“TENDING GOD’S GARDEN” –
150 YEARS OF GROWTH AND CARING 1858-2008
Park Presbyterian Church of Streator held an opening celebration on Sunday, January 13, for its 150th anniversary, which will be celebrated throughout this coming year. Balloons, invitations, a reception and garden decorations were used to highlight the chosen theme of “Tending God’s Garden”: 150 years of growth and care”.
Located at 201 N. Vermillion Street in Streator, Park Church is the oldest established church in Streator. Its history began with the arrival of Mr. Samuel Galloway, who came to LaSalle County in 1837 and moved to Eagle Township in 1840; there, he started both the Galloway School and the Galloway post office 7 miles northwest of a settlement called Hardscrabble, which had one store selling supplies to miners.
It happened that several families of Scottish ancestry settled nearby and subsequently applied to the Peoria Presbytery to form a church in September of 1858 at the meeting held in Bloomington. Galloway Presbyterian Church was formed on October 30, 1858 at a meeting in the Galloway schoolhouse. The original 6 church members included Isabel and Elizabeth Galloway from the Presbyterian church of Hanover, Indiana, Isaac and Irene Van Doren from the Presbyterian church of Farm Ridge, Illinois, and Lavina Briggs and Mary Ann Patterson from the Lower Ten Mile Presbyterian church of Pennsylvania.
Rev. E. Scudder High pastored the new church from 1858 to 1871. Isaac Van Doren became the only elder (church lay leader) and remained the only elder until October 1871.
By 1867, one thousand people had settled in the area, and the name of Hardscrabble changed to Unionville. The church decided to move to the rapidly growing area which would soon be re-named Streator. The Rev. High was invited to hold services on Sept. 10, 1867, and the Galloway Church subsequently moved to Williams Hall, located at 120 S. Bloomington Street.
The first chapel was built in 1870 on the present site, a lot donated by the Chicago, Wilmington, and Vermillion Coal Co., and Rev. High provided $3,300 of his own money to erect the modest frame building. On April 23, 1870, a resolution was accepted to change the church name from Galloway Presbyterian to Park Presbyterian Church of Streator; the action was later approved on May 10, 1870 by the Presbytery of Bloomington.
Growing membership twice caused the need for new, bigger churches to be built. A cornerstone was laid on September 11, 1883 for a second, larger church; Col. Plumb (Streator’s founder) addressed the gathered crowd. At the silver anniversary celebration on October 30, 1883, everyone in attendance was asked to bring a silver dollar to help complete the new church. It cost $10,150 and was dedicated on March 23, 1884.
During the pastorship of Rev. James R. Henry, the current church was designed as a Georgian-style building by W.C. Jones, a Chicago architect. On June 9, 1921, Schmitt Brothers Co. of Chicago was awarded the construction contract at a cost not to exceed $90,000.
On May 15, 1921 the service was held in the old church at 7:30 pm. The pipe organ was dismantled and saved for use in the new building. Also saved was the church bell, which was reported in 1881 to be the largest bell in town, weighing in at 750 pounds. The old manse was torn down along the 38-year old church building to make room for the larger building. A groundbreaking ceremony was held on July 7, 1921 and on September 11, the cornerstone was laid.
Rev. Edgar W. Smith (pastor from 1928-1954), arrived one year ahead of the depression years, and was faced with the task of raising funds to pay off the large debt of the new building. On September 13, 1942 a dedication ceremony was held for the re-mounting of the church bell. It seems the bell had been placed on the roof of the new building for safekeeping and had remained there for 20 years. It was on May 26, 1943 that a special ceremony was held for the burning of the church mortgage, complete with a potluck banquet decorated with colorful streamers, garden flowers and symbolic bonfires.
Twenty-two pastors have faithfully served Park Church over the years, a number which includes several interim and associate pastors. Longer-serving pastors have included Rev. E. Scudder High (1858-1871), Rev. Frank F. Stoltz, D.D. (1890-1901), Rev. Edgar W. Smith, D.D. (1928-1954), retired as Pastor Emeritus, Rev. Howard Stanton (1954-1969), Rev. Leonard C. Beenken (1970-1992), retired as Pastor Emeritus, Rev. Jamie Swanson (1994-2007), and our current pastor, Rev. Jane Esterline (2009-current.)
There have been several mergers over the history of Park Church that have strengthened and changed its membership. The first occurred in June of 1916 when Park Church merged with the Prairie Church which had originated in 1871 as an offshoot of Reading Methodist Church but had become a rural Presbyterian Church in 1892. At a historic meeting held in Pittsburgh in May 1958, the Presbyterian Church in the USA (founded in 1706), and the United Presbyterian Church of North America (formed n 1858) became one body to be known as the United Presbyterian Church in the USA. The merger of the two churches was a landmark in the ecumenical movement, and Park Church officially became Park United Presbyterian Church. In August 1967, Park Church consolidated with the local United Church of Christ (Congregational Church), which was located across the street from the high school. Two large beautiful stained glass windows were taken from the United Church of Christ building and were incorporated into Park Church, which was officially renamed Park United Church of Christ, Presbyterian.
Today, Park Church serves an active membership of about 250 people. The church mission statement proclaims that, “We at Park Church want to act as God’s hands in both the heart of Streator and in our world-wide community. We strive to share our message of faith and to make a difference for Christ through our ministries of worship, mission and education.” With guidance from above and willing hands and hearts here below, we look forward to the next set of challenges and accomplishments that await this 150 year old congregation.