Since 1898, our beautiful and inspiring church building has been the place where we worship, fellowship, welcome new friends and reach out to the community.  Three congregations currently gather weekly to worship God.  Located in the heart of Galesburg, soaring high above the City Square, our church building is also a work of art in its own right.

Central Congregational Church was listed individually on the National Register of Historic Places on September 30, 1976 and is one of the best examples of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture in Illinois. Designed by local architect C. E. Gottschalk, the building stands on the site of the Old First Church. The cornerstone of the structure was laid in 1897, and the building was completed in December 1898 at a cost of $75,000.

Construction of the Central Congregational Church Building

The paper “The Construction of Central Congregational Church” was authored by Harvey Safford, the Central Congregational Church historian. Mr. Safford presented this paper at the Symposium of the Illinois Historic Association in Springfield, Illinois on December 6, 1998.
In many county seats the most imposing building on the town square is the courthouse. In Galesburg, it is Central Congregational Church. The church almost fills the quarter-block lot and its bell tower rises to 137 feet. It is the second church on this site. The first church was torn down after fifty years and replaced with a Romanesque style sandstone building in 1897-1898.

The founders of Galesburg and Knox College were Presbyterians and Congregationalists from central New York and southwestern Vermont. Their first church, built in 1846, was of the traditional New England design; a wood frame building painted white. The interior design emphasized music and the word. The pipe organ was in the chancel and the pulpit was in the middle of the platform in front of the organ facade. The choir, however, was placed in the balcony over the entrance.

The church divided amicably in 1855. The daughter church, First Congregational Church, built a brick structure, which was a slight departure from the plain First Church. The interior followed the traditional style of organ and pulpit in the chancel and the choir over the entrance.

The two churches reunited in 1895 with the objective of constructing a new house of worship. A Building Committee was elected and instructed to obtain plans. They advertised for plans and received six proposals. After interviewing the architects they selected the firm of Gottschalk and Beadle.

The Building Committee was:

President – Dr. J.B. Holland, Publisher
Secretary – O.J. Colton, business man
Charles A. Webster, Pres. Frost Mfg. Co.
J.T. McKnight, Pres. Second Nat’l Bank
John T. Avery, farmer
Samuel J. Perry, contractor
Prof. George Churchill, Knox College teacher
J.T. McKnight resigned in April, 1897, and B.F. Arnold, attorney, was appointed to replace him.

C.E. Gottschalk, Architect, had worked in Chicago and maintained a cooperative connection while in Galesburg. The Daily Republican Register, December 5, 1898 said, “The building (Central Congregational Church) was designed by the firm of Gottschalk and Beadle. Mr. Gottschalk had the immediate supervision of the plans. The firm deserves great credit for its beautiful creation. No man could desire better effect than that afforded by the production of such a delight, which remains as a monument to his skill and art”.

Dr. Holland was a logical choice for president of the building committee. Born in 1830, he graduated from Dartmouth in 1854. After several years teaching at Westfield Academy, he returned to Dartmouth and graduated from the medical department in 1864. He graduated from the Columbia medical department in 1867. Beginning in 1868, he was in business as a wholesale publisher and bookseller in New York, Chicago and Galesburg. The newspaper at the time of his death in 1902, said, “It was he who insisted on the present style of church, details, etc. His taste is reflected in the beautiful windows, and other artistic adornment”.

Working together, they chose a Romanesque design in the style of Trinity Church in Boston, designed by H.H. Richardson in 1872. Mr. Richardson had been designing buildings in the Romanesque style for several years and had achieved much popularity with his design of Trinity Church. The rounded arches, high roof with ridges, hips and valleys, and bell tower of Central Congregational Church are much like those of Trinity Church. The tower of Trinity Church is over the middle of the sanctuary. The construction of Central Congregational Church placed the bell tower on the northeast corner overlooking the town square. The tower height is 137 feet. The Building Committee made a trip to Chicago to inspect buildings. When they returned, the committee recommended that brown sandstone from Marquette, Michigan be used for the exterior. The stone would add about $5,000 to the final cost.

Bids were sought from contractors. The bids were to include framing and carpentry, brick and stone masonry and roofing. Not to be included were plumbing, gas fixtures, electric wiring, art glass for windows, beveled plate glass panes for the doors, frescoing, furniture and heating. They requested a seating capacity of 1,260. By July 27, 1896, six bids had been received. They ranged from $56,250 to $63,410. This was higher than believed practical. The architect was asked to reduce the seating capacity to 1,000 seats and to seek new bids. O.C. Housel, who was in the middle of the first bidding, was the low bidder at $51,475. This was $6,450 lower than his first bid and contributed to his eventual loss. $200 was added for stone steps and the contract was signed for $51,675 on April 10, 1897.

