Reprinted from Ashland Gazette: May 27, 1971
The first 25 years of the history is given here in condensed version as it was written by H. H. Shedd for the observation of the 25th anniversary of the church May 10, 1896, and which was printed in its entirety in The Ashland Gazette at that time. Because Mr. Shedd wrote in the first person, his record embodies many personal recollections in the life of the church and the development of our community at that time:
On the 24th day of May, 1871, at 3:00 o'clock in the afternoon, the exercises were held that began the existence of the First Congregational Church of Ashland. The following eight persons entered into covenant at that time and were the charter members of the church: Mr. and Mrs. J. J. Roberts, Mr. and Mrs. M. E. Cheney, Mr. and Mrs. E. J. Whipple, Mrs. S. A. Packard, and Miss N. A. Tower. Mr. O. W. Merrill, for whom Merrill Hall at Doane College was named, State Superintendent, was present to organize the new church. E. J. Whipple was elected clerk and J. J. Roberts, the first, and for some time, the only, deacon.
In July, the members extended a call to Rev. Asa Farwell of Bentonsport, Iowa, to become the pastor. He and his oldest son arrived in Ashland in August. There was no church building - no church property of any kind, not even hymn books or collection baskets - those two articles so important in the operation of a church. Only occasional services had been held in the only available place - the upper room in the Courthouse.
In August, 1871, I came from eastern Iowa on a trip to the end of the railroad, which was then Crete. Homesteads were numerous in Clay and Fillmore counties, where Geneva and Sutton now stand, and great crowds of people were going out to take them. I stopped in Ashland to visit Charles Farwell, who had been a schoolmate of mine. Rev. Farwell introduced me to a party who had a small business for sale. Negotiations were begun and by September the transaction was completed and Ashland became my home.
No regular services had been commenced by Mr. Farwell. He thought it necessary to build a home to be completed before the arrival of his family.
The first Sunday, therefore, I recollect that I attended services at the Methodist church. The Methodist people at that time had the distinction of having the only church building in Saunders County. The frame of the church was completed but it was not seated and we sat on planks stretched across the room in picnic style.
The next Sabbath I attended the Baptist services, which at the time were being held in the building now used by the Mill and Electric Light Co. and which then stood about where the Engine house now stands. The Public School used this building also.
The Episcopalian Church members were holding services in a hall on the bottom, where indeed quite a number of business houses were then standing. The Christian Church was not organized for some time afterward. A group of Spiritualists often had meetings during that first winter. They were sincere in their belief as they related the strange things which seemed to be done and the manifestations of mysterious power shown in their meetings. There were also a small group of people dedicated to the doctrines and beliefs of the Latter Day Saints. Several of these, with their leader, soon migrated to Salt Lake City.
About Oct. 1 Mr. Farwell's family arrived and regular morning and evening Sabbath services were commenced. A supply of hymn books, "Songs of the New Life," had been presented by the author, Rev. D. E. Jones. These were our hymnals until services were begun in the new church building in 1879. Prior to this most of the singing had been meager - two bass voices - Mr. Farwell's and mine.
The upper room of the Courthouse was rented for these Sunday services and and there the congregation worshiped for four years. That structure was long since remodeled as part of the residence of Dr. von Mansfelde. Today, in 1896, those of you who are latecomers to our community, and who walk over that hill and look at the handsome residences, the walks, the lawns, and the trees, can have no conception of what a bare and bleak spot it was in 1871. The old settlers, however, will remember very clearly the great, square building standing up there open and alone, not a tree or shrub or fence anywhere near. Not a house on the south or west; the nearest neighbor on the north, two blocks away, was our present parsonage. Excepting our little house east of it, its nearest neighbor in that direction was the Methodist Church, at the foot of the hill. The principal sign of life was in the cow paths or foot path that ran up from all directions to the dreary looking building at the top, like the spokes of a wheel.
If it had a sinister look on the outside, how much deeper was the impression when you reached that upper room. A great barnlike room ceiled instead of plastered, that had never been touched by a drop of paint. A chair, a common table, and two rows of wooden seats were the furnishings. and they answered for four years. It was gloomy in the day time, it was dismal at night with only a stray side light here and there. I doubt if any little church ever began its life in a less cheerful or more forbidding spot.
Mr. Farwell established the Wednesday night prayer meeting at once, and they have been regular meetings ever since. The families took turns having the prayer service in their homes. During the winter an organ was sent out from Iowa by my family. It was later purchased by the Ladies Society and used for many years, up to the time that the present organ took its place. One of the clearest pictures I have in my mind is that of the Farwell boys carrying a tray across the prairie, on which was a glass pitcher and glass goblets for use in our communion service. Several years later the very handsome silver service that we use today was sent out from Haverhill, Mass., a gift from friends of Mr. and Mrs. Farwell.
