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"History of Eau Claire County Wisconsin, 1914, Past and Present"


Chapter  38 - Eau Claire Churches

First Congregational Church

(-as transcribed from pages 519 - 521)
 

In October, 1856, Rev. A. Kidder came on a vacation trip from his pastorate in Western New York and stopped at this place, then a village of ten or twelve houses on the east side of the river and three or four on the west. He was invited to preach to the people on the first Sabbath, in what was afterwards the bar room of a hotel, and again on the next Sabbath, October 19, when he received a unanimous request at a public meeting called for the purpose to remain and organize a Congregational church. He accepted the invitation, the usual legal steps were taken, trustees chosen, and on December 19, 1856, the First Congregational church was organized, consisting of seven members: Mr. Thomas Barland, Mr. Elias Ketcham, Mr. Gilbert E. Porter, Mrs. Huntington, Mrs. Ellen Ketcham, Mrs. Harriet Ketcham and Rev. Alberoni Kidder. A building 16 x 24 feet of green, rough boards, with board roof, was erected to be used as a church and schoolhouse.  In this structure on the East Side, and in an unfinished room over a store on the West Side, regular Sabbath services were held until the next Autumn, when Reed's block was finished and a convenient hall in the second story used. The Rev. R. Hall, superintendent of Missions for Western Wisconsin, in the winter of 1856 and '7, approved of the work done, and secured for Mr. Kidder a commission from the American Home Missionary Society.

A subscription was started in the Spring of 1857 for a building for a house of worship, the site corner of Barstow and Emery was donated by Chapman, Thorp & Co. Lumber was given in generous measure by mill owners and lumbermen on both sides of the river, the whole community was enthusiastic and liberal, and in spite of the financial crisis of that year the church was completed in the fall. It was, by common consent, to be used by both societies alternately, for in July of this year a Presbyterian church had been organized by Rev. Mr. McNair, but the population was steadily increasing; there was room for the labors of both pastors, and, in March, 1858, Mr. Kidder, with the concurrence of his church, proposed to take the west side of the river for their field and leave the east side with the church building to the Presbyterians. To this they agreed and entire harmony has prevailed between the two brotherhoods through the ensuing years. It now became necessary to build another tabernacle, and again was shown the noble spirit which animated the pioneers. Steps were taken at once, the lot on the northwest corner of Broadway and Third avenue was donated by Adin Randall, an active early settler who gave much to aid the growing village during his short life here. The people were zealous and "had a mind to work" (see Nehemiah iv:6), and a sufficient sum of money was raised to put up and enclose a building 40 x 60 feet, but the prostration of business at that time made it impossible to do more until the Spring of 1859, when by the persistent efforts of pastor and people the work was resumed. The Church Building Society furnished three hundred dollars and the church was dedicated free of debt in December, 1859. Rev. J. C. Sherwin, Missionary Superintendent of Missions in Northwest Wisconsin, preached the sermon. Meanwhile church services had been held regularly in the school house on the corner of Broadway and Fifth avenue.

Mr. Kidder resigned the pastorate of this church in 1862, but continued missionary work in the Chippewa Valley for many years, organizing
churches at Mondovi, Augusta, Osseo, Bloomer, Durand and other places. He was pastor of the Mondovi church while still residing at Eau Claire for eight years, and of the Durand church for nine years after its formation. He was beloved and honored in district and state conventions throughout Wisconsin, and in many parishes where, in later years, he was called "Father Kidder" with reverent affection. He died at his home in Eau Claire in March, 1905, at the age of ninety-one years, with a clear mind and holding a sure faith in the constant upward movement of humanity and an eternity of service beyond the veil.

Mr. Kidder was succeeded in the Eau Claire Congregational church by Rev. B. A. Spaulding, who was compelled by impaired health to resign after one year. His successor. Rev. George Spaulding, served the church acceptably for five years, and was followed in 1869 by Rev. J. F. Dudley. Under him this became the leading Congregational church in this part of the state. From 1872 to 1884 he was stated clerk of the Northwestern district convention of Congregational churches and an acknowledged leader of that body, and for ten years was president of the State Home Missionary Society. Three times during his pastorate here the state convention met in this church, and in this period a fine new house of worship was built on the site of the old one. It is of Dunville stone, the auditorium has a seating capacity of six hundred, the lecture and Sunday School rooms are of modern style and well furnished, and the cost of the building was $40,000.00. It was dedicated in January, 1887.

In August, 1895, Mr. Dudley resigned the pastorate, having accepted a call to the First Congregational church of Fargo, North Dakota. His ministry of twenty-six years had been in the highest degree instructive and uplifting to both church and city, and the love and esteem of those who knew him grew stronger with every year. After his departure the pulpit was supplied for six months by Rev. F. B. Doe, then for two years by Rev. T. C. Hunt. Rev. J. W. Frizzell was pastor from January, 1898, to August, 1905. He was a strong personality, an able, warmhearted, earnest worker, an interesting speaker and a vigorous, logical thinker. The membership increased during his pastorate, and his active concern in civic and industrial conditions, and all that tended toward the betterment of mankind made him a valued citizen and leader. Rev. J. R. Pike succeeded Dr. Frizzell in 1905, and for four years was a sincere, cultured, spiritual leader, excelling in organization and introducing new and useful methods into Sunday School and other departments.

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