Mr. Housel was 41 years old. His biographical sketch in a Knox County history says ” …in 1889 he returned to Galesburg, and entered upon his successful career as contractor and builder. Mr. Housel has built many of the fine residences and most conspicuous buildings in Galesburg. Among the latter may be mentioned the Marquette Building, the Dick Block, the Craig and Johnson building on Main St., the Central Congregational Church, the Universalist Church, the Knox Street Congregational Church, and the remodeling of the First Methodist Episcopal Church. Nor have Mr. Housel’s labors been confined to the demands upon his skills in the town where he resides. He was the builder of the annex to the County Alms House at Knoxville, and of the annex to the State Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb at Jacksonville”. Mr. Housel had two subcontractors; August Stenstrom, stone mason, and John Hjerpe, brick mason. Mr. Housel, with the assistance of Andy Brisbee, was his own carpenter contractor.

The first brick was laid in the footing April 21, 1897. The first stonewas set in the northwest corner May 26, 1897. Immediately a problem arose (see picture below.)       The Building Committee had arranged for one of its members, Samuel J. Perry, to be superintendent. He apparently questioned the way the stone was being set and a telegram was sent to the stone company. They sent a consultant to Galesburg. Who explained that to achieve the desired final appearance the stone should be set in the same attitude, top and bottom, as it lay in the original bed in the quarry. He said there would be 5% added cost to do it this way. Mr. Housel agreed to absorb the extra cost and the work proceeded . This was the second contribution to Mr. Housel’s financial loss.

The cornerstone was set on June 10, 1897. There was a public ceremony attended by several out of town dignitaries. There are about 1,500,000 bricks in the building. The brick contract was $11,310.The walls are of brick facing with stone ashlar. The stone averages 7 inches thick. The bricks are covered with two coats of plaster on the interior. There were 16,000 cubic feet of stone weighing about 1,320 tons. The contract cost for stone was $17,700.

The itemized cost of the stone was:

16,000 cu. ft. @ .33 $5280.00
Freight @ 12 � c/100# 3300.00
Hauling 550.00
Anchors 225.00
Stone setting 2800.00
Stone cutting 5000.00
Stone sawing 545.00
Total $17,700.00

The brick wall and the stone facing progressed upward at about the same speed. The two crews had to cooperate and keep out of each other’s way. The space between the stone and bricks was filled with mortar and rubble. The two walls were secured to each other with anchors.

All material was lifted by stiff-leg derricks outside the walls. Workmen worked on scaffolding inside the wall. The frames and mullions for the windows were placed and the wall was laid around them. The glass panels were put in place after the wall was completed.

There are 75 stained glass windows ranging in size from 3 square feet to 1,080 square feet. They were made by the Luminous Prism Co. of Chicago, successor to the Geo. Androvette Co. The largest, of 1,080 square feet, fills the north wall of the auditorium. There are three sections with painted glass centers of lilies, grapes, palm fronds and passionflowers. At or near the top the window are, from left to right, a dove, a crown and a sheaf of grain. The remainder of the window is comprised of small panes of varied colors and shapes. Also included in strategic locations are red and yellow “jewels”.

Above the balcony in the east wall is a rose window 22 feet in diameter. In the center is a round section with a Greek cross with escutcheons. Around the center is a circle of 12 identical panels with geometric design. Around this ring is a second ring of 24 panels with a geometric design different from the inner circle. At the same time that the walls were going up, four brick columns 3 feet by 4 feet were built to a height of 52 feet in the corners of the auditorium. They supported trusses that in turn supported the roof and carried the ceiling. There were two trusses that spanned 64 feet. The bottom chords were seven 2″ x 14″x 64′. The top chords were seven 2″ x l6″ x 47′. The distance between the chords was 12 feet. There were four trusses that spanned 60 feet. The bottom chords were five 2″ x 14″ x 60′. The top chords were five 2″ x 14″ x 47′. The chords were 7 feet apart.

The two 64 foot trusses and two of the 60 foot trusses formed a rectangle with the corners on the brick columns. The two remaining 60 foot trusses were placed on top of the top chords of the 64 foot trusses. Bolts and rods, with threaded ends and burrs, bound the trusses together and to each other.

There were twenty-one smaller trusses in the framing between the ceiling and the roof. There were 271,900 board feet of lumber used in the framing, roof and floors. As a result, a 76 foot by 85 foot auditorium, free of obstructions, was accomplished.

The wall dividing the sanctuary and the Sunday School room opened to expand the seating. The bottom 10 feet of the panels could be lowered into the basement. The top portion could be lifted into the attic. The shift was accomplished by a hand driven crank with sprocket, chains and cable.

