Knox-Galesburg Pilgrim Preservation Foundation

news article Church, College, and City Share History

Church, College, City Share History

NY settlers founded Galesburg, Knox and Central Congregational

OSGOOD/Galesburg Public Library
Image of the Central Congregational Church located at South Broad Street and the Public Square in Galesburg, Illinois. The front of the building is facing east and shows a front porch accessible by three arches. There is a large bell tower on the right of the church and two rose windows on the front of the church. There are three sky lights on the left portion of the roof above three arched windows. A small decorative balcony is directly below the same arched windows on the left of the building. The building is constructed with sandstone blocks and has carved stone details. Construction on the church was completed in December of 1898. It cost $75,000 to build. To the left of the church is the Free Kindergarten which faces Simmons Street. The street is unpaved. There are electrical wires and poles visible and a street light hanging at the intersection of Broad and Simmons Streets.
The Register-Mail
Posted Aug 11, 2009 @ 11:28 AM


Central Congregational Church can trace its roots back to the founding of Galesburg. Church moderator Steve Murmann hopes that legacy will persuade residents, former residents and people with ties to Knox College to come to the rescue of the building, which is in need of millions of dollars in repairs.

Murmann pointed out that the church, the college and the city were founded by the same settlers from upstate New York.

“Our history is really tied to Galesburg and Knox,” he said. “Any time there has been a big gathering or get-together, it was held at Central.”

In fact, Murmann said Knox used to hold graduation ceremonies and many other programs at the church until the Ford Center for Fine Arts was built. He said there are plaques in the church of its founding members, names such as Silas Willard and many others that people would recognize.

According to a piece written in 1962, “The Old First Church stood on the site of Central Church.”

The (Old First Church) building was “sufficiently completed” by June 1846 to hold its first service, which was the commencement exercises for Knox College. The building was completed in June 1848. The last service of Old First Church was held on June 16, 1895, “when a large part of plaster fell from the ceiling.”

In addition to work needed on the roof and the boiler, Murmann said “the plaster in the sanctuary is just hanging there.”

He said if not repaired, it eventually will “probably crack and fall.”

Old First Church was sold for $150 to S.R. Swanson, who tore it down in 1895, according to the 1962 account. The membership of the church at the time of its organization on Feb. 25, 1837, was 81. By 1887, it was 495.

Meanwhile, in November 1855, First Congregational Church was formed by more than 60 members from Old First Church. Its building eventually was known as Beecher Chapel, located just south of the Galesburg Public Library.

On Jan. 6, 1895, members of First Congregational Church and Old First Church united to form Central Congregational Church. The cornerstone of the building was laid June 10, 1897. The meeting house of First Congregational Church was sold to Knox College for $10,000, $4,500 of which was a gift on the part of the church.

In 1898, “the new (present) meeting house was occupied in December. It cost $75,000,” according to the 1962 history.

Now, as the old church waits to learn its fate, Murmann admits it is hard to let go.

“We waited too long, we should have started this process five years ago,” he said.

Building blocks

• Romanesque Revival architecture; foundation is of vitrified brick. There are said to be 1.2 million bricks used in the construction, in addition to “raindrop” sandstone from Marquette, Mich.

• The tower is 150 feet tall and 25 feet square.

• The north windows are 12 feet wide, the middle one 31 feet tall and the side windows 28 feet tall. The rose window is 22 feet in diameter.

• The bell in the tower was recast from bells of Old First Church and First Congregational Church and weighs more than 3,400 pounds.

• The church is on the National Register of Historic Places

Historical Sketches: Central Congregational Church, and files of The Register-Mail