THE LAYING OF THE CORNER STONE OF THE NEW
FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, BAY CITY. *
CONTRIBUTED BY JUDGE ALBERT MILLER
The Presbyterian society on June 25,
1891, celebrated one of the most important events in its history - that of the
laying of the corner stone of the handsome new church in course of erection on
the northeast corner of Center avenue and Jackson street. The event
has long been looked forward to with a great deal of interest by the members of
the congregation, as it would mark an important epoch in the affairs of the
church, besides providing a handsome and commodious house of worship. The
ceremonies were set for five o'clock, and as that hour approached, large crowds
began assembling in front of the building. Chairs had been provided and
nearly every person was given a comfortable seat.
At a quarter past five o'clock Rev. W. H. Clark, D. D., pastor of the church mounted the platform just inside the front entrance and addressed the large audience. He spoke of the important work to be accomplished on this occasion and briefly reviewed the progress made by the society since its organization.
This was followed by the singing of the Doxology, and an invocation by Rev. W. P. Miller, of the Westminster Presbyterian Church of West Bay City. The choir then sang the hymn, "The Church's One Foundation." Rev. Mr. Miller then read the psalter, the responses being given by the audience.
Rev. W. W. Lyle of the First Congregational Church, read the scripture lesson from Peter II:1-9, following it with prayer.
The following interesting paper, "Reminiscences of Early Days," was prepared by Judge Albert Miller, was then read by Hon. N. B. Bradley:
This beautiful region of northern Michigan, between the northern limits of Oakland county and the Straits of Mackinaw, now teeming with life and industry, with great religious privileges and educational facilities, was known to the writer when it was a howling wilderness, inhabited only by Indians and wild beasts of the forest, except a settlement of white people in what is now Genesee county, containing about seventy souls, and twenty-eight whites at Saginaw. The writer settled in the region above referred to in the year 1830, and in 1831 heard the first gospel sermon, which was delivered at Grand Blanc by the Rev. Mr. Gilruth, the presiding elder of the northern district of the Ohio Methodist Episcopal conference, which then included the territory of Michigan. A few days ago the writer had a personal interview with the Rev. Wm. H. _____, now a trustee of Albion college, whom he knew fifty-seven years ago. He was then the first stated preacher ever located in the Saginaw valley. There was then no religious organization in it, and but few persons who acknowledged their Saviour's claim to their service. Now there are hundreds of church spires in the region mentioned pointing heavenward, inviting the people to enter the edifices below them and there receive the instruction that will turn their thoughts in the same direction.
In the winter of 1831-32 the writer taught the second term of school, and the first that was ever taught by a man in the region referred to - and in the winter of 1834-5 taught the first term that was taught north of Flint river. Now that same region is noted for its educational facilities. Millions of dollars are expended in it, in erecting temples of science and instructing children from the rudiments, to the higher branches of an education.
In 1839 the writer with his wife united with the first Presbyterian church of Saginaw, which was the first religious organization in the Saginaw valley. The first church edifice dedicated to the worship of God in the Saginaw valley was the one at the Methodist Episcopal mission f the Indians on the Kawkawlin river. In 1850 a building twenty by thirty feet on the ground, was erected at Portsmouth and dedicated to the worship of God.
In the spring of 1856 the Rev. Lucius I. Root was invited to look over the ground at Lower Saginaw and vicinity, with a view to locating there to preach the gospel and to organize a Presbyterian church when the proper time should arrive. The sum of $300 had been subscribed by the people for the part payment of a Presbyterian minister's salary for one year, the balance to be contributed by the board of home missions.
After looking over the ground carefully and considering the matter, Mr. Root concluded to accept the invitation to preach for the people there for one year and on the first Sabbath of May, 1856, commenced his ministerial labors. Mr. Root was a graduate of Princeton college. He was a pious, learned man, devoted to his work of the ministry, and soon gained the love and esteem of all who knew him.
In September, 1856, the first Presbyterian church of Lower Saginaw (now Bay City) was organized with eight members. Their names were Jesse Calkins, Albert Miller and his wife, Mary Ann Miller, Mrs. Angeline Miller, Mrs. Nancy M. Hart, Mrs. Abigail Smith, Mrs. Mary Tromble, and Mrs. Francis I. Root. The church had no consecrated home where its members could gather for worship, but occupied such halls as could be rented for that purpose. There were additions to the church membership at every communion season. The writer remembers the remark of Mr. Root at the second one that was held by the church, that there was a coincidence with the one where the ordinance was instituted. It was in an upper room and there were twelve disciples to partake. Although the number of church members continued to increase, there was no special interest or revival until the winter of 1857-8. As the fruits of that revival the church, at its communion season in March, 1858, received eighteen new members.
