and tower were added on the north side of the building at a cost of $2700 in 1884. A parsonage was erected for $2300. By the time its 30th anniversary was celebrated in 1900, First Presbyterian Church had grown to include 236 members.
During the early 20th century, First Presbyterian was at the forefront of Hiawatha’s societal concerns. During the “Williams Meetings” of 1900, a crusade to rid the city of businesses selling “intoxicating liquors,” the congregation grew by ninety people. The church was overflowing - a new building was erected at a cost of $18,000 and dedicated on December 22, 1901.
The “Pratt-Brison Meetings” were held shortly thereafter, and church membership grew to 363. A pipe organ was purchased in 1911, and the congregation continued to grow, reaching nearly 600 congregants in attendance at evening services. In 1915, the “Carson-Cassel Revival” held at the armory resulted in 58 added members. During World War I, Rev. A.E. Wardner gave a series of war sermons that were long remembered, and another evangelistic campaign, the “Rayburn Meetings,” was held, stirring the city once again. In 1919, membership reached its highest point ever with a total of 416 members due to the success of many revivals in the years following the war.
On March 4, 1934 the church building and manse were completely destroyed by a fire. The church was rebuilt as it stands today and dedicated on April 23, 1935. A new manse was built at 206 Hiawatha Avenue in 1952.
The Westminster Junior Choir appeared in robes for the first time in September of 1955 under the direction of Mrs. Leslie Rieger. The chancel choir was directed by Miss Wilma Biddle, and Mrs. John Warren served as the church’s organist for over forty years.
The decades following World War II were a period of transformation and development within the church. The Clipper Club became the Mariners Club. An Evening Missionary Society developed in 1952 due to the efforts of Mrs. DeWitt Lowe, eventually becoming the Association of Presbyterian Women. A chapter of the National Council of Presbyterian Men was formed in 1953. First Presbyterian celebrated its centennial on April 12, 1970 with Rev. Norman Phillips as pastor.
Change is, of course, inevitable, and many changes have taken place over the years. First Presbyterian Church continues to evolve and adjust, moving forward on the journey begun with a group of seven in 1870. Our tasks will pass into other hands, and we hope that those who pick up the work we lay down will find we have served the Lord well.
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The first missionary to ever visit what would become the state of Kansas was a Presbyterian minister named Benton Pixley. Sent by the United Foreign Missionary Society of New York, he introduced the principles of Christianity to the Indians settled in the area. His efforts are recognized today as the very beginnings of the Presbytery in Kansas, an organization rooted in the missionary work of the 19th century.
The first Presbyterian Mission was constructed in 1846 by the famous Iowayan Chief Mahaska. Under the direction of Reverend S.M. Irwin, the three-story brick building quickly became a trading point from which supplies were distributed over a wide area. Plagued by poor health as a young man and fearing he had only a few years of his life remaining, Father Irwin had settled in the area with his wife in 1837. He was determined to leave his mark on the world and felt the spiritual guidance he devoted to the Ioway and Sac Indians accomplished this lifelong goal. He became the first clergyman to preach in Brown County. When the Ioway Indians were moved to lands northwest of White Cloud in 1845, Father Irwin moved to Highland so that he could continue his ministries. Blessed with improved health due to the milder prairie climate, he dedicated more than 50 years to missionary work.
By 1857, clergymen of different denominations held regular services throughout Brown County. Because there were no church buildings or school houses, meetings were most often held in private homes during the winter and in groves of trees during the summer. Rev. William Honneli organized a Presbyterian church in May in Lodiana, a town near present day Willis. Although neither town nor church lasted very long, Rev. Honneli also preached at a hotel on the corner of Sixth and Oregon Streets in downtown Hiawatha, becoming the first Presbyterian minister to do so.
In April of 1870, Rev. F.E. Sheldon, a Presbyterian minister with a congregation in Troy, Kansas, organized the first Presbyterian Church in Hiawatha with six people in attendance. It was enrolled in the Highland Presbytery on July 14, 1870. Rev. Sheldon was assigned as minister, and he came to Hiawatha once every six weeks.
By July of 1872, the church congregation had reached fifteen members. At this time, with Rev. S.T. Davis as pastor, the church elected elders and decided to build a house of worship. Eights months later, the land where the church now stands had been purchased, and the foundation had been completed. On April 3, 1873, with representatives from the Highland Presbytery in attendance, the cornerstone was laid. Construction costs totaled $2938.29, and the finished church was dedicated on September 7, with Father Irwin and 50 church members present. An addition