175th Anniversary


175thLogo                     May 12, 1839 - May 12, 2014


by Randy Lyon

Writer’s NoteAs we prepare for the 175th Anniversary of our church, it is interesting to look back on our history.  From September through May, the newsletter will feature glimpses of our past as we look forward to our celebration.  We’ll call our column, “Looking Through the Rearview Mirror” remembering that as with cars, the rearview mirror is the smallest.  The windshield, much larger, suggests to us that our future should be our primary focus.

Looking Through the Rearview Mirror

Organization, Foreclosure, and Construction

In 1836 the Miner’s Express noted the following:  “Another minister of the gospel is needed among us—one who can reason, preach, sing, and enforce the fourth commandment.”  Around that time, the history of our church begins when the congregation was formed as “a missionary church in the wilderness.”  A Presbyterian minister, the Rev. James Clark, was assigned to “missionary labor at Dubuque Mines, Michigan Territory.”

150px-StonechurchIn 1839 the nineteen members of the church placed a cornerstone on The Old Stone Church, the congregation’s first permanent place of worship. Members used their own candles to illuminate the service.  The building on Locust near 6th Street was 40’ by 60.’ The 1840’s were a rough time for the new congregation.  In 1844 The Old Stone Church was seized for foreclosure.

The second of our churches was the Main Street Church located near the present site of American Trust and Savings Bank.  Church members turned to the American Mission Society for help and, given the state of finances, the church resorted to conventional and unconventional methods of raising money.  Reverend Holbrook, minister to the congregation, toured New England and collected over six hundred dollars.  In Dubuque, the church sold or rented pews to the members.  Annual rentals varied from twenty-five cents to over five dollars.  Pews could be purchased for $37.50, and owners made annual payments or risked swift repossession.  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.



 by Randy Lyon

Main Street Church - Prosperity at Last

Last month we left our church ancestors busily raising money.  After losing “The Old Stone Church” in 1844, services were held at the courthouse and the Baptist church.  The financial campaign was successful. In 1846 the construction of the Main Street Church was completed at a cost of $3,500.

The association between the Main Street Church (“the church under the clock”) and the original Town Clock Building has always been interesting.  In a May 12, 1929, article (p. 8) in the Telegraph-Herald and Times-Journal, the site of the Main Street Church was stated as “approximately at the site of the present town clock building.”  Dubuque on the Mississippi (p. 178) goes on to state, “After the congregation moved to 10th and Locust, the building was used for various other purposes.”  According to Franklin T. Oldt, author of  The History of Dubuque County (p. 14 online), H. S. Hetherington converted the building in 1858 into the Odeon Theater.  The building later was used as a post office, concert hall, and finally by 1864, as the John Bell Dry Goods Store from which the doomed town clock fell in 1872.

350px-TownclockSince by 1857 our ancestors at First Congregational had already moved, the colorful nickname, “the church under the clock,” relates two very different periods in the history of a lot in Dubuque.  The approximate site was the former Market Place Dubuque which is now part of American Trust.  [Photo credit:  Dubuque Encyclopedia]

 The church was also very successful in its membership campaign.  When the church had been forced to leave The Old Stone Church, the membership had been fifty-six.  In 1849 alone, between sixty and seventy new members were added.   Crowding was temporarily solved the same year by new construction on the Main Street Church costing $2,700.

The church seemed finally on good financial grounds.  In 1848 it ended its requests from the Home Missionary Society that had contributed $200 annually towards the pastor’s support.   The church also contributed $76.83 to Home Missions, $40 to the American Bible Society and $118.55 to the Foreign Mission Society.


by Randy Lyon

One Ship Made the Difference

At the beginning of 1857, American businesses were failing.  Investors were losing heavily in the stock market.  Railroads were unable to pay their debts.  Land speculators who had counted on the construction of new railroad routes were losing money.  People fearing financial ruin attempted to withdraw their money, but the banks did not deal in paper currency.  They used gold.  It was impossible for the banks to supply all the gold their customers demanded.

ca shipHopes for a financial rescue lay below the decks of the ship Central America.  Ten tons of gold from California with a value of $2 million dollars had been loaded aboard to shore up eastern banks. On August 24, 1857, however, the ship was sunk by a violent hurricane off the coast of Florida.