The Sunday School was organized in late November. A Bible class, an infant class, a class of girls and a class of boys was the first arrangement. Most reluctantly, I accepted the responsibility of the first Sunday School superintendent. Mr. Farwell demonstrated clearly that everyone else who came to church had an office and that was the only one left and I must take it. Little did I realize I was accepting the position for 25 years.
The first several years in the life of our church were very discouraging. Our membership was very small. The stragglers who had been attracted by the novelty of a new church dropped away. Many times the staunch, faithful few remarked to each other, "Do you think we will ever grow enough to have a church building and a congregation of respectable size?" Somehow our faith endured and gradually our courage strengthened by the addition of several families - Mr. Scott, Mr. Patton, Mr. Margrave, Mrs. Wilson, Mr. and Mrs. Sexton, and Mr. and Mrs. Sears. Now and then a new family came to town and joined our congregation. Slowly but surely our stability in growth continued.
During those years Mrs. Farwell was a most remarkable social organizer. She gathered a society of ladies around the church and their endeavors became a strong influence and power in our organization. They held sociables and entertainments in that old Courthouse that were notable events and live in the memory of many persons, for they drew crowds of many people.
In 1876 Beetison's Hall, a new building, was rented and the services were continued there for two years. The Sunday School grew and, for the first time, a choir was organized. Through the years many excellent voices have added to the spirit and harmony of our services. It has been my privilege to be their organist.
In 1877 Mr. Farwell resigned to go to Crete. In the six years of his pastorate, the church had grown from the eight charter members to 36. The departure of the Farwell family marked the end of the first period of the church. For that six years they had done most of the planning and managing, and carried much of the burden and responsibility. Even in the discouraging period of the grasshopper plague, their faith in the development and future for our church never faltered. Mr. Farwell kept all records and details carefully and he would say, "These things look small now, but some time they will be of interest and importance to the church."
For the next year, until the latter part of 1878, services were held in what was then the Odd Fellows Hall over the clothing store. Rev. M. L. Croswell supplied for six months and Elder Miller the remainder of the time.
During the summer of 1878 the church came face to face with the question of erecting a building. The question of raising the money was a serious one. There were no wealthy men, and only three or four who could give even a moderate amount. At the church meeting in August, it was decided to accept the challenge and a subscription drive was launched. When the trustees became discouraged over lack of money subscribed, the determination, skill, and courage of Mr. Scott made the drive successful. He sought and received pledges throughout the community. Those subscriptions by persons not directly identified with us made it possible for the trustees to go ahead with plans for building.
Thus, in September, 1878, the building was started in a hurry. The plans were simple. I came across the lead pencil sketch not long ago, as it had been made by myself and which was all the contractor had to go by. It was erected by Mr. Phelps, who did the work rapidly and honestly. Thomas Johnson did the plastering and it has stood the test all these years.
The building was completed and dedicated on Jan. 29, 1879. The total cost was $1750. The lots had cost $800. On dedication day, $200 was raised and the building was free from debt, and has remained so ever since.
Rev. William Leavitt of Iowa had accepted our invitation to become our pastor and was present at the dedication. It was a joyous occasion, with a great deal of congratulations and a large measure of faith and hope.
The sustaining of the church during these years was no small matter. The finances were not sufficient to afford a janitor. Mr. Scott assumed the responsibility. He swept, dusted, built the fires, and cleaned the lamps. This meant many hours of volunteer work after his regular day's work was done. At this same time I had the somewhat unpleasant task of church treasurer. Many times Mr. Scott and I would each grow weary of our respective tasks and so we traded, and Mr. Scott would be treasurer and I would be janitor. Of course, eventually more and more members joined and assumed their share of the work and the burdens became lighter on the early few.
It was during the ministry of Mr. Leavitt that annual church meetings were established. Mr. Leavitt resigned on June 6, 1886, concluding a little over seven years service for us. The membership had increased from 36 to 75. Under the leadership of Mr. Leavitt the church became strong enough to be self-supporting and we marked the end of the second period of the church.
Ten years ago in June, the District Association met here. Mr. Denney of Nebraska City stopped with us. Sitting on the porch one evening in the moonlight, I asked him if he knew of any young minister that he thought would be the right man for us. He recommended Mr. Brereton, a student and friend in the seminary with him. Thus Mr. Brereton came and served us for the next six years. During his tenure, his success is shown not only in the growth of membership from 75 to 145, but in the addition to the church, the parsonage erected, and the strong organization that he perfected in every department of the church work.
The past four years, we have benefited under the leadership of the present pastor, Rev. Wilson Denney. These have been pleasant years with an ideal relationship of pastor and people. The close of a quarter of a century in the life of our church makes us recognize we have passed the formative years and attained some of the ideals and goals those initial eight members held dear to their Christian hearts. Their faith is reflected in our membership of 2000, on this anniversary day.
