The early settlers of Pettis County practiced many religions, but most followed Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, or the Disciples of Christ theology. Often denominations worshipped together or shared a meeting place. However, when a group of those who practiced a certain theology could raise the money to build a worship place of their own, most built churches for their group.
In his Pettis County Missouri: A Pictorial History, author William Claycomb notes that some of the settlers in Georgetown practiced Presbyterianism, as did those in Heath Creek area near Longwood. They were members of the First Church of Pettis, an Old School Presbyterian group. In 1856, under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. John Montgomery, they built a 40 by 60-foot brick church on the site of what is now High Point Cemetery north of Sedalia.
The 1882 History of Pettis County provides more information about the growth of the Presbyterian denomination in the area, but does not detail the different groups of Presbyterians identified by differences in theology and politics.
The 1882 History begins with an account of the beginning of the denomination in Sedalia. The first preaching by a Presbyterian minister occurred when the Rev. Montgomery walked from Georgetown and preached a sermon in a frame house that had been moved to Sedalia by the railroad. A small group of Sedalia residents and a larger group of officers and soldiers from the federal troops stationed in Sedalia attended the worship service.
The Rev. Montgomery preached in Sedalia occasionally, as did the Rev. Barbee, who would later take a church in Excelsior Springs. The group organized as the First Presbyterian Church in August 1865. At that time, they were meeting in a school room north of the Garrison House.
Charter members of the church included Dr. Montgomery, John Brown, J. J. Monohan, Abram Meyer, Julius Huffman, Mrs. R. Monohan, Mrs. Adaline Meyer, John Landes, Mrs. Sarah Staley, John Philips, P. G. Stafford, and William Wallace. Some of these would become important in the development of early Sedalia.
The 1882 History does not provide much information about the building, but it seems likely that this is the building used before and during the war as a subscription school by E. W. Washburn and his daughter Georgiana Claycomb and as a worship site by a group of Methodists who would later form First Methodist Church.
Rev. Barbee encouraged the congregation to purchase a house sometimes used as a church by worshippers in Syracuse and have the building moved via railroad to Sedalia. In 1865, the building was moved, placed at the corner of Second Street and Lamine Avenue, and remodeled extensively.
According to the 1882 History, this was the first church building erected in Sedalia. The building was built for a Presbyterian Church, but for several years other denominations used the facility.
In 1868, the Rev. Montgomery resigned as pastor because of health problems related to injuries. He recommended that the congregation of approximately 120 members choose the Rev. C. H. Dunlap as his replacement. Under Dunlap’s leadership, the group sent a representative to a meeting of the Osage Presbytery of the General Assembly. Forty-one members asked for permission to organize the Old School Presbyterian Church. The building was given to the remaining sixty members of the original group.
Next week’s column continues the story of the various groups of Presbyterians in early Sedalia and Pettis County.