The History of Our Church

 

There were several churches in the Williamsburg area that integrated over time to form First Presbyterian Church.

 

In 1856, the Congregational Church and Society of Genoa Bluffs was organized. At about the same time, a group of Welsh immigrants organized a Congregational Church at the home of William Evans. This church was incorporated in 1870 as the Congregational Church of Chester. (Chester being the early name for the settlement of Williamsburg).

 

In 1857, another group formed a Congregational Church in which only the English language was spoken. When a two room schoolhouse was built where the present post office is situated, the group held services there.

 

In 1859, Richard Williams, namesake of Williamsburg, donated the lot where our church is presently located and the Welsh Congregational Church was built. The American Congregational Church (as the English speaking church was called) built a church of their own on Elm Street.

 

At this same time, two other churches were organized. The Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Church (or Welsh Prairie Church) was located in York township in 1868. The Welsh Calvinistic Church was established in 1870. It was on the northwest corner of the town square, where Pizza Haus is currently located. These two churches often shared the same pastor. When these churches closed around 1920, the members joined either the Presbyterian or the Congregational Churches.

 

In 1882, the American Congregational Church became the Presbyterian Church. In 1890, the Congregationalists and the Presbyterians both built new church buildings. The earlier Welsh church was moved and became a residence. The Presbyterian building was moved to the north side of the square and became the city hall.

 

The Welsh Congregational Church started having evening services in Welsh in 1897 and discontinued the Welsh language entirely by 1911.

 

In 1916-1917, the Congregational Church built the principle part of building we now call the Presbyterian Church. Anna Evans, wife of the first pastor, helped to lay the cornerstone. In 1920, the church was completed and dedicated.

 

The Genoa Bluffs church closed in 1940 and most of the membership joined the Congregational Church in Williamsburg. In 1956 the Congregational Church observed the centennial of their organization.

 

In 1957, the Presbyterian Church was destroyed by fire. The Presbyterian and Congregational churches were united a few months later as the First United Presbyterian Church in the Congregational building. Both names are on the building with the Congregational Church on the south wall near the front door and Presbyterian Church above the front door.

 

In 1962, the Shimer Presbyterian Church, located in Conroy, closed and many of those members transferred to the Williamsburg church.

 

The History of the  Congregational Church of Williamsburg from 1856-1926.


The Church is Founded

The Congregational Church of Williamsburg, Iowa was organized on the 26th of October, 1856 at the home of William Evans near Williamsburg, one of the first homes in this part of Iowa.  The names of the original members Evan D. Evans and wife, William Evans and wife, Richard Williams and wife, Lewis Williams and wife, William Rowland and wife, Mrs. John Watkins, Hugh Evans and David Williams; thirteen in all.

The church was organized by the Rev. Jonathan Thomas. There was no building and no regular pastor and in the absence of these, the little congregation continued to hold prayer meetings and Sunday School in various homes in the community for the first year.  When the school house was built the following year, they decided to meet at the school.  An occasional visit from a clergyman was hailed as a great and special favor.

 

As more settlers arrived, the little congregation began to grow.  In the spring of 1857, John Hughes Sr. Together with his family arrived from Columbus, Ohio and settled on a farm near Williamsburg.  This family too an active interest in the affairs of the church and an interest that is still remembered to this day.

 

The First Pastor

 

In the year 1858 the Rev. Evan J. Evans arrived from Racine, Wisconsin.  He was accompanied by his family and their home was established in Williamsburg.  In the early days, he taught school and worked as a carpenter.  He was the first permanent pastor of the Welsh Congregational Church of Williamsburg and served in this capacity for 13 years.  After his term of service ended, he took and active part in the church during the remaining years of his life.

 

The First Church Building

 

In the early part of 1859, the pastor and the congregation decided to build a church building, though the task was not a small one.  The country was still new and settlers were few.  The lumber for the new building could be attained only at Muscatine (67 miles away) or Iowa City (28 miles away) with Iowa City being the nearest railroad station.  This difficulty did not prevent the work and the church was built at a cost of about $1,000 ($24,000 adjusted for today’s dollars). This was a large sum in the days of the pioneers, but Mr. Evan D. Evans mortgaged his farm as security for the money used in the construction of the building.  The building was a frame structure and was located on a lot donated by Richard Williams in whose honor the town was named.  The contractor was Owen M. Edwards of Welsh Prairie.  The construction of the church building was an important event in the history of the community.  It was finished around the 1st of November, 1859 and was dedicated by the Rev. Evan J. Evans.  This event was regarded as the beginning of a new era for the community.  The dedication service was attended by a large number of Welsh people from all the Welsh settlements in this part of the state.  The dedication sermon was preached by the Rev. Samuel Roberts, one of the most eloquent of his day.

 

The First Annual Meeting (Gymanfa)

 

The building not yet complete at the time of the first annual meeting or Gymanfa (http://home.comcast.net/~rbaskwil/gymanfa.html) which was held on October 1, 1859 at the schoolhouse.  This meeting was a great event for miles around and many men and women came to attend the meeting. The residents of Williamsburg and the surrounding community extended the hospitality of their homes to all comers.  Some ministers came as far as 70 miles, some riding the distance on horseback.

 

Church Growth and the Second Church Building

 

The building was used weekly until 1871 when there was an influx of newcomers to the area.  The congregation outgrew the building and they decided to build an addition to the original structure.  The improvements cost $800 ($14,200 in today’s dollars).  The congregation worshipped at this building until 1890 when they again outgrew the structure.  The Rev. R.E. Roberts was the pastor at this time and he and the congregation unanimously decided to construct a new building.

 

The old church building was sold and moved to a new location.  A new brick structure was built on the site of the old church.  The cost was $3,700 (approximately $65,000 in today’s dollars) and was finished in time for the annual meeting or gymanfa which had been held by the church every year between the first and the middle of October since the first meeting in 1859.  The new church building was dedicated at this meeting.  The sermon was given by a prominent minister, the Rev. R. Jones of Utica, New York.  Many other prominent ministers also attended the gymanfa including those from Long Creek, Old Man’s Creek, Iowa City, Oskaloosa and Coal Valley, Illinois.

 

Welsh and English Services

 

Services were held in the Welsh language until the year 1897.  The Rev. I. Jones was the first pastor who could preach in the English language and agreed to do so every Sunday evening.  A few years later, the church decided to hold the English language services on the first Sunday of each month which was Communion Sunday.  For the benefit of both English and Welsh speakers, this arrangement continued until 1911 when under the pastorate of Rev. John Roberts it was decided to hold English only services at every church service.  This was a sad time for the older members who had listened to the preaching of the gospel in their native language all their lives but they were willing to make the sacrifice so as not to hinder the growth of Christ’s kingdom here on earth in the life of the church in Williamsburg.

 

Third and Present Church Building

 

The 60th anniversary of the founding of the church was celebrated in 1916.  The congregation felt the need for a better and more modern church building particularly for the Sunday School and young people of the church.  After much discussion of the matter, it was decided to wreck the old brick building and rebuild on the same lot.  Work began at once and on October 8, 1916, the ceremony to lay the cornerstone was held.  Mrs. Evans, wife of the first pastor of the church, was given the honor of laying the cornerstone.  The new building was finished in the middle of March, 1917 at a cost of $20,000 ($330,000 in today’s dollars).

 

Arrangements were made by the pastor, Rev. Robert Tipton, to have the new church dedicated on Easter Sunday, April 8, 1917.  The dedication  sermon was preached by the Rev. John Roberts, former pastor of the church who was now serving in Columbus, Ohio.