Church history of Topeka, Kansas
From: History of Shawnee County, Kansas
and Representative Citizens.
Edited by James L. King, Topeka, Kansas
Richmond & Arnold Publishers
There are 80 separate church organizations in Topeka, representing 17 different denominations. The First Congregational
Church is the pioneer, its organization dating from October 14, 1855. The first deacons were Hiram W. Farnsworth
and James Cowles, and the first trustees, Milton C. Dickey, John Ritchie and H. P. Waters. Meetings were held in
Constitution Hall and other places, occasional sermons being preached by Rev. S. Y. Lum, Rev. Paul Shepherd and
Rev. Jonathan Copeland. The first regular pastor was Rev. Lewis Bodwell, who assumed charge in October, 1856, and
on Sunday, November 2nd of that year, the communion of the Lord's Supper was celebrated for the first time in Topeka.
A donation of lots by the Topeka Town Association, and a popular supscription at home and in the East, enabled
the Congregationalists to begin the first church structure in Topeka, at the northwest corner of Harrison and Seventh
streets. The walls were twice blown down by wind storms, but the building was finally completed in 1861, at a cost
of $7,000. In the year 1880 a new and more substantial church building was erected at a cost of $35,000. Since
its organization, the church has had the following pastors: Lewis Bodwell, Peter MacVicar, James G. Merrill, Linus
Blakesley, D. M. Fisk and Francis L. Hayes. Rev. Mr. Blakesley was pastor from 1870 to 1899 - nearly 30 years -
the longest continuous service ever performed by any of the Topeka pastors.
The Methodist Episcopal Church had an organization in Topeka in 1855, but was not regularly established until
a later date. In 1859 the Topeka and Tecumseh circuit was formed, and in 1861 Topeka was organized as a station,
with Rev. J. Paulson as pastor. Religious services were conducted prior to that date by Rev. J. S. Griffing. Other
pastors of the church have been: J. V. Holliday, T. A. Parker, John D. Knox, T. J. Leak, Ira Blackford, James E.
Gilbert, J. J. Thompson, O. J. Cowles, D. P. Mitchell, S. McChesney, D. J. Holmes, W. G. Waters, J. A. Lippincott,
A. S. Embree and J. T. McFarland. Rev. W. C. Evans is the present pastor.
Rev. A. T. Rankin organized the First Presbyterian Church, December 9, 1859, but it made indifferent progress
until the following year, when Rev. John A. Steele, assumed the direction of its affairs. After his death, in 1864,
Rev. S. T. McClure became the pastor, and he was followed by Rev. John Ekin in 1866. Rev. Francis S. McCabe, D.
D., became the pastor January 1, 1869, and his long pastorate of 15 years was the most flourishing in the history
of the church. He was succeeded in 1883 by Rev. H. W. George. Following Rev. Mr. George, the church had the services
of Rev. Edward C. Ray, Rev. S. B. Alderson, Rev. J. D. Countermine, and the present pastor, Rev. S. S. Estey. In
1864 the Presbyterians built a small brick church at No. 230 Kansas avenue, which was afterwards sold to the city
for a school. In 1868 they built a chapel in the rear of the lots now occupied by the building of the Topeka Capital,
enlarging it and adding a spire in 1870. The present church, on Harrison street, was dedicated April 12, 1885.
About March 1, 1857, the First Baptist Church was organized by Rev. David Seagraves, Joseph C. Miller, Jesse
Stone, J. F. Merriam and William Jordan, assisted by Rev. J. Gilpatrick, who had charge of an Indian mission near
Auburn. The first regular pastor was Rev. C. C. Hutchinson, author of "Resources of Kansas." Services
were held in 1860 on the second floor of a mercantile building at No. 191 Kansas avenue. A permanent site for the
church was donated by the Topeka Town Association, being the lots at the northeast corner of Jackson and Ninth
streets, where a building was erected in 1871, at a cost of $15,000. This continued to be the home of the church
until 1905, when a more commodious structure took its place, upon the same site. It is a magnificent edifice, built
of bowlders of varying shades, and crowned with a stately and symmetrical dome. The cost of the new church was
$40,000. The several Baptist pastors have been the following: E. Alward, Isaac Sawyer, H. P. Fitch, E. O. Taylor,
C. Monjeau, C. C. Foote, T. R. Peters, J. B. Thomas, M. L. Thomas, P. W. Crannell and Thomas S. Young, the last
named being the present pastor.
