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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


From Encyclopedia Dubuque
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circa 2019
The spire on the church made First Congregational in 1907 one of the most distinguished buildings in the city.Photo courtesy: National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium-Captain William D. Bowell, Sr. River Library-James Wall-Wild, Registrar

FIRST CONGREGATIONAL UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST. Dubuque's oldest Protestant church in continuous service.

       1. OLD STONE CHURCH 1839-1844
       2. Courthouse or Baptist Church 1844-1846
       3. Main Street Church 1846-1858
       4. 10th and Locust  1858-

From 1801 until 1848, the new churches started in America's west by Congregationalists and Presbyterians were founded together under what was called the Plan of Union. (1) Around 1833, a congregation of Presbyterians was formed. (2) This group of nineteen people, five men and fourteen women, placed the cornerstone for the OLD STONE CHURCH, their first permanent place of worship built with the help of John KING, east of WASHINGTON PARK. To illuminate the service, members brought their own candles.

On May 12, 1839, Reverend James A. Clark, hired by the Congregational Home Mission Society, organized from this Presbyterian congregation a new congregation of seven Dubuque settlers in a store building on Locust Street near 6th as the First Congregational Church of Dubuque. The Reverend Z. K. Hawley was the first resident minister of the church taking over the ministerial duties in December. (3)The congregation's growth was slow with as few as six coming to weekly church services. Of the nineteen members of the church in 1843, seven were on the board of directors.

With the leadership of Rev. John Holbrook, however, the group adopted the Congregational form of governance on December 12, 1844. (4) Holbrook was described as:

               ...a man who could preach on Sunday; drive a dray
               team on Monday; make a garden or do any odd job
               on Tuesday and Wednesday; write tracts or hold his
               own with a mob on the abolition question the next
               day; prepare his sermons on Saturday; and attend
               all the weddings, funerals, conventions, sociables,
               and tear parties between times; and in extra busy
               sessions have a rousing revival besides. (5)

Rev. Holbrook took a pastorate in Chicago in 1853 and Hesse Guersney was installed in July of that year. When he was appointed home missionary superintendent of Iowa, Rev. Holbrook was recalled. (6)

Old Stone Church (a sketch by Alexander Simplot

Lack of funds led the congregation to suffer foreclosure on the Old Stone Church in 1844. The congregation worshiped in the Court House or a Baptist church. In 1846 the Main Street Church was completed at a cost of $3,500. (7) Increasing attendance led to the need for enlarging the building. This was done at a cost of $2,700. (8)

Raising money required many activities. Reverend Holbrook, minister to the congregation, toured New England and collected over six hundred dollars. Church members turned to the American Mission Society for financial help and resorted locally to conventional and unconventional methods of raising money. The church sold or rented pews to the members. Annual rentals varied from twenty-five cents to over five dollars and owners made prompt payments or risked swift repossession. Pews could be purchased for $37.50. Rentals, assessments, and sales provided sufficient money to pay ordinary expenses allowing offerings to go to church causes. It was not until 1849 that the church became self-supporting.

Collections during the service were made as the ushers passed velvet bags on long poles down the pews.

The church soon purchased two lots, the site of the present church, for $1,250. Rev. Holbrook bought the easterly thirty feet of the two lots for the parsonage. Before work on the church was begun, some members expressed their feeling that the church was located too far north in the city. The trustees kept the two lots they had purchased, but also bought Lot 619 for $850. The church members finally decided to move. The single lot, across the street from Washington Park and next to the bluff, was sold and eventually became the location of the mansion built for Jesse P. FARLEY.

The cornerstone of the present church was laid in July of 1856. The financial PANIC OF 1857 left work on the church incomplete. Faced again with the threat of foreclosure, members chose not to sell the building but raise the $20,000 mortgage. Success was assured when a member, G. D. Wood, donated $10,000 in gold. The first worship service at the new location was held in the Social Room on July 11, 1858. (9) A five thousand dollar loan was required to complete the sanctuary by April 1, 1860, when the church was dedicated with nine hundred people in attendance. The building eventually cost $41,000. (10) The rose window in the southern wall of the church is thirteen feet in diameter making it the largest window of its kind in the city.

Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

Changes in the church continued. In 1869 the congregation purchased, at a cost of four thousand dollars, a Johnson's Opus 277 organ from the Westfield, Massachusetts, company of W. A. Johnson. Because there was no bridge available, the organ (said to be the best in the West) had to be transported across the ice on the frozen MISSISSIPPI RIVER using bobsleds. (11) The prominent tower of the church was completed in 1875. Celebrating the surrender of Lee at Appomattox and the end of the CIVIL WAR, the former church bell cracked as it was rung by Union Colonel Delos E. LYON on the night on April 9, 1865. (12) Funds for the purchase of a bell came from "bell dinners" organized by the church women. It took until 1886 to be able to afford the new 4,000 pound bell which has since hung in the tower. (13)

This undated picture by Samuel Root shows the stairs at the front of the church, home of Martha Baker, unfinished steeple, and the stepping stones which were installed on many corners to allow people to escape muddy streets.

The steeple construction project took a great deal of time as suggested by the Dubuque Herald in May, 1874. The paper suggested that everyone should attend the concert given on May 5th at which funds for the steeple's completion would be collected. The "Oldde Folkes" concert netted the church $350 with tickets provided the poor by Delos E. LYON, William Harrison DAY, Sr., and Marshall M. WALKER. (14) Construction on the towers of the church was changed in 1874. Originally planned to reach 290 feet from the ground, the towers were expected to cost $9000. Reconsideration led to plans for towers to stand at a "moderate height" and cost no more than $400. (15)

Various methods were used to raise money for benevolent activities of the church. In October 1876 the Dubuque Herald carried notice that the Congregational church society would be hosting an oyster dinner accompanied by vocal and instrumental music. A volunteer offering was offered for the occasion. (16) In August 1877 the church added 132 cushions to their pews at a cost of $500.00 (17)

In 1889 the congregation celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. The membership stood at 449 and the church helped establish SUMMIT CONGREGATIONAL UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST next to FINLEY HOSPITAL (THE) the following year. (18) Memorial windows were installed during remodeling in 1895. A window remembering Calista Wales was presented to the church by her husband and a Tiffany "Victory" window was given to the church in the memory of Eveline Stout by Henry L. STOUT. (19) In addition, the spires were removed from the church towers, a street level front entrance was created, and the balcony was altered. (20) In 1926 the baptismal font was given to the church by Susan Glover Dugue, a member of the Glover family which owned the H. B. GLOVER COMPANY. (21) Between 1948 and 1973 six new stained glass windows were added to the sanctuary. They were given in memory of John M. MCDONALD (1948), Abby Lyon McDonald and Andrew Young MCDONALD (1949, William and Cornelia Andrews (1962), William S. SHEPPLEY (1973), and Delos and Eunice Lyon (1973). (22)

Around 1890 it was common in August for churches to close for the month while the ministers traveled or vacationed. (23)

Excursions for the church members were common. In July, 1897 an excursion and picnic were given to the Sunday School of the church. The group aboard the steamer "Teal" traveled to AINSWORTH SPRINGS from EAGLE POINT. "Well filled lunch baskets were opened at noon and a great feast was enjoyed by all." They returned at 5:00 p.m. (24)

Reverend F. G. Smith, pastor of the church, used a grand dinner on November 4, 1901 to present a program on men's clubs in other churches. Following the program, cards were passed around for those to sign who wished to form such a club. Over seventy names were collected and officers were soon elected. The club planned to meet once a month and every three months to give a banquet at which the ladies could attend. (25)

100th anniversary photo taken on the front steps which were later removed to make the church more accessible.
Perfect attendance medal once awarded to children in the church.

In 1907 Rev. Cady of First Congregational Church spoke to the DUBUQUE TRADES AND LABOR CONGRESS concerning a letter than had been published in the LABOR LEADER (THE). Rev. Cady claimed that he had been entirely misunderstood when by saying labor men should avoid saloons that he had been calling them drunkards. He further condemned the claim that he had led a man to be fired. He charged he had never tried to do such a thing and that no employer would have agreed to such an act. Rev. Cady stated that he would not use union shops for printing. He claimed unions had made the charge that churches were "The Club of Capitalists." Cady asserted that churches had to be in a position of showing no favoritism. By showing a union label on its printing, a church was picking sides and not treating everyone equally. (26) The same year the YOUNG PEOPLE'S SOCIETY OF CHRISTIAN ENDEAVOR OF FIRST CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH held a dinner celebrating the first anniversary of the founding of the society in this city. (27)

In 1921 Dr. George L. Cady joined Archbishop KEANE, John J. in condemning the liquor trade. (28) Both Cady and Keane took active roles in forcing the bars of Dubuque and Dubuque County to close on Sunday, June 16, 1907 for the first time in fifty years. (29)

Eveline Deming Stout is remembered through one of the stained glass windows.

