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Looking Back to Beginnings...
Long years have flown since first we met In the old church that stood in the shade.Gray hairs have come, but we'll ne'er forget The good old times when we sang and prayed...No stained windows reflected the lightNor was pulpit in velvet arrayed;Yet every heart was cheerful and light,In the old church that stood in the shade.
This hardly reads like a description of the Hyde Park Presbyterian church, yet the above lines were written many years ago by a former superintendent of the Sabbath School, Mr. James P. Root. The old church stood in a grove of oak trees at the corner of Oak Street and Hyde Park Avenue. It was a quaint little building with a V-shaped roof. The double doors opened upon a center aisle flanked on either side by hard wooden benches. Halfway down on one side was a short bench seating but two, the organist and choirmaster, and in the space thus made were the little melodeon and the big wood stove that smoked sadly when the wind blew from the east.
At first, all denominations worshipped together, but as they grew in numbers they divided, the Presbyterians meeting in the morning and the Episcopaliansin the afternoon. One cold winter day, tradition states, the Episcopal congregation had to return to their homes, as the Presbyterians had burned all the Episcopal wood, and there was a famous mock trial in Flood's Hall,where the prisoner was brought in dragging a great log to which he was chained.
The churchyard was enclosed with a picket fence, and from the gate a two-plank walk led to the front door. When the building was dedicated the gate posts were decorated with great wreaths of beautiful wild flowers and the pulpit was banked with many lovely blossoms gathered from nearby woods and fields. The lot was donated and the chapel built in 1858 by Mr. Paul Cornell, the "Father of Hyde Park," and on May 6, 1860, the First Presbyterian church of Hyde Park was organized with sixteen members. In eight years the congregation outgrew the chapel, so another location was secured at the corner of Adams Avenue and Oak Street and 53rd street.Worship was held in that chapel for the last time on April 3, 1870. As ourpoet regretfully remarks,
They moved it away and cut down the grove,Not a bird nor a prayer has stayed;Nothing to mark the spot we love,Where the old church stood in the shade.
As a matter of fact, the church was only moved around the corner of the lot and faced on Hyde Park Avenue instead of Oak Street. It became the Town Hall, and a strong basement was built underneath to accommodate prisoners.The Hyde Park jail still occupies that spot. The old building was moved to 79th Place and Madison Avenue in 1892, where it was used as a hotel during the World's Fair. It has since been burned. As a church, a jail and a World's Fair Boarding house, it has been quite a factor in the discipline of world!
Once upon a time there was a little girl whose earliest recollections of life began on Hyde Park Avenue-long since renamed Lake Avenue. Oak Street became 53rd Street, and Adams became Washington Avenue. Then there were beautiful flowers in the gardens and roses clambered over the front porches.Just outside her backyard was a terrible monster that went to and from the city of Chicago four times a day. Every time she heard the engine coming shewould scamper into the house because she was sure that if it ever got off the track, it would come right into her yard. On the other side of the Illinois Central right-of-way were the great bigwoods, so dense that she knew that bears and wolves were there. Her neighbors were Mr. Hinkley, Dr. Flood, the Campbells and Major Cole, the Hibbards and the Bogues. Major Cole was an evangelist and in the estimation of this little girl he was more important than the Apostle Paul. She started school at the old Seminary building on Hyde Park Avenue opposite the jail, ant it was a fearful and fascinating thing for the scholars to runover and peek in the windows to see who was locked up.
Her teacher was Mrs.Parsons who taught first grade in Hyde Park schools for forty years.Every Sabbath morning the little girl went with her father and mother to the"stone church." It was built when basement houses were fashionable. The Sabbath school rooms were in the lower part, but the preaching was in thegreat room upstairs. There were some very queer but beautiful letters on thewall and they read: "Let The People Praise Thee, O God, Let All the PeoplePraise Thee." The church had a most wonderful steeple. It was so tall thatit seemed to touch the sky and the bell that pealed was given to the churchby Pastor Johnson's father. At the very tip of the top was a great golden cross that glistened in the sunshine; altogether it was a most marvelous steeple.One Saturday afternoon the little girl was looking out of the window watching a dreadful storm. Even as she looked there was a whirling black cloud over the church and the steeple bent, described a semi-circle in theair, and crashed to the ground, a splintered ruin. It was rebuilt, but notso high!