The Church of the Assumption was organized and the first building erected in 1862, the first service being held on Christmas Day of that year, conducted by Rev. James H. Defouri. The church was dedicated August 16, 1863, by Rt. Rev. J. B. Miegie. Rev. Elmira Fourmont, Rev. Eugene Bonoveini, Rev. Felix Swembergh and Rev. Sebastian Favre were Father Defouri's assistants during the early years of the church's history. The present church building on Eighth avenue, opposite the Topeka Free Library, was erected in 1882 at a cost of $20,000. One of the first workers in behalf of the church was Daniel Handley, afterwards killed in the battle of the Blue. A relic of the church is a bell presented by E. C. K. Garvey in 1862, now used in the Catholic school. Father Defouri continued in charge of the church for 14 years, and was succeeded by Rev. J. F. Cunningham, who remained until 1882, and was then succeeded by Rev. James O'Reilly. Very Rev. Francis M. Hayden became dean and rector of the church in 1887 and is still in charge. His sacerdotal silver jubilee was celebrated here May 17, 1900, and was attended by four bishops and 60 clergymen.
St. Joseph's German Catholic Church was established in 1889 through the instrumentality of Rev. Francis Henry, who has since served continuously as its pastor. He has not only organized a large congregation but has caused to be erected one of the finest church buildings in the city, at the northwest corner of VanBuren and Third streets - a massive brick structure, with double towers and cathedral chimes. Father Henry has been prominent in the charitable work of the city, and his general influence in the community is as strongly felt as that of any citizen of Topeka.
GRACE EPISCOPAL CATHEDRAL.
A mission of the Protestant Episcopal Church was begun by Rev. Charles Callaway in 1857, resulting in the organization of Grace Episcopal Church, September 9, 1860, with Rev. Mr. Callaway as rector, the first vestrymen being Charles C. Kellam, James Fletcher, John W. Farnsworth, Cyrus K. Holliday and Joseph F. Cummings. Rev. N. O. Preston succeeded to the rectorship December 7, 186o. From 1864 to the present time the church has had the following rectors and deans: R. W. Oliver, John N. Lee, John Bakewell, Henry H. Loring, J. F. Walker, Richard Ellerby, James W. Colwell, Percival McIntire, Assistant Bishop E. S. Thomas, Henry I. Bodley, John W. Sykes, and James P. deBeavers Kaye, the last named being the present dean. Rev. J. F. Walker was the first dean, the church having been accepted as a cathedral chapel in 1879. Services were first held on the third floor of the Ritchie Block, corner of Kansas and Sixth avenues, and then at the old Episcopal Female Seminary, corner of Topeka avenue and Ninth street. A building was erected in 1863, at the southwest corner of Jackson and Seventh streets, known as Grace Church. The building was enlarged in 1874, and while the, improvements were in progress services were held in Union Hall. The property at the corner of Jackson and Seventh streets was subsequently sold and a guild hall and chapel erected on Bethany square, where the permanent cathedral is to be built in the near future. In connection with the cathedral are the churches of the Good Shepherd, Calvary Mission, and St. Simon the Cyrenian Mission, conducted by Rev. DeLou Burke, canon.
The English Lutheran Church, now known as the First Lutheran, had its beginning April 7, 1867. It was organized
by Rev. Morris Officer, and had as its original members Rev. Josiah B. McAfee, John Guthrie, C. H. Ellison, A.
P. Benson, George Rubble, A. S. Halmburg and Hugo Kullak. Rev. A. J. Hasson was the first pastor, followed by Rev.
B. F. Alleman and Rev. T. F. Dornblazer. Services were first held in Germania Hall. A small frame church was built
in 1871 on lots 163, 165 and 167 Topeka avenue. In 1885 a large brick structure was erected at the northeast corner
of Harrison and Fifth street, which is the present home of the church, with Rev. H. A. Ott as pastor.
