Our Early History of First Presbyterian Church
of Warsaw in Kosciusko County, Indiana
Information excerpted from “Foundations of Faith – A History of the First Presbyterian Church (USA) Warsaw, Indiana”
An early figure in Warsaw’s history and one of the founding fathers of the Presbyterian Church in Warsaw was William Williams. “Uncle Billy Williams” as he was later called, and his wife, Mary, were among the first nine members of the church.
Fourteen years before the town of Warsaw, Indiana was incorporated, the Presbyterian Church was organized by the authority of the Logansport (Indiana) Presbytery with Reverend Jacob Wolff officiating on November 7, 1840. Besides William and Mary Williams, there were Peter Hover, who served as supply minister, Isaac and Catherine Lucas, and four women – Priscilla Davis, Mary McFadden, Eliza McFadden, and Eliza Nye. It is recorded that William Williams and Peter Hover served as Elders.
In 1843, J. Ogden is listed as the first “settled pastor” of the newly-founded church, but it is L.G. Weeks who served from December of 1843 until 1848, who is recognized as being first by the church’s centennial history of 1940. Services must have been held in the homes at this time as it was not until 1845 that the first (county) courthouse was built, sufficient enough in size to house group meetings.
By the middle of the 1840′s, Daniel and Mary Pittenger had come to Warsaw from Ohio and had begun operating a saw mill in the Walnut Creek area south of Warsaw. They, along with Thomas Logan, were the first recorded accessions to the new Presbyterian Church. The Pittengers figured strongly in the success of the young church. However, before the first house of worship was to be built, there was a split in the Presbyterian Church. The Second Presbyterian Church of Warsaw was founded in 1848. The names of Hover and VanCuren which had appeared on the First Presbyterian Church’s registry were now with the Second Presbyterian Church.
Among the members of the newly formed church was a builder, William Cosgrove, who built a meeting house for his church at the corner of Market & Lake Streets in Warsaw. This church continued to exist from the years 1848-1854 with services held alternately at Warsaw, Oswego and perhaps Monoquet.
After the demise of the Second Presbyterian Church, William Cosgrove kindly offered the building for First (Presbyterian) Church’s meeting place. But after their own church was built in 1858, the Cosgrove building was sold to the Christian Church and eventually moved.
In 1851, there were no public schools in Warsaw, but only three so-called “subscription” schools. Robert and Jane Cowen, who moved here in 1851 from Michigan, opened their seminary on Detroit Street in Warsaw, between the railroad and Winona Avenue. The historical records tell us that Jane was an excellent teacher and that many of the town leaders were her students. The Cowen daughters, Martha and Semerimis, were also teachers in the seminary and their father was a carpenter by trade.
Having joined the small body of Presbyterians, the Cowens, along with other members of the congregation, decided that it was time to build their own church. A frame church was built primarily by Robert Cowen, using lumber from Daniel & Nancy Pittenger’s sawmill. The congregation of 1858 consisted of Mary Williams, Mary Ann Bair, Mrs. Saine, Mrs. Elizabeth Loney, Mrs. Lucas, Mr & Mrs. Logan Minzie, and Robert and Jane Cowen. The Reverend W.S. Wilson was pastor, serving the church for a total of fourteen years, except for a brief time when he served as chaplain of the 88th Regiment during the Civil War. In his absence, Jacob Little and Reverend Spinney served as supply pastors. The building was constructed on the corner of Market and Indiana Streets, facing Market Street.
A significant event in the history of the church during 1859 was the arrival from Fort Wayne, Indiana of A.J. Mershon who organized the first choir. The names of Samuel H. Chipman, Richard Loney, William Williams, and Mr. Bair all appear in the early records of the Presbyterian Church. In 1864, W.S. Wilson was pastor, and Robert Cowen and John Sloane were elders. Miss Mary McFadden, Mrs. Mary Elma Bair, and Miss Jane Mershon were accepted as new members. By 1865, the congregation had grown to 52 members, and a two-manual organ had been purchased, as well as a deep-toned bell.
Daniel & Nancy Pittenger were parents of twelve children, several of whom were also members of the Presbyterian Church: Mary Pittenger Kelly, Henry Pittenger, and Alexander Pittenger, who was elected to the position of county sheriff in 1860. Rebecca Pittenger married one of the Bierce brothers of the Walnut Creek area, and Almeda Bierce married Henry Pittenger, and later Alexander Pittenger. Another son of Daniel & Nancy Pittenger, young Daniel, died in the Battle of Chicamauga in 1863. Daniel Pittenger, Sr. died in 1869 and his wife Nancy died in 1861.
In 1877, a young student minister named Thomas Boyd was called to the local Presbyterian pulpit for two years. Following his ordination in 1879, he was installed as the regular pastor at a salary of $1,000 per year. During his ministry, the Board of Elders consisted of Robert Cowen, John Sloan, R.C. Smith, A.J. Bair, S.W. Chipman, and DeWitt Harris. The membership in 1879 was 126.
The small frame Presbyterian Church soon became too small to house the growing congregation under Pastor Boyd. In 1881 the cornerstone was laid for a new brick church just east of the old building, which took two years to build. Dedicated on July 1, 1883, the First Presbyterian Church of Warsaw was located at the corner of Market and High Streets in Warsaw, where it remains to this day, although several additions and remodelings have taken place over the years. In 1887 during the pastorate of J.Q. Hall, a pipe organ was installed.
In 1894, Solomon C. Dickey, serving as superintendent of Home Missions for the Presbyterian Church of Indiana, proposed the establishment of “a kind of religious chautauqua where ministers and church workers would assemble for Bible study and the discussion of church problems.” The matter met with the approval of the Presbyterian Synod which met in Fort Wayne. Through a chance meeting on a train with one of the Beyer brothers, who were wholesale dealers in dairy products and had purchased a large tract of land containing natural cool springs east of what is now Winona Lake, Dr. Dickey set into motion the purchase of some of this land. The Presbyterians paid $70,000 for 160 acres of land, and the Bible Conference held there became known to church groups everywhere. The Presbyterian Building, later called the Westminster Hotel, was built in the year 1905. Kosciusko Lodge was built about 1900 as a summer camp for Presbyterian youth, and continued to provide religious education for nearly fifty years. The principal landmark at Winona Lake was the Billy Sunday Tabernacle, named for evangelist William Ashley Sunday who arrived in 1895 with his wife, Nellie, and who became a Presbyterian minister. Billy Sunday is said to have preached to more than one hundred million people in his career.
In the early 1900′s, the Presbyterian Church was under the pastorship of Edward Yates Hill, with W.F. Maish, James W. Cook, and Silas W. Chipman among the elders. S. W. Chipman was superintendent of Sunday School for twenty-two years. Members Estelle S. Widaman, Frank M. Hetrick, Rose C. Hetrick, and John M. Reid formed a singing quartet within the church about this time.
In 1904, Reverend E.H. Montgomery was pastor, with a congregation numbering 248. In 1907, Rev. Montgomery was granted a three-month leave of absence to make a trip to Palestine. The supply pastor during Montgomery’s leave was Reverend Charles H. Little. Dr. F.N. Palmer from Winona Lake led prayer meetings and served as session moderator. In 1909, Reverend Montgomery was called to a pulpit in Aurora, Illinois. His replacement was Reverend James M. Eakins of Chicago. Under his pastorship, the congregation grew to 330. In 1913, the membership climbed to 420, and in 1916, the total number of members climbed to 460.
In 1914, under the leadership of Charles Ker, Sr., an extensive remodeling of the church building was initiated. A large Christian education wing and a narthex were added, yet the original architecture of the church was preserved. The work was completed in 1915.