The wheel of time has made great changes in these 25 years. Almost all of the active workers of those earlier years are deceased or moved away. There are so many names to recall. Our deacons of those first years - Mr. Roberts, Mr. Scott, Mr. Reasoner. The faithful devotion to the work in our church - Messrs. Cook, Sharon, Hector, and Patton, Mrs. Hardin, and the scores of others, who in so many ways expressed their Christianity by work, sacrifice, patience, charity, and, above all, an enduring confidence for the future of the First Congregational Church of Ashland, Nebr. Thus I conclude this record of a quarter of a century with an abiding faith that these Christian graces will be nurtured as the second quarter century begins and unfolds through the coming years.
The second quarter of a century history was written by Mrs. H. H. Shedd for the Fiftieth Anniversary, Oct. 23-24, 1921:
Today we are celebrating the fiftieth anniversary, and we behold a still greater growth, from which can be drawn inspiration and confidence in the future.
As the first 25 years of the life of this church may be designated the formative period, so the quarter of a century now but ended may be called the development period. No actual line, of course, divides the two; nor any prominent circumstances except the celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary. The first period passes imperceptibly into the second. But when each is surveyed as a whole, when each is considered in its general aspects, a marked difference is perceived as distinguished in the terms used - formative period and development period.
During the past 25 years the church has been, as was to be expected, in more affluent circumstances than during its pioneer period. Nebraska prospered. Ashland and vicinity prospered. This well-being has been happily reflected in this church. In this period obligations have been met promptly, and our ministers made secure in their salaries; for the day had gone when the trustees were at their wit's end how to raise a few dollars, and the pastor must indeed have wonderful faith that he should obtain stipend.
In reviewing those first 25 years, we note that in time there were four ministers, with a growth in membership from the eight charter members to 200 at that anniversary. At that time Wilson Denney was our minister and continued to be until we reluctantly accepted his resignation Dec. 1, 1897.
He was succeeded by the Rev. T. W. Conway-Cheeseman, who filled the office of minister from Feb. 2, 1898, until December, 1900. Mr. Cheeseman was a man of remarkable oratorical gifts and intellectual capacity, whose fund of learning made his addresses ones of scholarly character.
On his departure, Dr. Stein of Lincoln supplied until Sept. 28, 1901, when W. P. Blakesly came from the North Side Church of Milwaukee, Wis., and was our minister until January, 1903. His earnestness and personality were such that he built enduring friendships with church members and the people of the community. He received his ordination as minister in our church Nov. 4, 1901.
J. W. Carson of Detroit, Mich., came to serve us in February, 1903. He was a man of restless energy and business ability, possessing qualifications that caused him to rank high as a pastor. During his first summer here, the enlargement and improvement of the parsonage was carried out. Specifically, this was the addition of a kitchen, pantry, and a bathroom at a cost of $500. Mr. Carson may be characterized as being a church builder. He early expressed himself in his pastorate as feeling that the church building, a wooden structure, had served its purpose, and that now to realize growth and progress the congregation must strive for a modern edifice and one suitable for the future. He declared it to be his particular work to secure a church building.
In July, 1904, a special meeting of the church was held to consider the subject. Favorable remarks were given by several influential members and a favorable resolution was passed. The members of the building committee were H. H. Cone, Dr. C. F. Kirkpatrick, R. E. Butler, A. B. McCreight, F. L. Anderson, H. H. Parkhurst, F. A. Koehler, and the Rev. J. W. Carson.
The old church building was moved off the lot (where the present church now stands) the first week in April, 1905. This building was sold to L. D. Grebe and moved by him to the east part of town. Here the congregation worshiped during the building of the present edifice. The first work on the new church was begun May 13, 1905. The architect was J. H. Craddock of Lincoln and the builder, also of Lincoln, was E. A. Stephens. On Oct. 29, 1905, the first service was held in the basement of the new church - and on Sabbath, Feb. 11, 1906, the first public service was held in the new auditorium. On Sabbath the 18th, the following were the speakers: the Rev. T. O. Douglass, D.D., of Grineell, Iowa; the Rev. C. H. Rogers, Plymouth Congregational Church of Lincoln; the Rev. H. Bross, D.D.; and the Hon. J. H. Mickey, governor of the state. The Rev. Dr. Douglass, in a very acceptable way, performed the duty of raising the balance necessary to clear the building of debt - about $4500 - making the total cost of the new church about $13,000. On Feb. 25, the formal dedication services were held. The Rev. Wilson Denney and the Rev. J. E. Brereton, both former pastors, preached and the dedication service was held that afternoon, when all the churches of the city were invited to participate. The opening services were continued on the following Sabbath, when the preachers were the Rev. F. W. Leavitt in the morning and the Rev. Dr. J. E. Tuttle of Lincoln in the evening. At all these services, the choir, under the direction of Edith Waugh Shedd, provided special music, which enhanced these joyous occasions.
