Al P. Nelson wrote the first section of our Centennial Celebration Booklet in 1966. The history continued with information added by Lottie Lurvey in 1978. Doris Phillips provided the next section up to 1999; and we take up the story from there for the 150th Annivesary.
OUR EARLIEST YEARS
The nation was still in shock in 1866. President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated the year before. His successor, Andrew Johnson, fought with a recalcitrant Congress over the problems the nation’s chief executive, especially from those who wished to trample on a prostrate South.
In Waukesha on October 9 that same year, the Presbytery of Milwaukee met to consider a request signed by a number of persons residing in the town of Delafield, Wisconsin, and then asked the Presbytery to take steps to organize a church in the village of Delafield. Accordingly, the Presbytery appointed a committee consisting of Rev. P.M. Buchanan, Rev. P.D. Young and Elder James Forbes to visit the place, “and, if the way should be clear, to carry out the wishes of the petitioners.” This was a scant thirty years following the arrival of the first settler in Delafield and eighteen years after Wisconsin was admitted into the Union.
The Wisconsin Blue Book (1964) says, “As tales of the fertile soil of the west spread to New England and other eastern states, a rapidly rising influx of Yankee farmers and recently arrived Europeans began.” They mixed with the French Canadians, the English and the Welsh who arrived earlier. These were the people who settled Delafield and Wisconsin. Many Delafield families today can trace their family origins to New England.
In the Delafield of 1866, there were many log cabins with rough-sawed lumber floors – or no floors at all – winding Indian trails for roads, kerosene lamps, hams hanging from rafters to cure, and hand pumps that created all day as sturdy pioneer women pumped water from shallow dug wells for drinking and washing.
Rev. P.D. Young led the first Delafield church meeting in the log schoolhouse on a chilly November 9th, 1866. His sermon was well received say the records. Daniel Robertson was ordained a ruling elder, and the original thirteen members joined the fledgling church. A collection of $1.10 for the Board of Publications was taken and also one of $4.10 for foreign missions.
About the time of our early church meetings, the United States purchased Alaska from Russia for $7,200,000. The Union Pacific and Central Pacific joined tracks in Ogden, Utah, to drive a golden spike which created an across-the-continent rail line that was to speed immigration and commerce. It was a period to stir one’s imagination. The late Archibald Smalley, who wrote a carefully researched Delafield Presbyterian Church history in 1951 for an area newspaper, stated that as the Delafield congregation grew larger, the members expressed a desire to build a church. Information concerning the building of the church is contained in this paragraph, written in 1869:
Efforts toward the erection of a house of worship were made in March, 1868. A congregational meeting was called and the matter received favorable consideration. A committee to solicit subscriptions was appointed, and the meeting adjourned to meet again. At the next meeting the committee reported favorably and a building committee was appointed. In due time aid was asked and obtained from our Board of Church Extension to the amount of $400. The church building was erected during the summer and finished and furnished by mid-winter. It was solemnly dedicated to worship of the Triune God on Thursday, January 28, 1869.
This photo is circa 1905.
Presumably, this 1869 church is the venerable, high-spired church which served the congregation well until 1964. For decades, the golden leaved maples touched her eves in autumn and scatted their loveliness ankle deep in the churchyard. Thousands of heads have bent in prayer within the famous white church; tears have been shed at funerals and countless weddings; children’s voices have joined in the singing of many Sunday School hymns; and somber elders, trustees, and ministers have done their human best to solve the financial and spiritual problems of the members, many of whom sprang from frontiersmen whose descendants now dare to explore the moon.
Much of the history of the white church is interwoven with that of the Ottawa and Stone Bank churches. The Stone Bank church was founded in 1852 and the Ottawa church in 1860. Traveling supply pastors — coming by stagecoach, train, farm wagon, or tasseled buggies — often served the Delafield, Ottawa and Stone Bank churches. Since 1866 the church has been served by at least 24 different men as Pastor, Stated Supply or Student Pastor.
Reading our church records today is a privileged glimpse into a period so far removed from our day that it is almost unreal. Yet there is no question that the church founders were imbued with religious belief and fervor. And perhaps they lived much closer to the doctrinal rules than do many people. For example, one church session in the early days expelled a man from membership because he became a habitual drunkard. Another was castigated because he was caught stealing and convicted by the civil courts. When he failed to appear as requested at a session meeting, he was promptly expelled. There apparently were no half measures or compromises with congregational expectations in those days.
Among the many capable and devoted ministers who served the church in the early days was the Reverend John Martin. He was not yet ordained in July 1871 when he arrived in Delafield, but he was a competent minister and well-liked for he remained ten years, a longer term than any of his predecessors.
Rev. Martin not only served as preacher, but he also wrote the minutes of the church services and the session meetings. Here is one:
Sabbath, December 30, 1876. Eighteen people were examine and received into the church. These members were fruits of a precious revival held in this same week. The church was much revived. The members put away their grudges and feuds and their unforgiving spirit and forgave one another and obeyed the commandments. The spirit came down with power and souls were born into the Kingdom.