Church History of Lyon County, Kansas
From: History of Emporia and Lyon County Kansas
By: Laura M. French
Emporia Gazette Print
Emporia, Kansas 1929


The first church in Emporia, the Christian, was organized in 1857 by the Rev. Solomon G. Brown, (1) with six members, in his cabin on the bank of the Cottonwood, a quarter mile south of the frame house he built in 1858, which still stands, a stanch and sturdy farm home. A meeting to discuss building was held February 19, 1859, and the members decided to build, "way out in the country" - Seventh and Exchange. The building was completed that year, and was dedicated October 2, 1859. This building, of native lumber, ever since has been used as a house of worship, having been sold to the colored people of this denomination when the First Christian congregation built its first brick church, on the site of the original building, in the eighties. The colored people moved the church to Eighth and Congress, and have kept it in repair and constant use. It is seated with the first pews used in the First Congregational Church in Emporia, which was the second church building in the town. It is the oldest church in Lyon County, and probably the oldest in the Fourth Congressional District.

Mr. Brown was a leading spirit in his denomination, and was pastor of the church many years. He did a great work in other settlements, walking long distances over the country to keep his appointments. When a horse could be spared from the work of the farm, he rode, and often drove a horse and buggy. He built an enduring foundation for his church in this section of Kansas.

The Rev. G. C. Morse held preaching services in the hotel office and diningroom in October, 1857, and he organized the Congregational Church August 19, 1858, with five members. Theirs was the second church in Emporia, on the site of their present building, Eighth and Mechanic. The town company gave the lots to the church, and the building was accomplished under great difficulty. It was dedicated July 8, 1860. Mr. Morse was its pastor several years, and its leader until his death. The cost of the building was $840.00, and served the congregation until the erection of the present building, in 1881. The first little white church was sold and moved to Sunny Slope, and only this year was razed. "The pews, of which we were so proud," said Mrs. Morse, "we were glad to give to the colored people for their church." Mr. and Mrs. Morse (2) not only did the pioneer work in the founding of this church, but had important parts in the educational progress of the town and county. Their labors were those whose influence lasts from generation to generation.

The first services of the Methodist Episcopal Church were held the summer of 1857, in the Emporia House, conducted by the Rev. Henry Moyes. Later the Methodists held services in McElfresh's Hall, and started to build a church in 1860. The work was delayed when almost all of the men of the church enlisted for service in the Civil War, and the building was not completed and dedicated until June 26, 1864.

Mrs. Ella Pemberton's recollections of the Methodist Church of the sixties are especially clear. Her father was a "local" minister of this faith, and Judge John H. Watson was the first Sunday School superintendent.

"The Civil War stopped work on the first church building," says Mrs. Pemberton. "It was at Ninth and Merchant, our present location, and the walls, of native stone, had been laid. There was no roof, no floor, and no inside finishing. The building was completed after the war, this being one of the first tasks undertaken when the men of the church came home from the army. Some money - not much - was subscribed, but mostly the subscriptions were in terms of days' work, and stone and lumber and other materials. A cupola was added to the church after several years.

"The dedication of the church was a great day for Emporia Methodists," says Mrs. Pemberton. "On the platform were the Rev. Daniel P. Mitchell, of Leavenworth, probably the presiding elder; our first stationed pastor, the Rev. J. C. Fraker, and my father. I was a proud and happy child, and as interested in that dedicatory program as any grown person present."

Mrs. Pemberton related how, stirred by the appeal for money with which to complete the payments on the church, the wonderful thought struck her that she might help - that she could give five dollars. She tiptoed to her mother and in a whisper asked if she might give to the church this enormous sum. She was told to ask her father, his consent was given, and the little girl - called "Puss" instead of her real name - gave her five dollars happily and freely.

"How did I happen to have five dollars? It was a happen so. One day during the war, while hanging around the News office - my brother-in-law, Mr. Stotler, was editor of the News - I picked up in the street two five dollar bills. No one could imagine how anyone could be so careless as to lose all that money. We inquired of everyone, but no one claimed it. Mr. Stotler advertised the find in the News for several weeks, with no response. It was recalled that, about the time the money was found, a government paymaster and his gang, on the way to a reservation to pay off the Indians, had stopped a short time in Emporia, and it was supposed some member of that group must have dropped it. Anyway, my parents said the money should be mine, as no one claimed it after all our efforts to find an owner. Feeling I owned most. of the riches of the world, I was only too happy to give half of my wealth to our beloved church.

