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Detailed History

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1852 Acquiring Land 1853 First Building 1853 Bad Weather
1849 Brother Williams pre-1847 Ladies Aid Society People
1852-1856 First Resident Preacher 1874-1876 Bricking 1895-1897 Pastor Buswell
1897 Addition 1920-1929 1920's Events 1931-1935 Depression
1939 Murals Sources 1959-1992 Incorporation, Associations
1984 Support 1972-1991 Articles of Faith

In the year 1847, a small band of God-loving men and women, desiring a common place of worship, established the First Congregational Church of Hartford.

It was on the evening of October 20, 1847, that 12 people met and agreed to take into consideration the formation of a Congregational church, and a committee was appointed to present articles of faith and a covenant at the next meeting. Just seven days later, on October 27, this tiny group met again and accepted the articles that had been prepared for them by their committee. On October 31, 1847, again meeting in one of the homes, a motion was made by George Williams, that "We consider ourselves organized as a church under the articles by us this day adopted, and that this association be known by the name and title of the First Congregational Church of Hartford." Thus the church had her birth on October 31, 1847, almost a year before Wisconsin was admitted to the Union as a state.

Those first early members were Russell Kneeland, Cyrus Bissel, Wm. Coates, Louis Storve, George Connant, George Williams, Mrs. Kneeland, Mrs. Bissel, Mrs. Storve, Mrs. Wheelock, Mrs. Wilcox, and Miss Orlhonette Rice.

For a number of years, the group met for worship and prayer in homes, then in the school house, which according to all records, stood on the site which is now the Baptist Church parking lot. Rev. Norman Miller of Lisbon, Waukesha County, frequently journeyed to Hartford to furnish the spiritual guidance for the tiny congregation, acting in the capacity of a missionary preacher. No doubt this journey at times was hazardous, because at this time Hartford was merely a trading post--a village of log houses, a few early settlers and Indians. The railroad was still one of the "wonders" and most of the transportation was made on foot, on horseback, or with a team of oxen.

In November of 1852, the members decided it was time to erect a suitable place of worship, and a site occupied by the present church, was acquired through the donation of one-half acre of ground by T. A. and C. W. Rossman. The Rossman brothers, who made this acceptable offer to the group, were among the oldest residents of the community and are often referred to as "the founders of the village." At the time, the property between S. Main and Branch streets was the location desired, however, the present site was the one secured. When this step was taken, the little church was already five years old.

It was estimated that the cost of the first edifice was about $1,300, of which $1004 was pledged. This included donations from persons in the eastern states, for the purpose of erecting houses of worship in the "Wild West." It seems as though a contract had been let in June of 1853, with Thomas Ewing and John Wilcox to build the church, with the work abandoned before completion. With the two men refusing to complete the church, the trustees refused to pay the second and last payment, and other workmen were hired to complete the work.

The congregation met for the first time in its new house of worship on December 11, 1853. The weather affected the devout in those days even as in these, which is noted in the records: Few in attendance-- The weather being unpleasant none of the members out of the village were present." Another time we read, "In consequence of the extremely cold weather, it was thought best to defer the Communion service to the first Sabbath in February." Attendance at the various services seemed to vary, also.

Most the entries are brief: matters of business, the examination or reception of new members, the granting of letters of dismissal to people who were leaving the little village to go to churches in other places. Topics of sermons preached during these days were "Christians: Salt of the Earth and Light of the World," "Graces of the Spirit," and "What Constitutes the Spirit of the Church."

An interesting story that dates back to May 18, 1849, shows how the church dealt with matters of church discipline regarding Brother Williams who was charged with violating covenant obligations. He was found to be involved "in dancing, drinking intoxicating liquors, and playing cards at the house of Mr. Sillick, in the town of Rubicon, during the winter (it is though, in the month of January last) and in repeating the same offenses frequently since." The charge was made y one of the good brethren who took a leading part in the congregation. After the charges were presented, the group assumed their brotherhood seriously and appointed a committee to labor in love and kindness with Brother Williams and reclaim him if possible. About two months later, this committee reported the outcome of its task as follows, according to the entry in the record:

"The committee appointed to labour with Brother Williams would report that they have met with him and he confessed that the charges brought against him are true. The practice of drinking he confessed to be sinful. Those of playing cards and dancing he thinks are not in themselves sinful. But only so far as tending to other wrongs. He, however, acknowledged in further conversation that these practices do not tend to growth in grace, that therefore they are contrary to the spirit of the Gospel. He gave us no direct encouragement that the will come back and take up his cross and follow Christ."

The group apparently was not inclined to dally with the recalcitrant Brother Williams and declared him "suspended from the privileges of the church for four months unless by confession he sooner manifest his repentance."

Those cynically inclined, might think that the above experience would have been the end of Brother William's connection with his church. Such, however, was not the case. Four years later the records recount what they style "a very interesting meeting," in which Brother Williams came forward and "made humble confession and acknowledged his backslidings and wanderings and resolved to return to duty and take up the cross and follow Christ. "On motion," the record continues, "it was resolved that he be received again to enjoy the privileges of the church."

