1870-1880: Financial woes, scandal doomed Congregational Church in Hannibal, Missouri
Cutline: The First Congregational Church congregation of Hannibal constructed this building grand edifice beginning in 1870. Scandal and financial woes forced the sale of the church in 1880, when it was converted into the Immaculate Conception Church. The building is still standing on the southeast corner of Sixth Lyon streets. STEVE CHOU COLLECTION
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
Charles W.A. Cartledge, a clerk for the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad, enticed his father-in-law (a retired Congregational minister) to move to Hannibal in 1869, just months before the members of Hannibal’s Congregational Church voted to build an impressive new edifice at the southwest corner of South Sixth and Lyon streets.
Before construction on the church was even complete, his father-in-law died of injuries sustained when struck by a hurling temporary church roof during a rain storm in 1871.
A decade filled with controversy, confusion and scandal later, Mr. Cartledge found himself at the wrong end of a loaded revolver on Main Street, pointed – but luckily not fired - by an insulted church leader, Thomas Bacon Esq.
In between his father-in-law’s 1871 death and the 1880 Main Street confrontation, Mr. Cartledge invested untold hours on behalf of the church board, investigating accusations, struggling with finances and negotiating resolutions for church members and clergy alike.
The fair-skinned, blue-eyed Hannibal & St. Joe railroad bookkeeper – short in stature but strong in conviction - had had enough. In 1881 he packed up his family and moved to Redland Township, San Bernardino, Calif., leaving behind the scandals that brought untold nationwide attention to prominent business leaders in Hannibal, Missouri.
A new church was organized in Hannibal during early part of 1860. The Rev. J.M. Sturtevant ministered to the small yet integral group of worshippers. At first meeting in the South Hannibal schoolhouse, the congregation contracted for the construction of a 60x40x20-foot building at what would later be known as the corner of Washington and Sycamore streets on Hannibal’s South Side. C.A. Treat served as architect, and the contractor was a man named Spraul. Cost of the completed structure: $2,050.
By early July 1860, and for the next decade, the members called the completed new building their spiritual home. This modest building would house Hannibal’s Congregational church members throughout the Civil War.
In 1870, bolstered by a growing number of prominent East Coast businessmen and a healthy post-war economy, the congregation made a fateful decision to build a grand new church at the corner of Sixth and Lyon streets, three blocks south of Broadway.
The first pastor hired to oversee the construction of this grand new edifice and minister to the growing congregation would be none other than the Rev. Minot J. Savage of Framingham, Mass., brother of Rev. W.H. Savage of Jacksonville, Ill. Leaving the Hopkinton Congregational Church, Rev. M.J. Savage weighed offers from the Hannibal congregation as well as the Pilgram Church of Indianapolis, Ind. He ultimately declined the Indianapolis offer, choosing instead to move to Hannibal. He arrived for work at the first of May 1870.
In July 1870, the church building committee invited construction bids, and despite the fact that a number of Hannibal tradesmen sought the opportunity to work on the structure, the job was awarded to Messrs. Orr & Conner of Quincy, Ill. The winning bid was $82,484. That quote did not include the steam heating apparatus, seating, upholstering, plumbing and gas fitting, or the stained glass for the windows. In addition, the congregation planned to spend $5,000 for the organ, bell, fences and “other necessary appurtenances.”
An aforementioned tragedy occurred soon after a temporary roof was installed over the building’s basement. The Rev. Timothy Mead Hopkins, retired Congregational minister, had relocated with his wife to Hannibal in 1869, to be near his two daughters who had married and settled here: Frances M. Hopkins Flinn and Emma L. Hopkins Cartledge. Rev. Hopkins attended a lecture in the basement of the new church building on March 14, 1871. A strong storm hit Hannibal just as the meeting was concluding. The temporary roof tower blew off, and fell with full force upon Mr. Hopkins, crushing him to the ground. He lingered in an unconscious state until the 20th of April 1871, when he died. His burial followed at Hannibal’s Riverside Cemetery.
