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1. A building set apart for Christian worship. 2. A formally organized body of Christian believers worshipping together. 3. A body of Christian believers, observing the same rites and acknowledging the same ecclesiastical authority; as, the Roman Catholic church; the Presbyterian church. 4. The collective body of Christians, or of those who acknowledge Christ as the Savior of mankind. 5. The aggregate of religious influences in a community; ecclesiastical influence, authority, &c.; as, to array the power of the church against some form of moral evil. — Webster, 1882

We learn that the Methodist Episcopal Society of this village has purchased the corner lot just west of the County Clerk’s office, for a site for a new church edifice. – Frontier Paladium, Malone, New York, March 19, 1863.

Both Laura Ingalls (the character) and her readers (you and I) learn about “going to church” in Little House in the Big Woods not because the Ingalls family attends services in Pepin Township, but through Pa’s story-telling about Laura’s grandfather – Pa’s father – as a child, and how he and his older brothers broke the Sabbath by taking their new sled out for a ride one Sunday afternoon after church. Young Laura hadn’t been able to follow her own family’s Sunday rule of sitting quietly, and Pa uses the story to explain how it was much harder on children in Grandpa’s time a half century ago than in Laura’s.

Canadice / Richmond Township, Ontario Co., New York. Pa’s grandparents, Samuel and Margaret Ingalls, were living just north of Canadice Lake in Ontario County, New York, when Laura’s grandpa, Lansford Ingalls, and his brothers (and a pig!) sledded down Purcell Hill Road. Samuel and Margaret were Baptists, and church records show that members met and worshipped in each other’s homes, the service usually beginning at ten o’clock in the morning.

Malone, New York. The James Wilder family attended Methodist Episcopal services in Malone. The Malone Methodist Episcopal Church was incorporated in May 1835, and a lot on the corner of Main Street and Fort Covington Street was donated that year for the erection of a church building. It was known as Hedding Chapel (named after Elijah Hedding, the bishop who presided at the dedication), and had a stone basement and wooden structure that cost $3000 to build. When Almanzo was a young boy, he would have attended services here, but by 1863, it was felt inadequate to the church’s needs. A lot was purchased at the corner of Main Street and Brewster Street, and construction of the $40,000 brick sanctuary began in 1866. Hedding Chapel was deconsecrated and became a boarding house (photo above at far left); it was later absorbed by the Hotel Franklin building (photo above second from left). When Rose Wilder Lane visited Malone prior to editing her mother’s Farmer Boy manuscript, she stayed at this hotel, and on a postcard of a similar view of the hotel she wrote to her father that “the old church you went to is now part of the Franklin Hotel. I send you a picture of it. When the new church was built, the old one was sold and turned into a boarding house. It did so well that it was enlarged and finally became this grand hotel, very smart and modern, but the old church building is still in it.” The hotel and the chapel building it absorbed were torn down in May 1997.

According to the Malone Palladium (August 8, 1867), the new Centenary Methodist Church (red brick church in photo above) was dedicated on August 21, 1867, the dedicatory sermon preached by Rev. T.M. Eddy, editor of the Northwestern Christian Advocate in Chicago, assisted by other distinguished clergymen. The dedication began at 10:30, and it’s hard to imagine that the Wilders weren’t in attendance. The brick church had a clock tower and steeple bell which marked the hour in “plain and distinct tones,” so there was no excuse – according to the Palladium – for “idle and truant boys being late to school, or young people being up late at nights, or remaining too long in the morning in the arms of Morpheus” (the god of sleep). In Farmer Boy, the church bell rings as the Wilder family walks up the steps to church. Since Hedding Chapel had no bell, this is probably the church Almanzo described to Laura, still standing and serving the church at 345 West Main Street in Malone. The Wilder family would have attended services at both Hedding Chapel and Centenary Methodist Church when Almanzo was a child.

The Garth Williams illustration in Farmer Bo (see circular insert in the photo), however, was of the old Congregational Church in Malone (photo above at far right). Williams may have assumed this was the church the Wilders attended, since he and Laura attended the Congregational Church in De Smet. Both the Congregational and Methodist churches were of red brick. This building is no longer standing; the stone First Congregational Church at Malone at 2 Clay Street (at the corner of Clay and Main Street) replaced it in 1888.

Walnut Grove, Minnesota. Union Congregational Society in Walnut Grove was organized by Reverend Edwin H. Alden at the home of James Kennedy on August 22, 1874. Charles and Caroline Ingalls were baptized and professed their faith on Sunday, August 23, 1874, and are listed among the charter members of the church, which included: Luperla & John Ensign, Carline & Charles Ingalls, Margaret & James Kennedy, Sarah & Benjamin Moses, Margaret Owens, Julia & Amasa Tower, and Lucy & Charles Webber.

On October 1, 1874, trustees purchased Lots 4, 5, and 6, Block 21 in Walnut Grove from Elias and Lafayette Bedal and their wives, and a church was soon built on the corner of Fifth Street and Bedal Street. Reverend Alden conducted services here when he was in town: see On the Banks of Plum Creek, Chapter 24, “Going to Church.”