"It was a red letter day for the Methodist Church when the Holderman family came to Emporia, from Ohio," says Mrs. Pemberton. "The family filed into the little church the first Sunday of their residence here, the men six footers, the women large and handsome and well proportioned and beautifully gowned, their hoop skirts hitting the pews as they walked down the aisle. They filled the longest pew. There was the widowed mother of Jacob (3) and Dan and El Holderman, and their sisters, Miss Madeline, Miss Elizabeth and Miss Harriet, afterward Mrs. Kemp, and their niece, Josephine Patty, who many years later married Alexander Crowe. The Holdermans had some money, they could sing, they were interested in church affairs, and they were a distinct acquisition to the community, as well as the church, soon becoming prominent citizens.

"The Methodists sponsored the first community Christmas tree in Emporia, though they didn't call it by that name. It was the first or the second Christmas following the war, and the church was greatly in need of money. A two day bazaar was put on at the Normal, with dinner and supper served to the public. Wild turkey was a part of the menu, and roast pigs with red apples in their mouths took my fancy. The Christmas tree was a gorgeous affair, and no child who saw it was without a gift from its branches. The affair was a social and financial success."

The First Baptist Church was organized in October, 1859, by the Rev. J. C. Brant, with seven members. It was reorganized in 1870. The first and second buildings were at Fourth and Merchant, and the third, the handsome new structure at Eighth and Constitution, was dedicated in 1929.

The Society of Friends established a monthly meeting October 6, 1860, with sixty one members, at the John Moon home, five miles west of town, though they had been holding services in their homes since the first members of that faith arrived in 1854. A quarterly meeting was established in 1868. Often the Friends drove long distances to attend quarterly or yearly meetings, and many members from a distance attended the meetings in Emporia. In 1862, at the quarterly meeting of Friends at their new meeting house five miles west of town the Cottonwood neighborhood - it was estimated that one thousand persons were in attendance. Robert and Sarah Lindsey, of England, ministers of this society, held appointed meetings at the home of Curtis and Sabina Hiatt, half a mile west of the Soden bridge, in April, 1858.

The Bethany Congregational Church was organized in 1866 by the Rev. G. C. Morse, with thirty seven members. The congregation was made up largely of Welsh settlers.

The First Presbyterian Church was organized by the Rev. James P. Gordon, November 9, 1867, with eleven members. Caleb Beckes was the first ruling elder. The Rev. Robert M. Overstreet became pastor of the church in 1869, and sixty eight members were added in a little more than a year. Church services were held the first few years in down town rooms, and in December, 1871, the first church building was dedicated. It stood on the rear of the lot on the present site, and served the church until the erection of the present building, the cornerstone for which was laid in October, 1895. The dedication was May 16, 1897, and since that date the building has been enlarged and improved. Dr. W. S. Dando is pastor of this church, which has one of the three largest congregations in Emporia, those of the First Methodist and the First Christian being larger.

The Second Presbyterian Church, another Welsh congregation, was organized by the Rev. John Jones, in 1871. About twenty members made up the first congregation.

The Salem Presbyterian Church - Upper Dry Creek - also largely Welsh, was organized by the Rev. R. M. Overstreet, in 1869, with eighteen members.

The United Presbyterian Church was organized with thirteen members by the Rev. J. A. Collins, in 1869.

St. Andrew's Episcopal Church was organized in 1870 by the Rev. L. R. Holden. The beautiful new church building, considered the handsomest in town, was dedicated in 1928.

The Church of the Sacred Heart - Catholic - was organized in 1874 by the Rev. Father Perrier, with twelve families.

St. Paul's Reformed Church - the building now the property of the Evangelical Church - was organized in 1878 by the Rev. J. G. Shoemaker.

The Free Methodist Church was organized by the Rev. J. P. McElfresh in 1879, with seven members.