On June 27, 1931 the Congregational Church and the Christian Church united in Seattle, Washington. The local congregation became known as First Congregational Christian Church, although most people continued to call it First Congregational. On June 25, 1957 the merger of the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Church was celebrated in Cleveland, Ohio. Each Congregational church, however, had to vote to join the new church. The issue was divisive with ten percent of the Congregational churches in the United States choosing not to join. On December 2, 1960, the members of First Congregational, however, voted 103 to 44 to become members of the United Church of Christ. (30)

Pews were rented and carried the names of many prominent Dubuque residents.

In 1972 First Congregational United Church of Christ began construction of an educational building on the site of the former home of Martha BAKER. At a cost of $375,000, the new building provided over 11,000 square feet of space for Christian education, church meetings and administration. The building was dedicated on May 11, 1973. (31) The church ordained its first woman pastor, Elizabeth Pigg, on December 14, 1986. (32) and the church was the first in Dubuque and of United Church of Christ churches in Iowa to offer the STEPHEN MINISTRY to members.

Refurbished and back-lit in 2016, the wooden cross on the church's north exterior wall was a memorial to George E. TRAUT who died in November, 1977. Photo courtesy: Owen Leeser

The congregation endured displacement for three months in 1989 as the sanctuary was renovated at a cost of $250,000. A celebration of 150 years of Christian service was held in the newly renovated sanctuary on May 7, 1989. (33) At the time, the search for a new senior minister led to the hiring of Rev. Kenneth BICKEL as Senior Minister and Nancy Bickel to be the Director of Church Life. Ken completed his Doctor of Ministry degree at Lancaster Theological Seminary in 1993. Nancy moved from Director of Church Life to Minister of Church Life in 1995 after completing the Master of Divinity Degree at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. She was ordained in the sanctuary of First Congregational on May 14, 1995. (34)

The 1990s witnessed an expansion of the music program. In addition to the Chancel Choir, the Cherub Choir, Celebration Sensation, and Youth Choir were developed. Bell performances of the adult bell choir under the direction of Ruth Lyon were presented along with music from the Sonrise Ringers and the Rhythm Ringers. Bill Collings, the church organist for over twenty-five years, presented a recital on May 5, 1990. The same year, Martin MCNAMER presented a new stained glass window in memory of Kris Ann Mozena McNamer. On October 20, 1991 the Chancel Choir presented a requiem entitled "Forgive Mankind's Atrocities" in memory of those killed in the Holocaust. Magda HERZBERGER told of her experience as a prisoner at Auschwitz and Senator Paul Simon of Illinois inserted Pastor Ken Bickel's sermon into the Congressional Record. (35)

In December 2002 First Congregational was selected as one of one-hundred "churches of distinction" for the vitality of the church. The church was recognized for its strong commitment to local mission, to wider mission, and the high percentage of members who came to worship each Sunday. (36) In 1986 First Congregational's Sunday morning attendance rated it among the top 4 percent of the United Church of Christ congregations. The congregation began a partnership church with Habitat for Humanity in 1990 and began collecting food for the DUBUQUE FOOD PANTRY on the first Sunday for every month. On November 13, 1994, the congregation began a feeding ministry called CAFé for those needing a meal. Food was served every Thursday evening by the members of the congregation with help from other churches and organizations in the community.

First Congregational earned widespread respect for its commitment to service and furthering the faith. Records indicated the Our Church's Wider Mission (OCWM) contributions of First Congregational placed it in the top ten in mission giving as well as first in per capita contributions and percentage of budget to mission in all UCC Churches in the United States. In 2004 the church started its support of a new mission project called Foods Resource Bank. (37) The harvest that year raised $24,000 to support water projects in Kenya. (38)

In June 2001 Reverend Nancy Bickel received the Belva Duncan Award for excellence in ministry. In 2003 the church celebrated the leadership of Ruth Lyon as the director of the Chancel Choir. She retired in 2012 after twenty-five years of leading the Chancel Choir and the Chancel Bell Choir. Dr. Thomas Dickey added the direction of the choir to his role as church organist. (39)

Workmen perch high above Locust Street repairing parts of the tower in 2014.