The Redwood Gazette published this article about the church on December 31, 1874, submitted by Franklin Ensign:

Walnut Station, Minn., Dec. 25th, 1874. The Congregational church of this place was dedicated on Sunday the 20th inst. The services were conducted by Rev. L.H. Cobb, Superintendent of the Home Mission Society for Minn., assisted by Rev. E.H. Alden, Rev. D. Jenkins, recently from London, England, Rev. O.R. Champlin, of Sleepy Eye, and Rev. H. C. Simmons of Marshall. The services were very interesting and profitable, and well attended.

The Congregational Society here, composed of twelve members, have labored hard to build their house of worship. The building was erected under the superintendence of Rev. E.H. Alden, who has charge of the mission work west from Sleepy Eye, and who is entitled to, and receives the earnest thanks of the people of this place, for his arduous work in gathering up means and material with which to build their church. The church is 26 feet by 40, with a vestry, 14 feet by 20. Height of tower and spire, when finished, 60 feet. The cost is about $2,000. $500 is furnished by the Congregational Union.

The indebtedness on the church was $555. An appeal was made to the Society and friends, to lift this debt. The call was responded to freely and liberally by donations, ranging from $1 to $100. The entire amount was raised or assumed, and the church was dedicated free from debt. Considering the hardness of the times, occasioned by the grasshopper raid, we think the people here have done well.

It may not be inappropriate to notice here, that the infant class, of, if I remember correctly, the First Congregational church of St. Paul, contributed the money with which the material was bought that cemented the foundation stones of this church. Could they now see the fine structure erected on the foundation laid by the aid of their money, we are sure they would feel proud, and glad they had assisted so much to build the most important part, the foundation of this, the only church of any pretentions, between Sleepy Eye lake and the Pacific Ocean.

Although Garth Williams drew the congregation sitting on benches in On the Banks of Plum Creek, the church was outfitted with rows of chairs until the spring of 1879, when the chairs were replaced with pews, at least one of which is on display at the LIW Museum in Walnut Grove. Union Congregational Church disbanded in March 1954 and sealed bids were accepted for sale of the church bell, parsonage, church building (the pews, pulpit, and carpet were not sold with the building), and land, with half the proceeds going to the Congregational Conference, and half divided between the Methodist, English Lutheran, and Trinity Lutheran churches in Walnut Grove. The church building is no longer standing. The bell which Charles Ingalls donated his “boot money” to help pay for now hangs in the English Lutheran Church, 450 Wiggins Street, Walnut Grove.

Charles and Caroline Ingalls rejoined the church upon their return from Burr Oak. Mary Ingalls joined Union Congregational Church on profession of faith, February 17, 1878. June 2, 1881, she was dismissed by letter in order to join the Congregational Church in De Smet.

Burr Oak, Iowa.The Ingallses attended the Congregational Church in Burr Oak (photo at left), which stood about 200 feet west of the corner of Water Street and West Street, now 362nd Street and 237th Avenue. The block wasn’t part of the original town of Burr Oak, but the church was north of Block 7 and west of Block 3.

The church records show that on January 14, 1877: At a meeting of the Church this day, Rev. Geo. Sterling and Sister Sterling (his wife), William Steadman and Mary Steadman (his wife), and Charles Ingalls and Caroline Ingalls were received into the church by letter. Had communion service.

As the church population declined, the Burr Oak church was supplied by ministers of the Northeastern Association of Iowa. It stood vacant by 1900 and the Friends Church of Hesper, Iowa, purchased the bell for their church in 1905. Its steeple removed, the church was used as a garage before being torn down.

De Smet, South Dakota. Reverend Edwin Alden conducted the first religious services in the Surveyors’ House near the townsite of De Smet, on February 29, 1880. He was appointed to have charge of the mission field by Superintendent Stewart Sheldon, missionary in charge of Dakota Territory. In May 1880, Reverend Alden relinquished his mission field to Reverend Edward Brown.

In June 1880, Reverend Brown organized a Congregational church, conducting services in the railroad depot. Other denominations met in the depot; Reverend Horace Woodworth (a Baptist minister) and his family lived upstairs; his son, Jim, was the depot agent. The first recorded members of the First Congregational Church of De Smet were Mr. and Mrs. C. P. Ingalls, Mary Ingalls, the Reverend and Mrs. Edward Brown, Mr. and Mrs. S. N. Gilbert, and Visscher V. Barnes. All joined by letter from other churches. Barnes, Charles Ingalls, and S. N. Gilbert were elected trustees. In November of that year, a certificate of organization was issued to the First Congregational Church of De Smet by the Secretary of the Territory of Dakota. Click HERE to see some early records of the De Smet Congregational Church.