The Lyon County Sunday School Association was organized in 1868, and was continued intermittently for many years. For four years during the World War there was a complete lapse. In 1923 the association was reorganized as the County Council of Religious Education, U. S. Wolfe was elected president, and has served ever since in that capacity. Fifty four Sunday Schools, in addition to those in Emporia, make up this organization. Lyon County is divided into five districts, each of which holds conventions, and an annual convention of all the Sunday Schools of the county is held. Vacation Bible schools are held each summer in Emporia.

Following is, it is hoped, a correct and complete list of Emporia churches and their locations:

First Ward:
First Methodist, Ninth and Merchant.

St. Mark's Lutheran, Seventh and Constitution. Second

Christian, (colored) Eighth and Congress. St. James

Baptist, (colored) 917 Commercial.

Arundel Avenue Presbyterian, Seventh and Arundel.

United Presbyterian, Sixth and Neosho.

Calvary Evangelical, Ninth and Constitution.

Mount Olive African Methodist Episcopal, Sixth and Congress.

First Baptist, Eighth and Constitution.

Church of Christ Scientist, Ninth and Commercial.

Church of Christ, Sixth and Arundel.

Second Ward:
First Friends, Sixth and Sylvan.

Sacred Heart - Catholic - First and Exchange.

Second Presbyterian, Fourth and Market.

Primitive Baptist, (colored) 201 South Market.

Salvation Army, 322 Commercial.

Church of God, 205 South Exchange.

Third Ward:
Grace Methodist Episcopal, South and Neosho.

St. Catherine's Mission - Catholic - West Randolph and South Pine.

Mexican Mission - Methodist - 22 South Arundel.

Evangelical Lutheran, South and Constitution.

Church of the Nazarene, First and Constitution, northeast corner.

Seventh Day Advent, First and Constitution, southeast corner.

Bethany Congregational, Second and Merchant.

Foursquare Gospel, Randolph and South Commercial.

Free Methodist, South and Commercial.

Fourth Ward:
First Christian, Seventh and Market.

First Congregational, Eighth and Mechanic.

First Presbyterian, Eighth and Commercial.

Miles Chapel, Colored Methodist, 808 East.

St. Andrew's Episcopal, Ninth and Commercial. Church of God in Christ, 1112 Sylvan.

Young Men's Christian Association, Fifth and Constitution.

Young Women's Christian Association, Sixth and Union.

There are about thirty churches of various denominations in Lyon County, in the smaller towns and in the country, outside of Emporia.


The first Catholics in this community were the late Mr. and Mrs. Thomas L. Ryan, (4) who came to Emporia in 1869. In that year came also the P. F. Kings, and in the seventies Casper Ellison, the Michael Maloneys, the Thomas F. Byrnes family, Mr. and Mrs. John Perrier, Mrs. John Atyeo, and Mr. and Mrs. O. Pfefferle. Two Kowalski families came in the eighties, as did Mr. and Mrs. Carl Ballweg,(5) Mrs. J. Harvey Frith, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Roach and Mr. and Mrs. Martin Grosz.

In 1870 the Rev. Father Penzaloni said the first mass, in the Ryan home, and on his periodical visits to the Indians of the Osage Mission, always he stopped at the Ryans' to celebrate mass. Other priests came during 1871 and 1872, and in 1873 the Rev. Father Perrier (6) began coming regularly to Emporia from Topeka. Services were held a few times in the courthouse, and finally a regular place of worship was secured in the upper rooms of a restaurant on West Sixth Avenue. In 1874 a small brick church was built at the corner of Second and Cottonwood. Father Perrier was succeeded in 1880 by the Franciscan Fathers, and Father Dominic was the first Franciscan priest. A two story building, the second floor serving as temporary church and the first floor as a priest's residence, was built in 1881.

Always the congregation and its leaders had dreamed of a handsome building as a fitting place for its permanent home, and in 1910 work was started on the new building, which was dedicated September 5, 1912. This building, with its furnishings, cost a little more than $45,000.00, and is a distinct asset to the community as well as to its membership. To the Rev. Father Berthold, who died in 1917, is due much credit for this church, which was erected during his pastorate. This church is located at First and Exchange.