In March, 1858, Scott W. Sayles and Albert Miller were elected elders, the first the church had. Mr. Sayles died three or four years afterwards. Albert Miller has continued to be a member of the board of elders since the time of his first election. Mr. Root was installed pastor of the church in November, 1857. The church has had a flourishing Sunday school since its first organization. The late Dr. George E. Smith was one of its first superintendents.
The church continued to prosper under Mr. Root's pastorate until March, 1859, when he resigned his charge. The relation was dissolved by prebytery, and the church became vacant on the first day of May following. The church had no stated supply from that time till 1860 when the Rev. E. I .Stewart was called to occupy the position.
Mr. Stewart was an active, energetic man, had the interests of the church at heart and rendered much good service for it. But he was not a highly educated man and in preaching had not the faculty of holding the attention and interest of his congregation. Under Mr. Stewart's administration two church edifices were erected. The first was a small edifice thirty feet by fifty. After the church had been fully completed and while the first communion in it was being partaken of, it took fire from a defective flue and was wholly consumed. There was no insurance on the building, and its loss was considered by the people as a great calamity. It was with a great effort that they
succeeded in erecting and paying for the building. But their loss interested some persons outside of the church and congregation and aroused to action those immediately interested who resolved to commence at once the building of a larger and better church edifice than he one that had just been destroyed. Mr. Stewart was sent east to solicit aid from rich churches in that region. He obtained six or seven hundred dollars with which and a loan from the church erection board, the people were enabled to erect the main body of the church now occupied, and dedicated it without debt except the loan from the church erection board, on the 25th day of December, 1864. Mr. Stewart dissolved his connection with the church soon afterwards and it had no stated supply until March, 1865, when God, in his gracious purpose to continue the prosperity of the church, put it into the hearts of the people to call Rev. J. Ambrose Wight to be their pastor.
Dr. Wight commenced his ministerial labors with the people on the first sabbath of May, 1865, and was installed pastor of the church in the November following. An eternity is not too long to show all the good that God hath wrought through is instrumentality for this church and people.
From the first Dr. Wight was a leading spirit in the presbytery and synod, and there exerted a beneficial influence. It may be said that he was the founder of Alma college. His earnest advocacy in the synod for its establishment, prevailed, and some of the contributors to the endowment fund were his warmest personal friends. Dr. Wight resigned his pastorate on the first of May, 1888, but was continued as pastor emeritus until his spirit passed from earth to heaven, in November 1889. Three years before Dr. Wight resigned his pastorate, the Rev. James Reed, a recent graduate was called by the people to be Dr. Wight's assistant. He discharged his duties with satisfaction to the pastor and people for one year, when he resigned. Afterward the Rev. Burt Estes Howard, of Cleveland, a young man of superior talents and ability, was called to the position, which he held at the time Dr. Wight resigned his pastorate, when he was called to be the pastor of the church. He was installed pastor and filled the position acceptably till the first of October, 1890, when he resigned to take a position in a church at his form home in Cleveland.
After that the church had no stated supply, but the pulpit was occupied every Sabbath till March, 1891, when God in his infinite wisdom, and to carry out His gracious purpose of continuing the prosperity of this church and people, sent the Rev. Wm. H. Clark, D. D. to be pastor of this church. Dr. Clark commenced the work of the ministry in the church on the first Sabbath of May, 1891, and on the third day of June following, was installed its pastor, to the delight and satisfaction of all concerned. On the following Sabbath when a communion season was observed, twenty-seven new members were added to the church. God has cared for the seed that was planted here, in faith, in 1856, in the little church of eight members. He has increased its numbers till its membership is now 360, and enabled them to undertake the erection of a beautiful temple for His worship
That He may continue to bless and prosper this church and people, and enrich their hearts with His grace while there remains one stone of this edifice in its place, is the earnest prayer of Albert Miller.
First manual of the church, 1860; manual of the church, 1884; manual of the church, 1890; list of members June 25, 1891; sermons by the former pastor Rev. J. Ambrose Wight, D. D., "Ten Years of Quiet," "History of the Presbytery of Saginaw," "Semi-centennial of the Synod of Michigan;" memorial of the Rev Mark Hopkins, D. D. LL.D.; account of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the church and Sabbath school May 1 and 2, 1881; reminiscences of early days by Judge Albert Miller; program of the order of services at the laying of the corner stone; copies of the following newspapers and periodicals: The Bay City Tribune, the Bay City Times-Press, Detroit Tribune, Detroit Free Press, with supplement, New York Evangelist, New York Observer, The Interior, The Independent, The Church at Home and Abroad.
The singing of the hymn, "O Lord of Hosts," was followed by prayer. The doxology was then sung by the congregation. Rev. Thomas W. McLean pronounced the benediction and the large audience dispersed.
*For Twenty-fifth Anniversary Celebration, see First Presbyterian Church, Bay City, 1881
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