Sandburg's Hometown

May 25, 2015

Old First Church, Galesburg, IL

Old First Church

by Barbara Schock

It is called Old First Church for a good reason. The building was the first church erected in Galesburg. It could be called the mother of all the churches organized since the establishment of the city in 1837.

The Reverend George W. Gale and his colony members organized their church on February 25, 1837, with 82 members. It was a combination of Presbyterian and Congregational Church members. There were at least two families of Universalists within the group.

Church services were held in Hugh Conger's cabin at Log City. He was one of the Universalists. He had the largest cabin because he had a large family. The services conducted by Reverend Gale and various traveling clergymen were frequent and long. When a school house had been erected on the north side of Ferris Street between Broad and Cherry in Galesburg, the Sunday services alternated between Log City and the village of Galesburg.

By December of 1838, Chauncey Colton had erected the first Academy building on the northeast corner of the Public Square. The ground floor was a large chamber with a slanted floor and wooden benches for seating. It allowed everyone to see the speaker. The upper floor had three classrooms. Instruction was of a preparatory nature leading eventually to study in the planned college. Church services were conducted there for 190 members.

In those early days few church members had money to contribute to the creation of a real church building. Several years passed before farmers cut logs of oak and hauled them to the Colony sawmill for the construction of the church. The most conspicuous location in Galesburg was chosen as the site for the First Church—the southeast corner of the Public Square. The trustees of Knox College donated the land.

The building was framed so as to be sixty feet by eighty feet and 24 feet tall. The wood was piled high on the lot awaiting more donations of money and supplies to complete the structure. There was some theological disagreement going on among the church members at the same time. A storm blew over Galesburg and knocked down the work that had been done. Some believed it may have been a sign from the Almighty to get on with the work of building a house of worship.

In 1846, First Church was completed. The first commencement of Knox College was conducted in it. Reverend Jonathan Blanchard, the president of Knox College, gave the sermon and nine students were graduated.

The church bell rang at seven in the morning, at noon and at six o'clock in the evening. It regulated the conducting of business in the town. It also served as an emergency and fire alarm. When the Civil War broke out in April 1861, the bell called people to the Public Square to learn of the event.

As the largest structure in town, it was used for many kinds of gatherings beside the religious services. There were concerts, lectures and conventions as well as commencements. Between 1850 and 1860, many well-known speakers and performers appeared in the First Church. They brought the outside world to Galesburg, especially after the railroad came though in 1854.

As the population of Galesburg grew, other denominations began to establish their own churches. The Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in 1847 and the Baptists in 1848. A Swedish Lutheran Church was founded in 1852 and a Swedish Methodist in 1856. An African Methodist Church was organized in 1856. The Universalists founded their own church the same year. The City Mission was established in 1858 by the leaders of the First Church to serve the immigrants living on the south side of Galesburg. An old railroad car donated by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad Company was used for the Sunday School.

Several decades later Carl Sandburg would be among the children taught at the Mission. For the rest of his life he gave credit to the Mission for his first experiences at public speaking and performing before an audience.

To be continued.

Sandburg's Hometown
Date Title
May 25, 2015 Old First Church
May 18, 2015 Marbles
May 11, 2015 Pawnee County, Kansas
May 4, 2015 Detective Stories and the Real Thing
April 27, 2015 Professor Isaac A. Parker
April 20, 2015 Celluloid Collars
April 13, 2015 Asparagus
April 6, 2015  Mayor John C. Stewart 
March 30, 2015 Basket Ball
March 23, 2015 The Courthouse of Knox County, IL
March 16, 2015

“Trifles make perfection...”