Again the cynics might expect further wanderings from the backsliding and forward-coming Mr. Williams. Such, however, again we are pleased to state, was not destined to occur. A year and a half later, our annals have it, he was elected clerk of the church, a position he had been the first to hole when the little congregation was formed nearly seven years earlier. He discharged the duties of this post for another year and a half until he left town. Then we read, that having removed his residence, he resigned his office as clerk.

Also of note, is that a form of Ladies Aid Society was actually in existence before the church was. The ladies met in each others' homes and helped with the work the hostess might be doing when they arrived.

Much of the space in the annals of this early church is devoted to people. People came people went in this little a community and as a result, people were added to or subtracted from the church. Most of the folk who sought membership in the congregation were from churches in the older states further east: Ohio, Vermont, New York, or Connecticut. Occasionally one brought a letter across the briny deep to have it accepted in the little Hartford parish. Such letters were found from Newtownlands, Ireland, and Newgate Scotland. Although, people who entered the congregation from other churches came mostly from Congregational churches, a goodly number were received from Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist churches. Occasionally some came from scattering denominations, such as the United Brethren.

The Rev. Israel C. Holmes was the first resident preacher from 1852-1856. He received a salary of $300 per year, of which $200 was received from the American Home Missionary Society.

In 1874, there was some talk of repairing the church. And in 1876, the project of bricking the church was completed at a cost of $2,418.92.

From 1856 to 1882, six different pastors and supply preachers served the little congregation. In 1882, there was a two year experiment in Federation in which Methodist pastors were asked to serve the congregation.

During the years 1895-1897, Rev. J. O. Buswell accepted a call to pastor the congregation. He worked closely with the Public School Superintendent, Mr. Prior. It was said that he had wonderful results among the young people. It was during these years that we had the honor of having the banner, Christian Endeavor Class of the state. Talk of rebuilding and remodeling the church was begun.

In 1897, the church was remodeled and an addition added with the re-dedication service held November 6, 1898. The parsonage was secured in 1904.

In 1910, the second Federation with the Methodist Church took place and was in place until 1921 when it was dissolved.

In 1921, the Ladies Aid was re-organized and during that year $800 was raised to repair the organ. During those years, we had a very active young ladies' class under the direction of Minnie Wittig and an equally active men's class under Rev. Brown. The church celebrated her diamond jubilee in October of 1922. In October of 1925, the Dorcas Society had its birth.

In 1926, the church auditorium and Sunday School was redecorated. This is the first of such records found. We presume such work had been done when the church was bricked and again when it was remodeled and the addition added. That same year the pulpit was enlarged. Mittie Wittig's class of girls presented the church with new pulpit chairs in 1928, with the Dorcas Society presenting the choir chairs. In 1929, new floors were laid in the Sunday School and in the church auditorium along with the rearranging of the pews, which were also refinished at that time.

During the depression years, the church suffered financial setbacks and worries. In July of 1931, according to the records, the church had $1.17 on hand, and many times Rev. Sterling came to the rescue by canceling part of his salary. In August of 1931, May Morgan McKelvey, who was one of our own missionaries in India, was home on leave and preached. In September, a new furnace was installed in the parsonage and in October, the Eastern District Chairman Endeavor Golden Jubilee convention was held here. The end of the year 1931, found exactly $.64 in the church treasury.

In September of 1932, the parsonage was mortgaged for $1,000 to pay for a new church furnace which cost $900. In April of 1933, the Milwaukee District conference of the Congregational churches was held here.

The Junior Choir made its first appearance in 1935, under the direction of Mrs. Hazel Whitney. During this time, a men's club was also formed though it was short-lived. A hobby show sponsored by the club was the first of its kind in the city.

The church auditorium was again re-decorated in 1939. Mrs. Ferris, the wife of Pastor Harlo Ferris, a well-known artist, presented the church with the paintings that are placed above each window that we still enjoy today.

In 1941, Fred Durkee died leaving the church a gift of $1,500. This canceled all debts owed by the congregation and left a building fund of nearly $1,000.

The information up to this point was gathered by Paula Von Heimburg from the writings of Eva Zancanella and LaVerne Wienefeld they wrote for the church's 100th anniversary.

There isn't much recorded in the minutes regarding the activities of the church for a number of years. IN reading over the past minutes, however, Pastor Doug has made note of some important dates and events to remember in our church's history.

The church was incorporated on July 13, 1959. From 1961-1971, the church was a member of the United Church of Christ. In 1972, we became a member of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches. We continued our membership with the association until 1991. In 1992, we joined the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference and remain a member of the conference to this date.

The church was a "mission-supported" church until 1984, when we became self-supporting. We now support 12 missionaries on a regular basis in nine different countries.

Our church was without "Articles of Faith" in 1972. This was the first time in her 125-year history that the church didn't have such articles. We were without Articles of Faith until 1991, when new Articles of Faith were adopted and included in the Church's Constitution and By-Laws. The new Articles of Faith were comprised of some of the original articles from 1847.

We praise God for His founding, sustaining, and blessing of this, His church, since 1847. May He continue to bless and use First Congregational Church of Hartford to His service and glory in the future.

November, 1997