built during the year 1860. It is about 50x100 feet. Rev. Father Westkamp was the first pastor. The membership of each of these Catholic Churches is very large. The French Catholics built a church about eight years ago, and are still occupying it.

In 1868, forty three members removed, by letter, from the First M. E. Church to form the Galena Street Church, on the West Side. They now have a fine edifice and are in a prosperous condition. The German Evangelical Society built, in 1858, on Watson street, on a lot donated by Benjamin Hackney. As their building was small and the society had prospered from the first, they purchased the old building on Main street, of the Universalist Society, after it had been abandoned by the original owners, and have held their services there ever since. On the 4th of November, 1860, the Free Methodists organized a society in Aurora. They occupied a hall on Broadway as a place of worship for three years; but in October, 1863, they dedicated a commodious brick church on Lincoln avenue. A parsonage was subsequently built, and the society is now prosperous. The present Presbyterian organization was started in 1858. In June, 1859, Rev. A. Hamilton took charge of the society as the first pastor. During the Fall and Winter of 1861, a small house of worship was built. Later they divided, and built a small brick church on the East Side.

The First Congregational Church was organized in the Presbyterian form, with seventeen members, June 10, 1838, but was changed in name and government July 1, 1848. Its substantial stone building, on the corner of Main and Park streets, was dedicated in January, 1857.

On the 1st of July, 1858, a colony of thirty, from the First Congregational Church, left its fold to form the New England Congregational Church. A house was built on Locust street, and Rev. George Hubbard, their first minister, commenced his labors therein in March, 1859.

Twenty seven members from the First Baptist Church assembled on the 2d day of June, 1857, in the old Congregational Meeting House, and organized the Second or Union Baptist Church. A call was forthwith extended to Rev. Lewis Raymond, of Sandusky, Ohio, and the pastorate was accepted by him. At the close of the first year, they numbered 110, and now form one of the permanent religious societies of the place. The old Congregational Church was purchased and enlarged by them.

The Episcopal Church is situated on South Lincoln avenue, No. 19. Rev. W. C. Hopkins is rector. It is an old organization, having been commenced on the 25th of May, 1850, under the superintendence of Rev. Henry Safford.

The German Lutherans first assembled, as a society, in Aurora, December 5, 1853. Rev. C. H. Buhre officiated as their first pastor. They struggled along until 1855 without a meeting house, holding their religious services, a part of the time, in the third story of a building then owned by Mr. Harroun, afterward purchased by Thomas Russell; but in that year they put up the edifice still occupied by them, on the corner of First avenue and Jackson street, on land given them by Benjamin Hackney.

There is also a Swedish branch of the Lutheran Church, with the church building located at 29 Galena street.

Rev. J. Schaefer organized the German Methodist Church, in 1859, with only six members, as follows: Messrs. Bauman, Stoll, Eitelgeorge, Wissinger, Ziegler, Shoeberlien and Schmidt. In two years, the membership increased to thirty. The church building was erected during that time. It is located at 62 Fox street.

Aside from the above, there is the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was organized in July, 1868, and the African Baptist Church, which was organized the year previous.


has received no less attention than religion, and Aurora was the very first city in the State to adopt a system of public schools. Her first pioneer efforts in this direction have been already mentioned.

Late in the Fall of 1839, the earliest substantial school building was erected in the public square, on the East Side, at a cost of over $300, which was raised by private subscription. The building was put up under the management of Col. Brown, and it was also used for religious assemblies. The first pedagogue who occupied it was a Mr. Moffat. This house eventually became too small, and in 1847, when the number of children in the district was 346, it was thought time to have a new building, but, owing to successive delays in levying money, and various misunderstandings, the proposed house was not completed until 1851. In 1854, it was found to be too small, and an addition was made to it.

Later, a school house was built in the northern part of the city, and, in 1862, two smaller buildings were put upon the lot where the main building stood.

In 1863, another school house was demanded, and it was urged by many of the citizens that it should be an expensive one, sufficiently ample to supply the demands of a rapidly increasing population. In the Fall of 1864, it was decided that a new site should be purchased and a building of suitable dimensions erected. This building, which was of brick, 74x96 feet and four stories high, was dedicated, with appropriate public ceremonies, on the 5th day of September, 1866.

There are now five school houses on the East Side, as follows: The East Branch, a small wooden building, at the corner of New York and Smith streets; the Indian Creek School, wood, two rooms; the Brady School, corner of Superior and Union streets, brick, two stories high, with eight rooms; the Young School, located at the corner of Fifth street and Center avenue, a brick building, three stories high, having twelve rooms; and the Central School, brick, four stories high, and containing fifteen rooms, besides an office used by the Board of Education. Over two thousand pupils are enrolled, and thirty teachers are employed.

It would be interesting to note some of the peculiarities of the able system which has been adopted by W. B. Powell, the Superintendent, but our space will not admit of it.

It will be understood that the above mentioned buildings are all on the East Side, and that the remainder of the city is under a separate management. The first school on that side is said to have been opened in 1836, by Miss Angeline Atwater, afterward Mrs. N. B. Spalding, in an old log house on the bank of the river. There were only eight or ten pupils, but the building was not large enough to accommodate even that number. In 1839, a small frame building was constructed for a school house, on land then owned by Mr. R. Wilder.

The West Side steadily filled up, and again and again the cry was raised by the youngsters for more room, and as often a new school house was given them. In 1852, the school attendance was about one hundred and sixty. In 1867, it was 650. The district is now managed under the School Law of 1872, and it boasts sixteen school rooms, with facilities for accommodating 800 pupils.

It remains to notice but one other institution of education, viz., Jennings Seminary.*
* Named from Mrs. E. Jennings, of Aurora, its most liberal patron.

As early as 1850, Rev. John Clark, an old and honored member of the Rock River M. E. Conference, advanced the idea of establishing a denominational institution in Aurora, for the education of youth in all branches pertaining to a liberal education. His plan at first met with but little favor, but still he continued to advance it among the citizens of the town and elsewhere, with the utmost persistence, from year to year, until at length the attention of some of the leading citizens was obtained. Mr. Clark, however, did not live to see the accomplishment of his earnest desires, for, on the 11th of July, 1854, while in charge of a Chicago pastorate, he was called from this world to his final reward.

But other able men continued his work, and in February, 1855, a charter was obtained from the Legislature for the institution, requiring, however, that $25,000 should be subscribed, for the erection of the proposed building. In February, 1856, this sum had been promised, and the Trustees proceeded to take proposals for the work.

It would be uninteresting to trace the entire history of its progress, and the many threatened failures before the building was finished. It is sufficient to state that the year 1857 had passed before the magnificent pile which now rises on a beautiful knoll, on South Broadway, and overlooks the entire city, was completed.

The entire cost of house and grounds exceeded $70,000. The main building is 125x40 feet, while a wing extends on the rear, 75x45 feet, and, aside from this, there is a side building, 40x30 feet. The roofs are fireproof, and the main building is separated from the rear building by fireproof partitions.

G. W. Quereau was elected its first Principal, in October, 1858 - although there had previously been a small school in a portion of the house - and sustained the duties Of his position with eminent success until his resignation, in 1873. Rev. C. E. Mandeville was elected to fill the vacancy. The seminary was closed a year ago for repairs, but was reopened for the Fall term of the present year (1877) under the superintendence of Rev. M. E. Cady. The curriculum comprises an English course, an academic course, the college preparatory course, a scientific and commercial course, eclectic course and musical course.

None but the most accomplished and thorough teachers are employed, and Jennings Seminary ranks among the best denominational institutions in the West.

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