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The History of
Washington, Missouri

Table of Contents

The Presbyterian Church

Harriet C. Hull

The Presbyterian Church at Washington, Missouri, was organized on June 24, 1850, by the Rev. H. W. Robertson and the Rev. Joseph F. Fenton.  Members on certificate were Dr. B. F. Burch, Mrs. Frances E. Burch, Mrs. Catherine R. Stone, Mrs. Margaret Fenton and Mrs. Sophia Garnes, and Mrs. Lavinia Beatty was admitted on examination.  Dr. Burch was elected ruling elder, and the Rev. Mr. Fenton was chosen pastor.

The first meetings of the church were held at the home of Dr. Burch.   In September, 1850, Marsden Campbell, Benjamin Burch and Elijah McLean, as trustees, purchased a lot on fourth street; and in 1853, a small brick building was erected at the site of the present church.  Sessions of the parochial school were also held thee.  In 1859, Dr. and Mrs. McLean donated a lot, and the old red brick school that stands near the Bryan house was built soon after.  Dr. McLean bought this building 18 1883, and it was used as a private school by his sister-in-law, Miss Jennie Stafford.   It serves as a residence at the present time.

The records of the Church for the eighteen years following its organization are interesting chronicles.  During several stormy years, the Session exercised its prerogative as a court, and tried and suspended members of the congregation for various offenses.  The action of the Session was also "published from the pulpit."   Members were excommunicated for attending public balls and dancing; using ardent spirits and intoxicants; playing at billiards and games of chance; neglect of public worship; use of profane and impious language; common fame, and embezzlement of church funds.  It is interesting to note that colored members were also tried and suspended, for at that time slaves belonged to the church.  They were designated by their Christian name only, and marked, "(of color)."  Most of them were later dismissed to the African Church.

At the time of the Civil War, any act that might be construed to favor the Confederacy was pronounced "seditious," and members were tried for this offense.   A part of the congregation were secessionists, and most of them withdrew from the church in 1862.  Six years later, the minutes record:  "In obedience to an order of the St. Louis Presbytery made at Kirkwood, June 10, 1868, the following names were stricken from the roll of membership.  . . ." and there follows a list of the names of thirty-two members.

In the same year these members formed the Presbyterian Church Old School (Southern).  Public services were held in the Burch building, at Jefferson and Main streets, and for a time, a school met there.  Later, the old building that stands at Second and Market streets was erected, and was called the "first Presbyterian Church of Washington."   It was popularly known as "Dr. Burch's Church," and the other was "Dr. McLean's Church."

At one time the "First Church" attempted to seize the Fourth street church and school, and a long and expensive trial resulted.  The two divisions were finally brought together, and for a number of years worship was held in the new church in the winter, and the old Fourth street church in the summer.

Dr. McLean, who served as Clerk of the Session for thirty-six years, was indeed the "pillar of the church" in the early years.  The Rev. Mr. Fenton, who married Dr. McLean's niece, was the first pastor, and served the church at intervals for many years.  He taught in the Washington public schools, and was instrumental in organizing the Bethlehem Church at Union, the Boeuf Presbyterian Church, and the Pacific Church.  Dr. Burch, too, figured very largely in the early history of the church.

In 1895, Fred Kruel succeeded Dr. McLean as clerk of the Session.   His son, Louis g. Kruel, was elected to the office in 1899, and has continued to serve in that capacity up to the present time.

In 1916, during the ministry of Dr. M. H. Kerr, the present building was erected.  Many improvements have been made since that time, including the installation of a Kilgen Pipe Organ, contributed largely by Miss Emma Hagebusch, a life-long member of the church.

The present Session includes the Rev. g. Marion Hull, Moderator; and Judge J. H. Schaper, A. R. Meyers, L. G. Kruel, and E. H. Ehlers, Ruling Elders.


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