The same month, the Rev. Savage was installed during a Wednesday evening ceremony. The Quincy Whig reported that the invocation and reading of the scriptures was by Rev. A. Bowers, of Macon, Mo.; Sermon by Rev. W.H. Savage, Jacksonville; Installing Prayer, by Rev. S.W. Eaton, Lancaster, Wis.; Right hand of Fellowship, by Rev. J.K. McLean, Springfield, Ill.; Charge to the Pastor, by Rev. Jas. G. Dougherty, Chillicothe, Mo.; and Address to the People, by Rev. S.R. Dimmock, Quincy, Ill.
Just two years and a few months later – in September 1873 - Rev. M.J. Savage abruptly left Hannibal, changed his religious affiliation and assumed duties as pastor of the Third Congregational (Unitarian) Church of Chicago. He would ultimately become one of the most popular and influential Unitarian preachers in the late 19th century. “It was not until his ministry in Hannibal, Missouri, that his doubts about orthodox doctrines weighed heavily enough on him to cause his resignation. After a brief Unitarian pastorate in Chicago, he moved to Boston where his preaching began to attract large audiences.”*
The resignation of the congregation’s young and dynamic minister did little to quiet unrest that was starting to infiltrate the congregation. For the next six months the church board struggled with two issues: hiring a preacher who would pull together the congregation and increase membership, and how to obtain $18,000 necessary for completion of the church building.
On March 11, 1874, the church board members met at the home of J.J. Cruikshank Jr., one block to the east of the church on South Fifth Street, and voted to call Rev. D.L. Leonard to the pastorate. The Rev. Leonard started with the church on April 2.
On March 18, 1874, board members voted to obtain an $18,000 loan to complete the church building.
It seemed all was settled. But with the long-anticipated completion of the church structure finally on the horizon, and the high school commencement for the Class of 1874 scheduled within the church building on May 27, the church board was disheartened to hear disturbing news: Rev. Leonard was resigning after only one year at the church helm.
The church board turned to a minister already known by the congregation: Rev. W.H. Savage of Jacksonville, Ill., – brother of the previous minister R.J. Savage.
With W.H. Savage as their new minister, and Mrs. C.P. Heywood as their new organist, the First Congregational Church members officially moved into their new church building at Sixth and Lyon. The official dedication was in mid December 1874.
The choir met in the new church for the first time on Feb. 6, 1875. While the overall appearance of the edifice was outstanding, choir members complained because structural columns stood in front of the choir gallery.
In August 1875, Rev. W.H. Savage abruptly resigned and left Hannibal, destined for the East Coast. C.W.A. Cartledge (The Rev. Timothy Mead Hopkins’ son-in-law) told church members that Mr. Savage could not be induced by any means to remain with the Hannibal congregation for another year.
What could have prompted such an immediate and definitive departure?
Outwardly, the church affairs seemed to be in order. Membership grew considerably with the opening of the new church. Attendance on Jan. 23, 1876, was 202 at the morning service at 141 that evening.
A business meeting was conducted on Aug. 9, 1876, with M.L. Pierson moderator. After learning of Rev. Savage’s decision to leave, members resolved not to hire any minister for the following year. Despite this resolution, Rev. John Foster was nominated as pastor in mid October 1876. While 79 members voted in favor of hiring Rev. Foster, dissention arose when J.T.K. Hayward, C.N. Clark and William Bishop cast negative votes.
New officers were elected in December 1876: M.L. Pierson, S.D. Eaton, John Volk, W.H. Loomis, and G.G. Gould. These officers would come to terms with a challenging situation in a matter of a few months.
In May 1877, church officials learned that they had fallen victim to fraud. They obtained documentation that their new minister’s real name was Jonas Lincoln Foster, and that he was suspected of crimes and misconduct, including several illegal marriages. Members voted to ask for his resignation in return for keeping the documented evidence a secret.