The First Christian Church is located in a handsome stone building on the east side of Topeka avenue, between Sixth avenue and Seventh street, the present pastor being Rev. Charles A. Finch. The church was established January 1, 1881, by Rev. S. T. Dodd, with the following officers: Dr. S. T. Dodd, pastor; Willard Davis, clerk; Alfred Ennis and W. D. Stone, elders; J. A. Mullen, W. M. Hess and J. O. Leary, deacons; Ira Miller, David Eckert, William Niccum, E. H. Roudebush and G. W. Fought, trustees; and Buel Shuler and A. A. Stewart, ushers. There are four other Christian churches in the city, known as the North Topeka, Rev. J. T. Purvis; Second, Rev. B. C. Duke; Third, Rev. F. E. Mallory; and Oakland, Rev. N. Overman.
The First Unitarian Church had its beginning in June, 1883, when the society was organized by the following persons: Mr. and Mrs. George W. Wood, Dr. O. B. Morse, Robert Pierce, Mrs. Anna G. Brown, Mr. and Mrs. A. P. Wilder, Mr. and Mrs. George R. Peck, Miss Belle Wilder, John A. Dailey, F. M. Hayward and Mr. and Mrs. Frank H. Foster. The first pastor was Rev. Enoch Powell. The present pastor is Rev. Abram Wyman. The church building at Nos. 302, 304 and 306 Topeka avenue was erected in 1885 at a cost of $8,200.
NEW JERUSALEM CHURCH.
In 1880 the Topeka Society of the New Jerusalem, Swedenborgian, was organized, the first meetings being held at the home of Edward Wilder. In the following year a chapel and parsonage were erected at the southeast corner of Topeka avenue and Harrison street. The first ministers were Rev. Howard C. Dunham and Rev. Frank L. Higgins. The church is now without a pastor and regular services have been discontinued.
CHURCH OF CHRIST-SCIENTIST.
Topeka has two Christian Science organizations, with a rapidly, growing affiliation. The First Church of Christ is located at the corner of Huntoon and Polk streets, in its own building, with W. C. Fisk as first reader. The Second Church of Christ occupies leased rooms at No. 108 West Ninth street, with Willis D. McKinstry as reader.
MISCELLANEOUS RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS.
A church of the Evangelical (Albright) German denomination is maintained at the corner of Fourth and Monroe streets, with Rev. Peter Schuman as pastor, and the Seventh Day Adventists have a church at the corner of Fifth street and Western avenue, with Rev. E. T. Russell in charge. The Salvation Army conducts a shelter at No. 312 Kansas avenue, in charge of Captain and Mrs. E. Stinnett, and its splendid work among the poor is cordially cooperated with by the churches.
The officers of the Young Women's Christian Association are: Mrs. C. J. Evans, president; Mrs. J. B. Larimer,
vice president; Mrs. A. Vanderpool, recording secretary; Mrs. W. H. Holmes, treasurer; Miss M. E. Reid, general
secretary; Anna H. Waldron, house secretary; and Miss Ethel Estberg, physical director. The organization was formed
February 10, 1887, and has rooms in the Masonic Building.
FRATERNAL AND BENEVOLENT SOCIETIES.
There are 34 Masonic organizations in Topeka, the parent body, Topeka Lodge No. 17, having been chartered October
18, 1859. Most of the organizations have their headquarters and hold their meetings in the Masonic Building at
Nos. 619, 621 and 623 Jackson street. The Grand Lodge offices are in the Real Estate Building at No. 701 Jackson
street. A Masonic library and office building is now in process of construction at the northeast corner of Eighth
avenue and Harrison street, to cost $20,000.
Of clubs and societies, from the field of athletics to the arena of philsophy and politics, there are probably too organizations. In addition thereto the women of the city have a total of 46 separate organizations, which are grouped with the Topeka Federation, with the following general officers: Mrs. Clement Smith, president; Mrs. James W. Going, 1st vice president; Miss Lucy D. Kingman, 2nd vice-president; Mrs. Eli G. Foster, secretary; Mrs. E. D. Robertson, treasurer; and Mrs. George A. Huron, auditor. Had the founders of Topeka known what was coming, they might have christened the new town "Clubville," instead of delving into aboriginal lore to find a name with a purely vegetable significance.