The effect was immediate.  On August 24, 1857, the failure of the New York branch of the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company led banks across the nation to collapse.  The Panic of 1857, a severe economic depression in the United States, lasted three years.

The economic panic struck this city in October.  The banking houses of Flaven & Co., Flinn & Bro. and A. C. Pearson suspended business.  Mass meetings of citizens demanded that the harbor companies, including the Dubuque Central Improvement Company, should issue more of their own notes. This scrip was backed by the financial health of the company shareholders who were listed on the back of the notes. Sixty-two Dubuque companies either suspended business or closed during October, November and December, 1857, and the first half of January, 1858.

For the people of First Congregational Church in Dubuque, this was another in a long series of trials.  The congregation had lost “The Old Stone Church” when the mortgage could not be paid.  The Main Street Church proved too small within only a decade.  Although the cornerstone of our present church was laid in September, 1855, only the basement was ready for use by 1858.  The first service was held in the basement on July 11, 1858.  Basement services were continued until 1860 when the upper portion was completed and a dedication sermon was preached by Dr. J. C. Holbrook.



by Randy Lyon

Out of the Basement--Out of the Woods

On April 1, 1860, an estimated 1,000 people attended the dedication ceremonies at First Congregational Church.  With a $5,000 loan allowing the trustees to complete the “audience room” (sanctuary), the building featured ten full-sized windows and a rose-window in the south gable.  The north wall had four small windows.  The building was appraised at $41,000.

Financially, however, the church was in trouble.  Some suggested selling the building; others were reminded of being evicted from the Old Stone Church.  In August, 1863, a committee of three began collecting pledges from members.  Their goal was to reduce the church’s indebtedness to $20,000.  Their best efforts resulted in a collection of $4,000.  Other efforts brought in $6,000 more.  It was obvious that the membership, which had given $8,000 for sick and wounded Union soldiers, could not be called upon for more.  George D. Wood, a member of the committee, then donated the needed $10,000.  The joy of the congregation at that moment was only exceeded on the night of April 9, 1865.   Celebrating the end of the Civil War, the congregation rang the church bell continuously, causing it to crack.

The years of financial threat were forgotten.  In 1867 assistance was given to the newly established German Congregational Church in Dubuque.  This church later became known as Immanuel.  In 1869 an organ—Johnson’s Opus 277, said to be the largest and best organ in the West—was brought over the frozen Mississippi River on bobsleds because there was no bridge.  The tower of the church was completed in 1875 at a cost of $3,000 and in July, 1886, on the 50th anniversary of the church, a new 4,000 pound bell was hung in the tower.

By 1889 the membership of the church stood at 449, the largest on record.  With the financial help of First Congregational, the cornerstone of Summit Congregational was laid before 1890.  “City water” was acquired for the church in 1891 by the Ladies’ Aid Society.  The women also cleaned and re-carpeted the sanctuary.  As the century ended, three successful missions stations were maintained at Hill Street, Eagle Point and the North End.  The silver communion service was retired for sanitary reasons.  The gift of stained glass windows at the front of the sanctuary memorialized the lives of Eveline Deming Stout and Calista I. Wales.



by Randy Lyon

Challenges Right and Left


When we get to feeling that churches have never had so many challenges, we should look at the years 1900-1939.          

Prejudice took many forms.  The World War I era pitted German residents against others in Dubuque.   In 1918 officials of the German American Savings Bank changed the name of their institution to American Trust and Savings Bank to escape discrimination.  Churches in which German was spoken were especially targeted.  In 1918 Iowa Governor William Lloyd Harding issued the Babel Proclamation.  This prohibited the use of foreign languages in public, over the telephone, in school, and in religious services.  When challenged, he replied, “There is no use in anyone wasting his time praying in other languages than English.  God is listening only to the English tongue.”  In 1921 First German Presbyterian Church renamed itself First Presbyterian Church.  The German Methodist Church renamed itself Grace Episcopal Methodist Church and then Grace Methodist Church.          

