Ames United Church of Christ

The following exerpts are from an historical account was written by Lydia C. Tilden, and entitled A Story of the Years of the First Congregational Church of Ames, Iowa from 1865 to 1903.

...In 1863 a Sunday School was organized in a school house [Hoggatt School] on the North side of what is now Lincoln Way, formerly Boone Street.  The building was moved a little to the west near the bank of Squaw Creek and used as a dwelling house.  It has been moved again and is now in College Park on 3rd St. #1008 and is still used as a dwelling house.  This first Sunday School was a union school and Mr. Thomas Grayson was its first superintendent.  In 1864 meetings began to be held in this school house at somewhat regular intervals.  Rev. Mr. Doran and Rev. Mr. Hankins were among the first Methodist circuit riders, and the pioneer Presbyterian preacher was Rev. Isaiah Reid of Nevada, who came about once a month.

In 1865 the railroad reached this point, a depot was built, and the station was named Ames in honor of Hon. Oakes Ames of Massachusetts, who was one of the largest stock holders in the railroad company. Besides, the Iowa State College was located near and Mr. Ames was known as a friend to Education.  In the Autumn of 1865 Rev. John White of Woodstock Conn. Came to Ames to try the effect of a change of climate.  On the Sabbath he preached in the railroad depot.  A buffalo robe was thrown over a dry goods box for a pulpit and planks were placed on nail kegs for seats.  An audience gathered of perhaps fifty people.  After the preaching service a Sunday School was held, Mr. H. F. Kingsbury, station agent, Superintending.
 A movement had already been made toward building a union church.  When Mr. White came, a minister resident the movement took a more definite form and after one or two conferences, a meeting was held Nov. 5, 1865 at the home of Mr. H. F. Kingsbury.  Rev. John White was moderator.  After a free interchange of opinions the following resolution was unanimously adopted:

Resolved: That in view of our obligation to the great Head of the Church, the imperative duty and privilege of Christian fellowship according to Divine appointment, and the peculiar condition and wants of this community we, members of different Evangelical churches in good and regular standing, in humble reliance upon Divine grace, and with sincere desires to promote God’s glory, do organize ourselves into a church of the Lord Jesus Christ, to be called the First Congregational Church of Ames, and to be in fellowship with the Orthodox Congregational Churches of the United State.

The following are the names of the original or charter members.  Of these three were Congregationalists, three Presbyterians, and two were Baptists: H. F. Kingsbury, Mary Kingsbury, Cynthia Duff, Whitelaw, Lyman Pierce, Phoebe Pierce, Robert B. Shearer, Elizabeth Shearer

Mr. White returned east but in view of the beneficial effect of his brief visit in Iowa, at the earnest desire of the little church that he should minister to them, he resigned his charge at Woodstock Conn. and removed with his family to Ames in December, 1865.  An interesting feature connected with the early organization of New England Congregational Churches was the Church Society.  Conforming to this custom on the evening of Dec. 25, 1865, a meeting was held at the home of Mr. Alexander Duff for the purpose of organizing a corporate society according to law, to hold property and to transact such other business as is customary by such societies.  Mr. Lyman Pierce was moderator and Mr. H. F. Kingsbury clerk.  A constitution was adopted containing fourteen articles.

A committee appointed to draw up By-laws after conference, reported that in their opinion, none were needed.  The third article stated qualifications for membership and read as follows: Any male adult member of this Society and all persons owning or hiring seats in its house of worship shall be a member entitled to vote at all its meetings, provided they are not indebted to the society in any sum three months past due.  The first names recorded as members were Dr. L. Carr, Henry May, A. D. Gould, K. W. Brown, Wm. West, P. L. Porter, W. W. Fitchpatrick.  Several of these were afterward identified with the Methodist or Baptist Churches.

Following the adoption of the Constitution, officers were elected, and a church building Committee appointed as follows: Alexander Duff, R. B. Shearer, Wm. West, H. F. Kingsbury, W. W. Fitchpatrick.  These later reported $425.00 pledged for building a house of worship.  The proposed plan called for a building 30x40 with 16 foot posts.  Mr. R. B. Shearer offered to build the house for $300.00 and he received the contract.  Later he was excused from paying his subscription of $25.00 on account of extra labor performed.

Through the influence of Mrs. C. O. Duff two lots were deeded to the Society by the Cedar Rapids and Missouri River Railroad Co. and the Co. also gave $300.00 in money.  The American Congregational Union gave $500.00, the church pledging to repay by taking an annual collection for that society.  A few years ago the pastor reported that $500.00 had been contributed by the church in return for the loan.

The church bell was given by Hon. Oakes Ames in consideration that the town was called Ames.  The communion service was brought in a market basket from Syracuse, N.Y. by Mrs. Duff and was a gift to the church from her personal friend Mrs. Thurber.  This service was used for thirty-six years or until individual cups were purchased in 1902.  The pulpit bible was a gift from Syracuse, also some singing books and plush for the covering of the pulpit desk.  The pulpit was made at the college, college friends paid for it and presented it to the church.  It was sent to the newly organized Congregational Church at Runnells, Ia.  The women were not backward in lending a hand.  In order to save twelve dollars, Mrs. Duff, other ladies assisting, primed the sash and puttied the glass in the windows.  Mrs. Carpenter, a present member of the church, recalls helping to mix the putty under the direction of her father, Mr. Tillotson, one of the carpenters assisting Mr. Shearer...