Among other activities of the Catholics has been the maintenance of a hospital against tremendous odds. St. Mary's Hospital was built by the Sisters of St. Francis in 1883, and rebuilt, later, with additions. As an example of the unselfish devotion of these Sisters may be mentioned a year in which a smallpox epidemic found the town with no adequate preparation for caring for the patients - at a time when smallpox was a much more dreaded disease than now. Dan Dryer, city marshal, went to the hospital and asked the Sisters to care for the smallpox patients. The hospital was full, but two Sisters who were teaching in the Catholic school were sent to the town's temporary pesthouse, and nursed the patients back to health, the school being closed meanwhile.

When the new St. Mary's Hospital, at the head of State Street on Fifteenth Avenue, needed the town's help, the town remembered, help came spontaneously, and Emporia non-Catholics contributed $35,000.00 to the hospital. The beautiful new building was dedicated November 21, 1928, the cost of erection and equipment having been $250,000.00. Sister Aquilina is Mother Superior, and has held this position the past twelve years in Emporia.

The Sacred Heart School was established in 1882, and a building erected, which served until it was replaced by the new building, Second and Cottonwood, in 1927. A handsome and commodious parish house is at First and Cottonwood, in easy access from the church. The Rev. Father Steman Prosper is pastor of this congregation, which is one of the most active in Emporia.

Albert Atyeo, a son of the late Mr. and Mrs. John Atyeo, was the first child's name entered in the baptismal record, 1874.

1) The Rev. Solomon G. Brown came with his family to Emporia the spring of 1855. They had moved to Fort Scott from Morgan County, Indiana, in 1855. Mr. Brown built a cabin in the timber on the Cottonwood, south of Logan Avenue, on a claim, and divided his preaching with farming. When the Town Company - Brown, Deitsler, Allen, Hornsby and Plumb - finally decided on the location for their new town, the nearest house to the town site, and the only one within their vision, was the Solomon Brown cabin. To this cabin they went, and Mrs. Brown and her daugh­ters cooked dinner for them. They returned to supper and stayed all night, sleeping on the puncheon floor.

Mrs. Brown died late in February, 1857, leaving a tiny three and one half pound baby girl to the care of her 13 and 11 year ­old daughters, the late Mrs. Sarah Staley, and Mrs. Margaret Gil­more, 423 Union. They cared for the baby several months, and Mrs. Gilmore tells how they fed her. "We filled her bottle with plain cow's milk, warmed, wrapped a goosequill in a piece of old soft rag, and stuck it in the neck of the bottle. We would hold the baby in front of the fireplace to feed her, spreading our laps with a blanket under the baby to keep her warm. She was sick a good deal, but we pulled her through that summer. In the fall, Sarah Ann Hinshaw - Steve Hinshaw's mother - kept the baby a few months, and then Mr. and Mrs. S. E. G. Holt - the 'Gib' Holts - took her, and they brought her up. They had no children, and wished to adopt her, but Father would not consent to that,and said they might keep her only on condition that they did not leave this county. They were all that any parents could have been to her, and frequently brought her home for visits. That tiny baby is Mrs. Martha Matilda Wilson, and her home is in Hartford, which was the home of the Holts for many years."

Mrs. Gilmore frequently accompanied her father on his preach­ing trips over the prairie, and to weddings and funerals, and sang on many of these occasions. Cooking extra meals was so com­mon an occurrence that the little girls did not mind the work at all, but enjoyed the company. Mrs. Gilmore rode among the set­tlers and raised the money to buy a bell for the new church. John Fowler hauled the bell to Emporia from Leavenworth. Rice Brown, principal of the Emporia Senior High School, is a son of Solomon Brown.

2) Their son, Park L. Morse, lives on the farm which was settled by his father and mother, two miles southeast of town, in 1857. Mr. and Mrs. G. C. Morse, having come to Kansas as missionaries from the Congregational Church in Massachusetts, hesitated about taking up land, fearing the Home Missionary Society might not approve of their being land holders. Also, said Mrs. Morse, they feared the people of the community might think they were only land seekers, instead of missionaries. The Morses considered that ten acres would be ample for their needs, but some of the young men of the town who were advising them to get land, told them it was easier to secure a quarter section by occupation than to get hold of a ten acre tract. When the news of their being land­owners reached the Home Missionary Society, the Morses received a letter from that body, congratulating them on their good fortune.