The Ku Klux Klan was visibly active in Dubuque.  Konklaves (yes, the spelling is correct) were held on an eighty-acre klavern the klan owned along Peru Road.   A parade permit was denied in 1925, but several city council members later stated that, if the applicants had been Dubuquers, “...the situation might have been different.”  Some local businesses displayed “TWK” (Trade With Klansmen) signs in their windows.          

Social change swept the country.  Prohibition succeeded in turning many Americans into criminals.  The decline of Union Park where neighbors met neighbors has been linked to the transportation freedom provided by automobiles.  In the 1920s residential air-conditioning resulted in porches being eliminated from new home construction.  As people fled inside, “neighborhoods” ceased to exist; kids outside were left generally unsupervised.  Jazz was considered the “springboard for drug-taking and promiscuity.”  “Does Jazz Put the Sin in Syncopation?” asked the Ladies Home Journal.           

imagesHad enough?    With the wonderful thoughts of Christmas behind us, people often feel “down” at this time of year.  One of the important aspects of history is to remind us that we’ve been here before.   With faith, the members of this church have prevailed and therefore witnessed many blessings.  Let’s look out the “front window” for wonderful times ahead.




by Randy Lyon

Sunday School Parades


The idea of a Sunday School parade began in the eastern United States at the beginning of the 1900s.  Led in the Midwest by such cities as Davenport, Moline and Rock Island, Dubuque residents became interested in the activity through the visit around 1908 of Mr. Harry Van Duter, secretary of the Rock Island Association.

Van Duter met with John E. Hedley of Dubuque who became interested in the idea. An executive committee was formed and Hedley often served not only as president but also as secretary and manager.  For his work he was eventually given the nickname "Sunday School" Hedley.   B. M. Harger served as the first president of the group. During the term of S. B. Lattner, the city attracted the Iowa State Sunday School convention, so a parade and picnic were jointly held. The convention was recorded on 2,500 feet of film that was shown around the United States with parts being incorporated into news services.

The day of the picnic was set for the first Tuesday following the close of Sunday school.  Originally the picnic was held in August and then July, but it was found that people were on vacation.  In the 1931 parade, First Congregational Church and Immanuel Congregational Church united their efforts and presented a historical pageant of eight floats.          

Among the prizes given for entries in the parade was an American flag to the school having the greatest number of married people in the parade.  An American flag was also given to the school having the largest number of children and adults in the parade.  A prize of ten dollars went to the school having the best float.  The same amount of money went to the second best float.         

300px-UnionpicnicIn 1931 an estimated 10,000 people came to Eagle Point Park for a picnic as part of the festivities.  Handled in a manner similar to other years, "freight cars" left Summit Congregational Church and St. Luke's Methodist Episcopal Church carrying all the packages and baskets of food left there.  The cars from St. Luke's would stop at Ragatz’s Drug Store and the streetcar barns on Central to pick up more packages left there on their way to the picnic.         

Each school was assigned a location in the park.  When the freight cars arrived, their loads would be distributed to the different locations prior to the arrival of the first passenger cars.  Each package was provided with a tag with a number designating the school on one side and the name of the owner on the other.  Each location at the park carried the name of the school using that site.          

It was not unusual during the years of the parade to find observers arriving from within a 150 mile radius of the city.         

The parade was abandoned in 1934 after its 25th year.





by Randy Lyon


In the 1940s and 1950s the major issue before our church was the issue of merger with the the Evangelical and Reformed churches.   Congregational churches owned and controlled their own property and hired and fired their own ministers.  Reformed and Evangelical churches operated with Synods--a strange sounding concept that seemed alien.         

