History of the Congregational Church of Jefferson Park

An 1884 history described the church this way:

The Jefferson Congregational Church was organized in April, 1861. with seven members, who united by letter. Among them were Mr. and Mrs. David L. Rob­erts, Mr. and Mrs. Orton Hubbard,and Reuben Bailey. Two or three weeks afterward nine members joined on profession of faith, among them Miss Ellen O. Roberts and Miss Lydia Main. Previously to the organization there had been religious service held by Rev. Lemuel Jones, in the school-house and in the Town House, in which latter building the organization was effected. Rev. Mr. Jones remained until the last of August, 1863.

During his pastorate, in the summer and fall of 1861, the church building was erected, a frame structure costing about $1,500. It was dedicated soon after its completion, Prof. S. C. Bartlett preaching the sermon. A parsonage was built in 1863, on a lot donated to the Church by David L. Roberts, as was also the church. The society received no aid during Rev. Mr. Jones’s pastorate, and the seats were free until the pastorate of Rev. J. M. Williams. The Church was re-organized February 24, 1866, when a constitution and by-laws were adopted. The deacons elected at this time were E. S. Dunning and Orton Hubbard, and the trustees in 1869 were D. S. Dunning, J. H. Wright and W.C. Hazleton. In 1866 the Church received three hundred dollars from the Home Missionary Society. In 1867 the support of the pastor was again assumed ; and in 1868 the pastor was engaged at $800 per year. Rev. M. Smith succeeded Mr. Jones, and remained until 1866, when the Rev. E. C. Barnard was engaged, and remained until 1871. He was succeeded by Rev. M. N. Hall, who remained until 1873, when Rev. Mr. Barnard became pastor of the Church, at a salary of $1,000 per year. He remained until 1879, when Rev. J. M. Williams succeeded and remained until 1882. In this latter year Rev. W.D. Simons, the present pastor, succeeded Rev. Mr. Williams. Late in the year 1883 repairs to the extent of about $400 were made to the church, and the building was re-dedicated on Sunday, December 3 of that year.

From ‘Jefferson Park / The “Garden Gateway: A History’ by Bernhardt L. Mendro:

As we approach the (18)60’s, the religious-minded families were concerned about the gathering war clouds, and soon began meeting in the schoolhouse and the Town Hall. A regular pastor had been secured, although he was unordained as yet. In 1861, the families who had been active in the meetings sent letters to other churches and individuals, inviting them to a meeting on April 18, 1861 to organize officially as a Church. It proved to be the day of the winter’s fiercest blizzard, and many of those invited had not even received their letters missive, but the meeting was held anyway. On that day the Jefferson Congregational Church became a reality and the Township’s first Church.

The next year, with land and funds donated by David and Hannah Roberts, the church members built a frame church home, on Plank Road, a few doors north of Roberts Court (now Giddings Street). This building would serve them until 1896, when a larger one was built one half block west on Giddings Street, again with land and funds from the Roberts family.

The old building was sold to a realtor, a Mr. Butler, who moved it across the C&NW tracks to the intersection of Laramie and Gunnison, where it served as a church until razed for the Kennedy Expressway. The people of Jefferson Congregational replaced the second building in 1929 with a new and splendid colonial brick building, still used today. In 1986, the church observed its 125th anniversary.

The church is said to have served as a polling place for many years, and it is rumored that Abraham Lincoln voted there when he was running for re-election in 1864. (However, Lincoln is known to have been in the White House that day. Also, it is unlikely that even the president would have been allowed to vote anywhere but in his home precinct, which was in Springfield.)

…the brother of James B. Farnsworth, who had been so prominent in civilian schooling. Charles E. Farnsworth held a number of posts in the Congregational Church. Principal among these was the position of Sunday School Superintendent. In this capacity, he was instrumental in establishing branches of the Sunday School in various spots, all in or near Jefferson Park. Some of them became full Churches in their own right, most of them still active today. They were Forest Glen, the Church that started a strong community, Dunning (now Watson Park), Portage Park, Mayfair and Trinity.

The two streets that intersect in front of the current church, Giddings and London, both were called Roberts, according to a 1908 plat of the area. London was called Roberts Avenue, as was Giddings west of the church. What is now Giddings between London and Milwaukee was called Roberts Court.

Below is a picture of the church that stood until 1929.

A 1909 history of Cook County states:

…David Roberts, born in Denbigh, Wales, in 1801, located in New York state at an early date, coming to Chicago in 1839 and remaining here for a short time. He then went to Joliet, Ill., where he obtained the contract for building a section of the old Michigan canal. In 1842 he returned to Chicago, locating in Jefferson township, and bought from “Long” John Wentworth a large tract of land and laid out the village of Jefferson in 1846. To this village he donated 10 acres of land which was made into a beautiful park and which is now kept up by the city. He built and maintained the Jefferson Park Congregational church and was a trustee and deacon of the same for over twenty years… His death occurred in 1870.

As he died about 9 years after the church started, it is doubtful that he was a deacon for 20 of those 9 years. It may be that he was being confused with his son, Clark.

One church deacon in those early days was D. S. Dunning, who, along with his son Andrew, owned a farm south of Irving Park road at Harlem. The name Dunning was given to a train stop near their farm, and the same name later was used for the county poor farm and Cook County Insane Asylum (later the Chicago State Hospital).

By 1895, the church had 55 members, 35 women members and 20 men. During the previous year, it had gained 10 members and lost 15, 5 of them through “discipline”. The average Sunday School attendance was 130. The pastor was Arthur Thome, and the church clerk was Charles E. Farnsworth, after whom Farnsworth school was named. Running the church that year cost $1,050, and $246 was given in “benevolence”.

13 years later, in 1908, membership had tripled to 166, with 298 Sunday School students (now headed by Mr. Farnsworth) and 76 members of the Young People’s Society. The church “home expenses” had risen to $2,488, but the benevolence donations went down to $172. The minister was George W. D. Short, who was paid $1,100 annually.

While confirmation was taking place in 1929, a stage in the 33 year old church collapsed. It was found that there were many structural weaknesses in the church building; rather than reconstruct the stage, a new church was built, just in time for the Great Depression.

In 1940, the church name was changed from Jefferson Park Congregational Church, to the Congregational Church of Jefferson Park. The old name still appears above the church entrance.

Further Links

Here are links to some material on the web, that is related to the history of the Congregational Church of Jefferson Park.

History of Cook County, 1884

History of Cook County, 1909

Town of Jefferson Directory, 1886-87

Official Atlas of the Township of Jefferson, 1908

History of Chicago, Illinois, 1895

The Book of Chicagoans, 1911

Congregational Year-Book, 1895