March 9, 2015 Uncle Tom's Cabin
March 2, 2015 Martha Sandburg Goldstone
February 23, 2015 Devotion
February 16, 2015  Gumbiner's Pawn Shop 
February 9, 2015 White Bread
February 2, 2015 The Monarch Club
January 26, 2015 The Silver Dollar
January 19, 2015 The Fulton County Narrow Gauge Railway
January 12, 2015 The Four Corners
December 22, 2014 Swedish Christmas
December 8, 2014 Christmas 1878
December 1, 2014 Bunker Boots & Shoes
November 24, 2014 Galesburg, Illinois
November 17, 2014 It was Buffalo Bill's Day
November 10, 2014 The Election of 1896 (A follow-up story)
November 3, 2014 The Election of 1896 (continued)
October 27, 2014 The Election of 1896
October  24, 2014 The Rissywarn
October 20, 2014 The Parlor Stove
October 13, 2014 Ashes to Ashes
October 6, 2014 Jesse James
Sept. 29, 2014 Lester T. Stone, Public Servant
Sept. 22, 2014 It's Who You Know
Sept 15, 2014 Mother of the Illinois Flag
Sept 8, 2014 The Scissors Grinder
Sept 1, 2014 Baseball
August 25, 2014 Howard K. Knowles, Capitalist
August 18, 2014  Alcoholic Beverages
August 11, 2014 Soda Water
August 4, 2014 Sweet Corn
July 28, 2014 Marching Through Georgia
July 21, 2014 The Knox County Fair
July 14, 2014 The Panic of 1893
July 7, 2014 The Rev. T. N. Hasselquist
June 30, 2014 The Knox County Courthouse
June 23, 2014 The Family Photograph Album
June 16, 2014 Parades
June 9, 2014 Lingonberries
June 2, 2014 Where We Live
May 26, 2014 Old Main
May 19, 2014 Rhythms of the Railroad
May 12, 2014 Spring Tonic
May 5, 2014 The Milkmen
April 28, 2014 Gray's "Elegy..."
April 21, 2014 Off to War
April 14, 2014 Swedish Easter
April 7, 2014 A Father's Face
March 31, 2014 Secret Societies
March 24, 2014 George A. Murdock, Merchant
March 10, 2014 Trade Cards
March 3, 2014 The Demorest Medal
February 24, 2014 Rip Van Winkle
February 17, 2014 Cabbage Soup
February 10, 2014 Lincoln's Birthday
February 3, 2014 4  The Colonel
January 27, 2014 The Lincoln Penny - A Little History
January 20, 2014 Walking to Work
January 13, 2014  A Small Abode
January 6, 2014 Birth of a Poet
December 30, 2013 Christmas 1880
December 23, 2013 Swedish Christmas
December 16, 2013 The Reporter Sees Santa
December 9, 2013 The Coming of Christmas
December 2, 2013 The Fire Boys Talk
November 25, 2013 Galesburg Will Feast on Turkeys and Cranberries - Thanksgiving 1893
November 18, 2013 Mary Sandburg Johnson
November 11, 2013 Carl Sandburg's Bicycle
November 4, 2013 Lace Curtains
October 28, 2013 The Front Room
October 21, 2013 A Warm Breakfast
October 14, 2013 Marion D. Shutter
October 7, 2013 Cigars and Consumption
September 30, 2013 Forrest F. Cooke & August Sandburg
September 16, 2013 Forrest F. Cooke, Mayor
September 9, 2013 Dusty Streets
September 2, 2013 Typhoid Fever
August 26, 2013 Coffee and Water
August 19, 2013 A Horse! A Horse!
August 12, 2013 Gaddial Scott
August 5, 2013 The Racetrack
July 29, 2013 John Peter Algeld - Part II
July 22, 2013 John Peter Altgeld - Part I
July 15, 2013 Tramps, Tramps, Tramps
July 8, 2013 Lady Liberty
July 1, 2013 Galesburg's Fourth
June 24, 2013 John H. Finley
June 17, 2013 The World's Columbian Exhibition
June 10, 2013 Fruit Short-Cake
June 3, 2013 Horatio Alger, Author
May 27, 2013 Memorial Day, 1887
May 20, 2013 Professor Jon W. Grubb
May 13, 2013 Beginnings of Lombard University
May 6, 2013 Young Sandburg’s View of Lombard College
April 29, 2013 Thinking
April 22, 2013 Robert Colville, Master Mechanic
April 15, 2013 The Galesburg Opera House
April 8, 2013 Grocery Stores and Sample Rooms
April 1, 2013  A Hearty  Breakfast 
March 25, 2013  The Lost Wallpaper Legend 
March 18, 2013 Martin G. Sandburg
March 4, 2013 The Edison Talking Machine
February 25, 2013 Joe Elser, Civil War Veteran
February 18, 2013 Remember the Maine...
February 11, 2013 Lincoln's Birthday
February 4, 2013 Curiosity