In 1949, strongly influenced by Dr. Strang, our church chose to vote “No” on the first vote to merge.   There was a feeling that the congregation was poorly informed on the issue, but some pro-merger forces began to emerge.  The split between those supporting and rejecting merger threatened the church.   The new pastor, Paul Orlander, inherited a congregation where poison pen letters, harassing anonymous phone calls, and even death threats were not uncommon.     

ucc146-190According to “Celebrating Our Heritage,” the congregation received a “Come to Jesus” speech at an informal meeting called after the close of a Sunday service.  Dr. Elhart, a Presbyterian minister and “Honorary Member” said he was ashamed by our actions and then said a prayer.  This seemed to rectify feelings.          

The vote in 1960 on the issue of merger passed.  Eventually the “sameness” of the churches brought everyone together. Evangelical and Reformed churches stressed missions and hospitals. The Congregational Church had always placed an emphasis on education.  Together the churches were able to offer a wider service to everyone in the United Church of Christ. 

[Editor's note:  For a "short course" on UCC history, check this link.]




MAY 11, 2014




I am looking forward to greeting each of you at the celebration of the 175th anniversary of First Congregational United Church of Christ on May 11.  The 175th Anniversary Committee has planned a wonderful celebration for all members and their guests.  We need you at the celebration and in the picture!  Bring your mother, grandmother and other guests along for the celebration. 



One of my tasks is to share the church's history with you.  Instead of writing a twenty page article, I'm going to share twenty-five bullet points from our history.  Here goes:


  1. Rev. James Clark started the church with 19 members on May 12, 1839.
  2. The current church was dedicated on April 1, 1860, with 900 in worship.
  3. Church member George Washington Healey received the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery in a battle on July 29, 1864.
  4. On April 9, 1865, Colonel Delos E. Lyon cracked the bell while celebrating the end of the Civil War as members rang it all night long.
  5. In 1869 the W.A. Johnson Organ was set in place and declared to be the largest and best organ west of the Mississippi.
  6. Dr. Nancy Hill came to Dubuque in 1875 as Iowa's first woman doctor and this church member started Hill House, now Hillcrest Family Services.
  7. In 1886 the new bell was set in place.
  8. The congregation planted Summit Congregational Church in 1890.
  9. In 1895, C.E. Wales donated the Calista Wales window in memory of Calista.
  10. In 1895, H.L. Stout donated the "Victory" Tiffany window in memory of Eveline.
  11. In 1926 the baptismal font was given by Susan Glover Dague.
  12. The church helped start the Dubuque Rescue Mission in 1928.
  13. The Rev. Dr. Max Strang served from November 1941 to February 1957 (2nd longest tenure).
  14. On June 25, 1957, the Congregational Christian Church merged with the Evangelical and Reformed Church to form the United Church of Christ.
  15. On May 11, 1973, the education wing was dedicated ($375,000).
  16. The Rev. Dr. Robert Miller served from 1977 to 1989.
  17. The Rev. Elizabeth Pigg served as Associate Pastor from 1986 to 1989.
  18. The Sanctuary was renovated in 1989 for 150th Anniversary ($250,000).
  19. In 1990, Marty McNamer donated the Children's Shepherd window in memory of Kris Ann Mozena McNamer.
  20. On October 27, 1991, the church hosted a Jewish-Christian Service with a requiem by Holocaust survivor Magda Herzberger titled "Forgive Mankind's Atrocities."
  21. CAFe officially started on November 13, 1994.
  22. William Collings retires after 39 years of service as our organist, from 1965 to 2004.
  23. The organ was restored in 2011 by Berghaus Organ Builders ($500,000).
  24. Ruth Lyon served as Chancel Choir Director from 1987 to 2012 as well as Chancel Bells Director and Sonrise Ringers Director for nearly as long.
  25. Church tower is restored in 2014 ($117,000).
  26. The Rev. Dr. Ken Bickel and the Rev. Nancy Bickel have served from March 1, 1990, to today, the longest pastorates in the church's 175 year history.






February 08, 2016

PLEASE JOIN US FOR WORSHIP:Sunday - 8:30 a.m. & 10:30 a.m.

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 255 West 10th Street

Dubuque, IA  52001


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Contact: info@1stcongucc.org


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