3) Mrs. Fred Baird, of Emporia, is a granddaughter of Jacob Hol­derman, and Miss Mary Patty, of the Newman Memorial County Hospital, is a granddaughter of Mrs. John Patty, who was a sister of the Emporia Holdermans She married in Ohio, and did not come to Kansas with other members of the family. Jacob Holderman was a farmer and stockraiser on a large scale for many years, owning much valuable Verdigris Valley farm land a few miles east of Madison, and large areas of prairie pasture land. Dan and El Holderman were leading business men in Emporia for several decades.

4) Mr. and Mrs. Thomas L. Ryan were among the leaders of their church in Emporia, and held an important place in this com­munity. Their hospitable home at the corner of Sixth and Ex­change was open to friend and stranger. Mr. Ryan for two terms was treasurer of Lyon County, and for many years he operated a carriage and wagon factory on East Sixth, between Mechanic and Market. Mr. and Mrs. Ryan were of the town's dependable, sub­stantial citizens. Dr. Louis D. Ryan, and Charles E. Ryan, of the Mutual Building & Loan Association, are their sons.

5) Mrs. Carl Ballweg - Maggie Byrne Ballweg - for many years was the most outstanding Catholic laywoman in this section of Kansas, as well as one of its most successful business women. She came to Emporia in 1883, only a year out of Ireland, and started a millinery store of which she made an early and un­qualified success. Her business career ended only with her death, which occurred September 15, 1927. During her almost forty five years in business in Emporia, always she took an important part in the town's activities. Her church came first - she was a most loyal churchwoman - then her family, her business, and her town. And she put into all of these interests her lightness of heart and beauty of spirit, her buoyancy, her scintillating Irish wit, her bestand highest thought; her time and her money, as well as the work of her brain and hands. With Mr. Ballweg, who died in 1918, she gave generously of her substance to their church and to every civic need. Her gayety was saddened by the passing of her beloved companion, but she did not allow this sadness to dis­tress others. To many girls and women she taught the millinery trade, fitting them for useful places in the business world. She was an interested member of the Business and Professional Wom­en's Club, took part in the activities of the Young Women's Christian Association, was liberal in her attitude to all churches and to all agencies for good. Her son, Ernest Ballweg, and Mrs. Ballweg and their children, Carl and Margaret, live in Emporia.

6) Father Joseph Perrier often was called "the Marquette of the Kansas prairies." Born in Savoy, France, in 1839, he was confirmed in 1851. At 18 he was a university graduate, and at 23 a professor of languages in a college. He was ordained at 24, in 1863, and in 1866 came to America as a missionary, with Kansas for his field. He was the first regular pastor of the Emporia church, coming here in 1873, when his pastorate covered the state west from Topeka to the Colorado line. Many were the thrilling experiences he used to relate, and many were the hardships he endured. He rode over trackless prairie and forded swollen streams, slept on the wet ground without shelter, often was hungry and cold, with no immediate prospect for food and shelter. He related these and other stories as good jokes, and got many a chuckle out of the telling. He organized churches at Hartford, Eagle Creek, and Osage City while in this section of the State.

In 1888 he was sent to the church at Concordia, as its first resi­dent pastor, and while there celebrated his silver jubilee, and later, his golden jubilee, October 12, 1911. At Concordia, his work included the building of the cathedral, the school, convent, hospital and the beautiful St. Joseph's Church, near Concordia, of which he was monsignor. Fourteen churches in all are to his credit, and seventy five missions. He retired in 1913, and became chap­lain at Nazareth, La Grange, Illinois. He died in 1918, in Cali­fornia, and his funeral services, in Olpe, were the most impressive ever held in St. Joseph's Church. John Peter Perrier, Olpe, is a nephew of Father Perrier, and the late John Perrier, of Emporia, was a cousin. Mrs. T. Jensen is a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Perrier. A sister, Sister Mary Joseph, is Mother Assistant of the convent at Concordia.

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