In 1881, the Congregational Church moved to raise $1000 for the building of a sanctuary. The Congregational Church Building Society offered to loan them $500 provided the same amount could be raised. During January 1882, the shell of the new church had been completed. One of the fundraisers held in the new building was a “New England Supper” sponsored by both the Congregational Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church; the two congregations shared the building for services. The supper was held on Thursday, January 10, 1882, and according to the De Smet News and Leader, “a fine Dakota pig, roasted whole, was the feature of the occasion.” Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about this New England Supper in Little Town on the Prairie (Chapter 19, “The Whirl of Gaiety”). The church building (photo at right) was 28 by 48 feet in size, with its entrance at the north end, with two small vestry rooms on either side. The church had a belfry, but no tower. In 1884, a bell was purchased from Henry McShane & Company for $100.38.

Reverend Brown resigned in August 1882, asking that his resignation take place in six months. As no replacement could be found, he was asked to remain as pastor of the church for one year following the January 1883 board meeting. In August 1883, he was again asked to remain for the following year. His resignation became official on October 26, 1884. In January 1885, Reverend Jonathan T. Otis took charge of the De Smet Congregational Church. Reverend Otis had been pastor of the Lake Preston Congregational Church for several years. Owing to ill health of his wife Rebecca, Otis had planned to leave Dakota and return to his home state of New York, but was persuaded to take charge of the De Smet church instead. The Otis’s son, Arthur, taught the Lake Preston town school.

In 1909, the church was remodeled. A basement was added and the sanctuary moved north and west to accommodate an east wing and new entrance. A balcony (later removed) and stained glass windows were added. When Drakola Congregational Church disbanded, their large stained glass window was given to the De Smet church. In 1896, a new entryway was build and the belfry removed.

In 1967, a new church was built on Highway 14 for use by the Congregational Church, and the original church and lot was sold to the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, including fixtures not to be used in the new building. Numerous other changed have been made since the Ingalls family worshipped here, but the original church structure still stands at 202 2nd Street S.W. in De Smet.

The bell moved with the congregation to the church on Highway 14, formerly the U.C.C. Church but now De Smet Community Church, 715 West Highway 14, De Smet. The bell hangs from scaffolding at the east entrance to the church.


church (BW 5; FB 8, 16, 21, 23; BPC 24-25, 31; SSL 3, 23; TLW 18; LTP 4, 11, 17, 19, 23-24; THGY 4, 8, 11-13, 16-17, 19-20, 22-23, 25, 29-30; PG), see also Sunday School
     amen corner
     anthem, sung in church (THGY 23) – Formerly, a hymn sung in alternate parts, but, in present usage, any church music adapted to passage from the Scriptures.
     Catholic Church (PG) – First Mass was said in the summer of 1880, with a resident priest sent in 1882, and the first church built in the fall of 1883.
     Christmas tree (BPC; THGY; PG)
     church barrel (PG), see missionary barrel
     church bell / churchbell (FB 8; BPC 24, 31, 36; LTP 19; THGY 24; PG)
     belfry (BPC 24; LTP 19) – A bell-tower, usually attached to a church or other building, but sometimes separate; a campanile. A room in a tower in which a bell is or may be hung; or a cupola or turret for that same purpose. The framing on which a bell is suspended.
     churchyard (FB 16)
     collection-box (FB 16) – A container used to collect offerings in church.
     Congregational church (LTP; PG) – That system of church government which vests all ecclesiastical power in the assembled brotherhood of each local church, or an independent body.
     Congregational minister (LTP 11), see Reverend Edward Brown
     dinner (FB 21)
     dog chases kitten under Laura’s hoops while in church (THGY 30)
     first service in De Smet (SSL 23)
     foundation (LTP 4)
     Methodist church in Walnut Grove (PG)
     Methodist church preacher and wife in Walnut Grove (PG)
     minister / preacher (FB 16; LTP 11, 19) – One who serves at the altar; one who performs sacerdotal duties; the pastor of a church duly authorized or licensed to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments.
     organizing (SSL 23; TLW 18; LTP 4; PG)
     church paper / papers (TLW 18; LTP 15, 25; THGY 12; PG), see The Advance
     Pa gives money to help pay for church bell (BPC 24, 31; PG)
     Presbyterian church (THGY 14) – Pertaining to a presbyter, or to ecclesiastical government by presbyters. Consisting of presbyters; as, the government of the church of Scotland is presbyterian. One who belongs to a church governed by presbyters.
     Protestant (PG) – 1. One who protests;–originally applied to those who adhered to Luther at the Reformation in 1529, and protested against, or made a solemn declaration of dissent from, a decree of the Emperor Charles V. and the Diet of Spirea, and appeared to a general council. 2. Especially, a Christian who protests against the doctrines and practices of the Roman Catholic church; one who adheres to the doctrines of the Reformation.
     pulpit (LTP 19, 23-24; THGY 4, 30; PG) – An elevated place, or enclosed stage, in a church, in which the preacher stands; – called also desk; hence, preaching; public religious exercises.
     revival (PG)
     sheds (FB 8, 16, 21)
     sociables / church social (LTP 17, 19-20, 23; PG) – A gathering of people, for social purposes; an informal party, or reception; as, a church sociable.
     wedding (THGY 31; PG)