The Congregational practice of emphasizing music and the sermonwas followed in the sanctuary design. The “Akron Plan”was used. The pewswere curved across the long dimension of the room that slopeddownward from the rear to the platform. The pipe organ, with exposed pipes, was at the back of the chancel. A ninety-seat choir section was directly in front of and below the organ fa�ade. The pulpit was in the center of the platform in front of the choir. The bell for the new church was cast by a foundry in Baltimore, Maryland. Old First Church had a relatively new bell thathad been presented by the Avery family. It, with the bell from First Congregational Church and the bell from Knox Academy,were shipped to the foundry for recasting. After adding some new metal, a new bell was cast. It weighed 3,400 pounds and had a tone slightly lower than D (see photo below.)      There are eight doorways of exit averaging 6 feet in width that afford a total of 48 feet of passage. There a total of 30 doors and 6 half circle transoms with 4″ x 4″ beveled plate glass panes making a total of 2,640 full panes and 38 partial panes.

There were 6,000 feet of steam heating pipes supplied by two boilers. Additionally, there were four coal-burning fireplaces. The auditorium was heated by air being passed through a heat exchanger in the basement. The fan that fed the heat exchanger was capable of moving 30,000 cubic feet of air per minute. There was one mile of carpeting one yard wide and 235 square yards of inlaid linoleum.

On January 16, 1899, after 103 meetings, the Building Committee presented its final report to the Board of Trustees.

Cost of Building:
      Preliminary work, excavating, etc. $515.62
      Main Contract, O.C. Housel $51,675.00
      Extras allowed O.C. Housel $428.41
      Plans & Specifications $1,000.00
      Service of Superintendent $1,325.50
      Hardware $590.25
      Plumbing and Gas Fitting $1,050.00
      Electric Wiring $550.00
      Cistern $120.00
      Art Glass $3,068.00
      Extras for Memorials $149.75
      Bevel Plate, Doors & Transoms $504.13
      Glass for Basement $84.00
      Glass to complete doors $88.60
Total for Glass $3,894.48
      Frescoing $1,000.00
      Seating, Auditorium $2,000.00
      Pulpit Furniture and Freight $135.45
      Chairs for S.S. Room $306.00
      Chairs for Choir $184.30
Total for Seating $2,625.75
      Lighting Fixtures $1,747.00
      Heating & Ventilating $4,500.00
      Mantels & Grates $140.00
      Recasting Bell & Freight $285.76
      Erecting $62.50 $348.26
      Setting Up & Tuning Organ $446.57
      New Top for Organ $125.00
      Remodeling and Enlarging Organ $475.00
      Work on Organ Case $37.50
Total for Organ $1,084.07
      Expenses, Printing, Postage $31.50
      Insurance Paid $300.00
      Charged to Contractor $71.00 $229.00
      Interest Paid $293.17
      Less Rebate and Cash Discount $67.79
      Net Amount of Interest Paid $225.38
      Lumber for Platform $33.84
      Labor, Grading $14.36
      Changing Vault Doors $12.00
      Labor on Platform $12.17
      Labor on Chairs and Radiator $16.67 $89.04
Total $73,169.26
Other items not settled:
      Vault Door
      Extras on plumbing
      Extras on Heating
      Extras on Painting
      Decorating of Organ
      Small Changes in Building
      Grading & Walks
      Interest Accrued
Total to be added probably not to exceed $830.74
Probable Total Cost $74,000.00
      Balance Due on Frescoing Contract $100.00
      Balance Due on Roof $325.32
      Balance Due on Glass $88.60
      Balance Due on Pews $183.90
      Balance Due on Chairs $165.25
      Balance Due on Lighting Fixtures $747.00
      Balance Due on Heating Contract $1,000.00
      Balance Due on Organ $696.57
      Estimated additional items & interest $830.74
      Loans outstanding $30,200.00
Total Liabilities $34,337.38
      Cash on Hand $1,554.23
      Orders Issued and Unpaid $761.05
      Net Cash on Hand $793.18
Balance to be paid $33,544.20
      Sale of old Material $14.90
      Sale of Brick Church $5,500.00
      Interest on Loan $51.15
      Total Subscriptions Paid $34,889.75
Total Cash Received $40,455.80
Probable Cost of Building $74,000.00
Total Cash Received $40,455.80
Balance to be paid $33,544.20
Subscriptions Unpaid $15,000.00
Net Amount of Debt $18,544.20

On May 1, 1899, Mr. O.C. Housel appeared before the Board of Trustees and “presented a claim for additional pay on the stone work of the church over and above the contract price, claiming that the expense had been greatly increased by a change in the manner of laying the stone.” The matter was postponed until members of the discharged Building Committee could be consulted. The matter was apparently dropped as it was not in any of the subsequent Board Minutes. Mr. Housel died within 2 years and left his family in poor circumstances. After a week of meetings and programs, Central Congregational Church was formally dedicated on December 11, 1898.