The years 2010-2014 were times of major renovation. An upgrade to the parlor was completed. New flooring was installed in the Social Rooms. A new organ console, blower, rank of pipes, wind chests and leathers on 2,500 pipes cost $500,000. The roof was replaced at a cost of $70,000 and repairs to the church tower cost $117,596. (40)

On May 11, 2014 First Congregational United Church of Christ celebrated its 175th anniversary.

With the retirement of Dr. Ken and Nancy Bickel in 2015, a nationwide search began for new church leadership. The pastor chosen was Dr. Lillian DANIEL.

Electric bell ringer. Photo courtesy: Wayne Collins

The year 2018 was one of mammoth construction projects around the church. Making the church more handicapped accessible had begun years before with the installation of a long sidewalk through the courtyard into the north side of the church. This allowed wheelchairs to be moved to the same floor as the sanctuary by avoiding steps. An elevator-chair was installed allowing access from the first floor to the social rooms. The courtyard was a focus of attention with a gazebo and benches being added along with pavers which added to the area's beauty. A $650,000 capital campaign resulted in an elevator being installed on the first floor which allowed access to the sanctuary and up to the third floor of the education wing. (41) Not only did this add substantially to the handicapped accessibility of the church, the elevator allowed the church's many bells used by the bell choirs to be moved from the sanctuary to storage during the week. While the rope attached to the church's bell still worked, an electric ringing system was installed in early October.

Construction continued in 2019 with the completion of the elevator. The columbarium area between the church and its educational building was refurbished with the installation of pavers throughout, a fountain, and decorative pieces. The elevator made possible the transfer of musical rehearsal rooms to the third floor of the education building while the quilters continued to use the social rooms.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zs9DCCbKpS8 Church Youth Bell Choir-2010



1. Bickel, Kenneth Rev. Dr. "Rooted in Faith-Serving in Love," Celebrating 175 Years, First Congregational United Church of Christ, May 11, 2014, p. 1

2. "They Laid the Cornerstone," Dubuque Daily Herald, September 23, 1894, p. 8

3. "Church Seven Years Old as Iowa Formed," Telegraph-Herald, September 15, 1946, p. 4

4. Hanson

5. "Church Seven Years Old..."

6. Ibid.

7. Brown, C. O. (Rev.) editor. Semi-Centennial Celebration of First Congregational Church of Dubuque, Iowa. Nov. 1889, p. 63

8. Bickel, p. 1

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. "Extensive Remodeling Program Begins at First Congregational," Telegraph Herald, September 4, 1955, p. 3

13. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, May 5, 1874, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18740505&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

14. "The Oldde Folkes," Dubuque Herald, May 7, 1874, p. 4. https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18740507&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

15. "The Congregational Towers," Dubuque Herald, May 29, 1874, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18740529&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

16. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, October 26, 1876, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18761026&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

17. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, August 8, 1877, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18770808&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

18. Bickel, p. 2

19. "Extensive Remodeling..."

20. Ibid.

21. Ibid.

22. "Today Last 'Wet" Sabbath," Times Journal, June 9, 1907, p. 1A

23. "Local News in Brief," Dubuque Daily Herald, July 27, 1890, p. 8. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18900727&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

24. "Social Events," The Dubuque Herald, July 4, 1897, p. 2

25. "Form Men's Club," Telegraph-Herald, November 5, 1901, p. 8

26. "Dr. Cady Talks to Laboring Men," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, July 16, 1907, p. 3

27. "First Observation in the City," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, February 4, 1907, p0. 5

28. "Saloons Close 1st Time in Fifty Years," Times Journal, June 16, 1907, p. 1A

29. Bickel, p. 2

30. Ibid.

31. Ibid., p. 3

32. Ibid.

33. Ibid.

34. Ibid., p. 4

35. Ibid., p. 6

36. Ibid.

37. Ibid., p. 7

38. Ibid., p. 8

39. Ibid.

40. Ibid.

41. 2018 Annual Report