Sept. 12 Mr. Kingsbury on behalf of the Trustees reported that the church building had been erected according to contract, that it had been plastered and sealed with a due regard to economy, and that $200.00 were lacking to pay off all indebtedness.  Some of the seats referred to are still in use, fifty years later.  The church building with some additions was used until 1899 when the present brick building was erected.

The church was ready for occupancy in Sept. 1866 and was the first church building in Ames.  It was dedicated Oct. 6, 1866 and was filled to overflowing.  Hon. J. B. Grinnell of Grinnell and Col. John Scott of Nevada were present and gave valuable assistance.  Dr. Geo. F. Magoun, then President of Iowa College at Grinnell preached the dedication sermon.  His theme was “The Utilitarianism of Labor” as illustrated by the life and character of Moses.  It was so impressive that a clear outline of the sermon can still be given by some who heard it.  The dedication hymn was written by a charter member, Mrs. Lyman Pierce and at the services it was sung by her five daughters.  Oct. 16th at a church meeting the following resolution was adopted.  Resolved: That it is expedient and deemed promotive of the best interests of the church and society in the peculiar circumstances of this community, the seats in the house be free.  Then it became necessary to amend the article of the constitution stating the qualifications of membership.

As amended it read Any male adult member of the First Congregational church of Ames shall be virtue of such membership be a member of this Society and all male adult persons over twenty one years of age who are regular attendants upon the ministry among us, and who contribute steadily for the support of the gospel, may, upon a vote of the society become regular members of the same and entitled to vote at all its meetings.  This amendment was further amended in Jan. 1873 by striking the word male...

Mr. White [pastor] is remembered as a very spiritual man.  One recalls an evening when he came late, after the family had retired.  They got up, Mr. White came in saying he wished especially to talk to Mr. W. about his soul.  He said he could not sleep until he had done this; he stayed some time in earnest entreaty and prayer, and his reward came in the conversion of Mr. Wright.  Mr. White remained with the church until it was well established, and to him is due the honor of having the law passed by the state prohibiting the sale of liquor within three miles of a state educational institution.  Before this law was passed, a saloon had been opened in the basement of the Sherwood Hotel in Ames.  The following episode is related by one who was there, Mrs. W. G. Wright now of Nevada.

A raid was made on the saloon by practically all the ladies of Ames; some pretty harsh treatment was resorted to in order to induce them to leave.  Cayenne pepper was thrown on a stove with the result that there was vigorous scurrying for a time, but the ladies held the ground and the first saloon and only one of Ames was soon a thing of the past.  This must have been a brace for Mr. White who went before the legislature and worked zealously until the bill was passed....

In 1883 the seating capacity of the church was increased by the addition of an alcove at the rear of the pulpit for the use of the choir.  An entrance hall was added while the tower was carried up and finished with a graceful spire.  Just before the addition of the new alcove we find the first record of the election of a paid chorister Jan. 1883, when the society concurred with the church in the election of Miss Pearson to be paid by individual subscription whatever could be raised.  The trustees not being responsible.

The Gilbert church looked to the Ames pastors for spiritual guidance and for more than sixteen years was yoked with the Ames church, the Ames pastors preaching regularly at Gilbert on the afternoon of each Sabbath.  Soon after Mr. Bennett came, a move was made to secure a church in Gilbert.  Mr. Bennett entered heartily into the project, and a commodious building was erected and dedicated in Sept. 1882...

Farwell Brown says, Apparently, the church had an open or unfinished belfry for a few years.  The steeple was enclosed as we see it in our earliest photo about 1876 when the first parsonage and the lecture room were built.  The bell from Mr. Oakes Ames apparently arrived promptly since it was on January 8, 1867 that the Society minutes refer to "express our thanks to Hon. Oakes Ames for his very liberal and generous donation to our Society of a magnificent bell."

A parsonage was built in 1875.  The church continued to grow and in 1888 under the pastorate of Rev. Wells a Sunday School room was added to the east, twenty feet by thirty feet, with large folding doors into the main room.

In November of 1896 Rev. H. Paul Douglass began his work at the Ames church.  Under his preaching, the church felt the need of larger and better equipment and in October of 1899 the cornerstone of a brick building was laid by Rev. T.O. Douglass, brother of the pastor.  At this time, addresses were given by Rev. H.D. Wiard, Rev. E.M. Vittum of Grinnell, and an original poem was read by Professor W.H. Wynn, Professor of Literature and History for twenty years at Iowa State College.  He was a member during a large part of that time.

On March 18,1900, the new building, costing about $13,000 was dedicated.  Rev. E.C. Moulton preached the sermon.  Rev. F.J. Douglass and Mrs. J.D. Wells were also honored guests of the church they had served.  Pastors of the city and neighboring churches were present and took part in the exercises.  An organ recital dedicating the new church organ was given March 22 by Professor R.G. Cole, Director of the School of Music at Iowa College.

The 1900 brick church, constructed at the same location as the original frame one, was altered in 1930, enlarging the sanctuary and adding an educational wing.  The church parlors were increased in size, and the dining room and kitchen areas were brought up from the basement.

After the 1957 national merger of the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches, the Ames church adopted the name United Church of Christ - Congregational.

The education wing was expanded in 1958, providing a large multi-purpose hall, a recreation area and a new kitchen.  The classrooms were also enlarged and a minister's study room were added.  In 1963 a campaign was launched to purchase a Kney pipe organ.  The congregation voted to raise an additional 25% of the cost to finance community outreach projects.  The tradition of setting aside a percentage of operating and capital improvement budgets to support outreach continues today.  In 2003 the congregation added an elevator and financed a Habitat for Humanity home with the outreach portion of the campaign.