Through these years the building has met our needs. It is roomy, well-heated, with comfortable pews, an admirable rostrum, ample Sunday School quarters, a gymnasium in the basement, and dining room and kitchen. It has a fine organ, a gift from Mrs. McIntyre. It has beautiful windows, presenting sacred subjects in stained glass that softens the light and mellows the mood. The one above the altar, the rose window, was given by Mr. Chickering. The large one on the west wall was a gift by members and friends in honor of Mr. Shedd's faithful service - his 34 years as organist and 27 years as Sunday School superintendent. The other windows were given by Mrs. McIntyre, the Sunday School, and the Christian Endeavor. The handsome pulpit chairs were presented by Mr. Harford. The individual Communion service was donated by Mr. and Mrs. Hugo Wiggenhorn. The generous money gifts of many others have made the other furnishings possible.
Mr. Carson remained as minister to 1908. He had endeared himself to us in so many ways and as he departed with the esteem and affection of the members, he left us with a living memorial, the church building for which he labored.
Mr. Van Auken, a young man of effective address and pleasing personality, was our pastor for the year 1909.
In 1910 the Rev. V. F. Clark came to be our minister and remained until 1912, when he resigned to accept the position of field secretary for Doane College.
The years 1912 - 1915, the Rev. Joseph Thomas was the minister. He was a man of strong Christian character who led his parishioners to increase the position and strength of the church.
The Rev. F. D. Reeves was our minister from 1915 to 1920. During he stay he was effective in building up interest in Sunday School, increasing its membership immensely and establishing a large class of men's brotherhood. Under his direction the Sunday School for three years won the silver cup offered as a reward by the State Organization for growth and attendance.
During the last few years, this church has known an experience which during its earlier time it was not called upon to know, that of our church in worldwide war. There was a tremendous demand upon the patriotism of all of us, and likewise a tremendous demand made upon our religious faith. This conflict called 18 youths identified with our church. On our service flag, given by Mrs. Howard and Mr. Yochum, are 18 stars - 16 silver and 2 gold - that mark the record of their patriotic service. These youths are: Daniel Parmenter, Joy McCartney, Jesse Morris, Dwight Butler, Alexander Cone, Clausen Lewis, Henry Reasoner, DOn Keetle, Willard Fowler, Roy Holman, Daniel Schildmeier, Arthur Dyer, Kenneth Clark, Harold Howard, Leon White, William Schildmeier, Edgar Jarman, and Arthur Jarman. Of these, two made the supreme sacrifice, giving their lives - Edgar Jarman and Alexander Cone.
During that period of strife, our members united in labor and spirit, in contributing to the comfort of our American soldiers, through various agencies, by furnishing supplies and raising funds - Red Cross work, Belgian Relief, War Bonds, and others. With the cessation of hostilities, we have responded generously to demands of rehabilitation - the Armenian Relief, and Chinese Famine Relief. For this war, as nothing else ever had done, opened our eyes to the kinship of humanity, and has taught our church new duties, giving its people new obligations and a broader sense of responsibility to fellow men.
On Oct. 17, 1920, the Rev. D. M. Beggs began his work here. In this year, his Christian zeal has produced results in intensifying the religious devotion and ardor of the congregation. This sketch necessarily has dwelt but briefly on many occurrences of these 50 years. Only in its larger aspects could the growth and history of our church be related.
In conclusion, I make not of the various organizations and give specific credit to a few of the many individuals who have given unceasingly to the work of the church. In the beginning, there were two ladies societies, The Ladies' Aid Society and the Ladies' Society for Home and Foreign Mission. In the course of time, these were united under the name of the Women's Association. The successive boards of trustees, managing the business of the church, have always shown a wise prudence and care. This likewise is true of the deacons, who have charge of the spiritual interests and affairs of our church body. We especially recognize the record of Mr. Vandeman, the oldest deacon, who has acted in that capacity longer than anyone else in the history of the church. We offer our appreciation to Miss Nellie Sexton for her many years as clerk. Our organists deserve recognition - Mr. Shedd was first and filled the longest term. He was followed by Mrs. Edith Shedd Sizer, Mrs. Evelyn Lytle Parkhurst, Miss Dorothea Scott, and Miss Luella Craig. The Philanthropic Committee, the Christian Endeavor, which has the guidance of Mr. and Mrs. Oliver, and the Sunday School, have always fulfilled their functions in adding to the spiritual measure of the church.
Today, as we observe the fiftieth anniversary, history has written 50 years that have been rich in effort, sacrifice, and rewards - all under God's Hand and Goodness.