After the morning service came Sabbath School where the infant class was led by Mrs. James P. Root and Mrs. Fasset. Mrs. Root was one of the most efficient women of the early church and Mrs. Fasset was an artist of no mean ability. A large painting of hers adorns one of the walls in the capitol inWashington. Every Sabbath afternoon the little girl went with her father to Pastor Johnson's house, where he hitched up the Pastor's horses. He needed a horse in those days as the parish was wide and houses were scattered from the city limits at 39th Street south to 67th Street. Streets were unlighted and unpaved.South Park was called Woodville. To the West was Egandale, where the dogtooth violets grew in abundance and where boys searched for bird's nests.Then came the pine woods, the only place to find the yellow violet. Across the dummy track on 55th Street was Gansell's prairie, the home of the dainty white violet, where boys played ball in summer and children skated in winter.
South of Gansell's prairie, the Midway Plaisance was a plaisance indeed, not a straight road connecting Jackson and Washington Parks, but a beautiful, shady, winding driveway through an oak grove, where grew the very finest wild strawberries. Besides a Young Peoples Association, Major Cole had banded the young meninto a society called "The Yoke Fellows of Hyde Park." The Yoke Fellows distributed tracts, and put up racks containing tracts and a fine copy ofthe New Testament in the old Hyde Park depot, in the Kenwood and Woodlawn depots, and in the old dummy station on 55th Street. Sweetest of all was the girls' prayer meeting. In 1879 Pastor Johnson's wife gathered the girls into her house and taught them how to pray. The sweet influence of these weekly meetings, when timidly brave they prayed in turn,will never cease. Then the mothers had their meetings, where they discussed problems and prayed for their children. Every mother was pledged to teach her children a certain number of Bible verses and a hymn each month. We think we are busy now, but just glance over this weekly calendar with me.It was just before the Civil War that the church was organized and two fine young men, Charles W. Everett and Curtiss Bogue, marched away from it to fight for freedom's cause.
The one, Mr. Everett, received a mortal wound at the battle of Belmont; the other Mr. Bogue, returned home only to meet as tragic a death in the wreck of the Illinois Central Hyde Park train in 1862.There was yet another, a mere lad, Leonard, the only son of Elder and Mrs.Hassan Hopkins, who also went to war and died, a victim of the dread southern fever. As already mentioned, a melodeon furnished the music for the little white chapel in the grove. Mr. Henry C. Work, a charter member of the church, played it. He frequently went to church to practice, for as yet he had no piano in his Hyde Park home and he was working on a new war song. The finished song, "Marching through Georgia," was shown to Mr. George F. Root of the famous firm of Root and Cady, who published it. After the stone church was built, Mr. Root, author of "The Battle Cry of Freedom," "Tramp,Tramp, Tramp, the Boys are Marching," and many other songs, conducted therein a weekly song service.Then there was Norman B. Judd who nominated "the rail splitter and giant killer of Illinois," Abraham Lincoln, for the presidency of the United States. And Mr. Carmichael who rented two pews: one for his family and the other that the poor and stranger might always find a welcome place. And Mr.W. H. Ray, principal of Hyde Park High School as well as Superintendent ofthe Sabbath School.
There were numerous women who organized numerous associations: In 1884, when Presbyterian Hospital was founded, this church was one of the first to respond and Mrs. Lodge, Mrs. Willoughby, Mrs. Leland, Mrs. Walter Nelson and Mrs. Charles Root were among those who attended the first meeting to make up bed and table linen for the new hospital. In 1883, the Young Ladies' Society joined with the young men and formed the Young People's Association and,with the Ladies Missionary Society, fitted out Miss Sadie C. Wirt for her long missionary journey to Laos. She is still there, but we know her now as Mrs. Peoples. The first Home Missionary sent out by the Society was Miss Albertine Butts, who went to work among the freedmen at the Mary Allen Seminary of Crockett, Texas. No picture would be complete without mentioning Aunt Libbie Coffin. She went from door to door, collecting the mite boxes for the Missionary Societies,or selling aprons for the Ladies' Aid, and she presented everybody in town,including Inspector Nicholas Hunt, with a small pocket pin cushion made withher own hands.We have no records of the earliest meetings of these women's societies, but they are written above.
And when God shall come in glory and peaceTo collect all the debts we have made, He'll surely grant us a full release Because of the church that stood in the shade.