During August 1877, the Rev. George W. Groves is called to the pastorate, at a salary of $1,500 per year, half the salary of the congregation’s earlier minister, the Rev. Minot J. Savage.
January 1879: Mrs. E. Peck and Mr. and Mrs. W.J. Hilton unite with the church.
February 1879: The examination committee meets at the church and decides that Mrs. John Gleason is detrimental to church harmony. C.H. Schmidt and J.H. Wheeler are elected deacons. Adolphus Schmidt is named auditor, and C.N. Schmidt is elected treasurer.
Feb. 14, 1879: Mrs. Jacques Wax Museum presents a show to raise money for the organ fund. The church clears $50.
And as the church members struggle to keep up with financial obligations regarding the large church building, a rumors surface within church families that ultimately divide the church.
* Feb. 15, 1879, Mrs. J.J. (Mary) Cruikshank comes to call upon J.H. Wheeler and tells of troubles with her husband.
* Rev. George W. Groves resigns.
* Feb. 17, 1879, J.J. Cruikshank asks J.H. Wheeler to call at his office regarding trouble with Cruikshank’s wife.
* Jan. 28, 1880, charges (of impropriety) are filed within the church against Mrs. Cruikshank. She is granted a letter (of transfer) to the Presbyterian Church.
* Feb. 5, 1880, Hannibal attorney Thos. Bacon drew a revolver on C.W.A. Cartledge for giving testimony to the church committee regarding his sister, Mrs. J.J. Cruikshank.
The financial woes, combined with the inner-church scandals proved to be too much for the congregation to bear. The building is locked on March 17, 1880. No one is there. The building is sold on July 18, 1880.
A partial list of congregants, accessed through newspaper clippings, diary entries and notes.
Ahlers, Mrs. Elizabeth
Barnes, Mr. S.D.
Brown, Mrs. D.C.
Cartledge, Mr. and Mrs. C.W.A. (Emma)
Collins, Mr. G.A.
Collison, Mrs. Wm.
Cruikshank, Mr. and Mrs. J.J. Jr. (Mary E. Bacon)
Delany, Roxanne (later, Mrs. J.H. Wheeler)
Elliott, Mr. and Mrs. Robert
Fritz, Mr. and Mrs. E.
Gleason, Dr. and Mrs. John
Godfrey, Mr. and Mrs. C.O.
Gould, Mr. and Mrs. G.G.
Groves, Rev. George W.
Harwood, Rev. J.W.
Hayward, Col. and Mrs. J.T.K.
Heywood, Mrs. C.P.
Hilton, Mr. and Mrs. W.J.
Homans, Mrs. W.H.
Hopkins, Rev. Timothy Mead
Jones, Miss L.
Kaley, Miss Amelia
Laming, Miss Maggie
Lee, Mrs. Frank
Loomis, Mr. and Mrs. W.H.
Moore, Mrs. J.S.
Peck, Mrs. E.
Pindell, Mrs. Geo.
Savage, Rev. Minot J.
Savage, Rev. W.H.
Schmidt, Mr. Adolphus
Schmidt, Mr. C.N.
Shedd, Miss Etta
Volk, Mr. John
Watson, Mr. J.
The Unitarians and the Universalists by David Robinson.
Diary of James Henry Wheeler, via notes by Roberta Roland Hagood.
Hannibal Messenger, March 11, 1860.
Cincinnati Enquirer, Feb. 6, 1880 newspapers.com
The Commercial and Financial Chronicle, A weekly, Vol. 76, Part 2. Free ebook 1903 google
California voter registration 1898
Hannibal City Directories
The Quincy Daily Whig, Tuesday, July 26, 1870, accessed via the Quincy Public Library
Cleveland Plain Dealer, Saturday, May 19, 1877.
Mary Lou Montgomery is a writer, speaker and researcher with a specialty in history. She is the former editor of the Hannibal Courier-Post.
To read more on the history of the Congregational Church in Hannibal, click here. Information includes a map and photo.