In 1837, several young Presbyterian Home Missionaries entered Wisconsin Territory and began their missionary work in an area of the territory that was to become the State of Iowa. One of these men was Reverend John C. Ewing who was serving in an area that is now southeastern Iowa. In 1854, while residing in Oskaloosa, he traveled to Winterset to determine if there was sufficient interest in this five-year-old community to establish a church.  Upon his arrival, he found a group of eight Presbyterians that he organized into a church.  The new First Presbyterian Church was established October 10, 1854, under the stewardship of the Des Moines Presbytery. Reverend Ewing was a member of a branch of the Presbyterian Church called the New School. The members of the congregation he organized were from both the New School and Old School branches of the Presbyterian Church. Following the establishment of the church, he sent for his wife in Oskaloosa and his family arrived in Winterset on November 3, 1854. They made their home in a one-room log cabin that was comparable with the homes of the other 326 residents of the community.

The first meetings of the congregation were held in the log Court House that stood in what is now Monumental Park. The eight charter members were Dr. John H. Gaff, Mrs. Margaret Gaff, John S. Gaff, David Lamb, Polly Ann Hawkins, Martha Kerns, Emily Hornbeck and Mary Darrence.

In 1855, a permanent church was constructed on the site of the present Church of Christ located at First Avenue and West Green Street. This structure, which was later purchased by the Church of Christ, was referred to as “The Walnut Church” because it was built of native walnut lumber.

While the First Presbyterians were attending worship services in their new church, another event was occurring that would be an important milestone in the history of the church some one hundred years later. About 1852, a number of families, who were members of two other Presbyterian denominations, arrived in Madison County. These people organized an Associate Reformed Church in February 1855 and in August of that same year the Associate Church of Winterset was formed. Finally, in April 1858, and of future importance, these two churches were united under the name of the United Presbyterian Church of North America.

The history of the United Presbyterian Church in Winterset is interesting as it has a strong influence on the community and surrounding area. In 1867, the first house of worship for the United Presbyterian Church was constructed on East Court and Third Street. Some of the framework and floors of the original church are still present as part of the building now occupied by the Foursquare Gospel Church. From 1867 to 1870 members of the United Presbyterian congregation were sent to form new churches near Patterson, Pitzer, North Branch and Peru. This obviously caused a heavy drain on the church’s membership. In 1878, Reverend Henry Wallace arrived in Winterset from Morning Sun. He had been preaching there, but left because of poor health. Because the United Presbyterian congregation was without a minister at that time, he consented to preach every other Sabbath Day. He continued to offer his services for three years without remuneration. At this time, he was also part owner and farm editor of the Winterset Madisonian. He later founded the Wallace Farmer magazine. His son, Henry C. Wallace was a professor at Iowa State College and later served as Secretary of Agriculture under President Harding. A grandson, Henry A. Wallace, helped found the Pioneer Seed Corn Company and was also appointed Secretary of Agriculture and later served as Vice President in the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Henry A. Wallace was a boyhood friend of George Washington Carver. The Wallace home in Winterset is located on West Jefferson and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Another significant event in the history of the Presbyterian Church took place in 1857.  In that year, while the First Presbyterians (New School) and the two branches of the soon to be unified United Presbyterians were worshiping as established congregations, the Old School Presbyterians organized under the leadership of Reverend Jacobs of Knoxville, Iowa.  Subsequently, Reverend Walter L. Lyons was selected as the minister for the eleven charter members of this church. The first members included Mrs. Hornbeck and the McCalls from the First Presbyterian Church plus Mr. and Mrs. A. G. Welch, Mr. and Mrs. Ault, J. D. Jenks, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Thompson, Robert Goshorn, Mr. Westfall, Miss Lizzie McCleary, Mrs. Martha Stewart, Mr. Holmes and J. S. Goshorn. Because the record book of this Old School Presbyterian congregation was destroyed by a fire that burned the First National Bank building on the west side of the square, accurate dates in the history of the church have been lost. However, in 1859, the Old School congregation built a frame building on the northwest corner of East Court and Second Street. This building served as the church for both the First Presbyterians and the Old School Presbyterians from the end of the Civil War until the First Presbyterian Church was erected in 1875. Later, this old wood building was used as the Winterset Fire House. It was subsequently purchased and used by the Winterset Public Schools and continued in use until North Ward School was built in 1878.   The school stood where Northward Plaza is now located.

In 1858 the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church presented to the membership its first pulpit Bible. This Bible is now displayed in a niche in the sanctuary of the Presbyterian Church. In 1859 Reverend Lyons of the Old School Presbyterians was succeeded as minister by Reverend Thomas J. Taylor. In 1862 Rev. Taylor resigned from the pulpit to become Chaplain of Company A of the 39~ Iowa Volunteer Infantry. A large number of men from Madison County were assigned to this unit.

In 1864, because of health reasons, Reverend Ewing resigned from the First Presbyterian Church. The family continued to reside in Winterset living in a home across the street north of the old railroad depot. He was followed as minister by Reverend A. M. Heizer on November 1, 1864. Reverend Heizer served with great energy and through his efforts the First Presbyterian Church and the Old School Presbyterian congregation were united on December 15, 1867. The Elders of both churches served as the ruling body of the unified church. Later that same year, Reverend Heizer left the pulpit and was succeeded by Reverend F.rlwnrr1 Dickerson who remained as minister until 1870.

In September 1870, Reverend J. H. Potter became the first installed pastor of the church. An interesting story is told about how he became the minister in Winterset. He had retired from the ministry in Pennsylvania because of ill health and relocated near Macksburg where he began farming. There he also ministered to a small group of Presbyterians living in Madison and Adair counties. An elder from the Winterset First Presbyterian Church who delivered the Fourth of July address in Macksburg discovered Reverend Potter living there and apparently recruited him to resume his ministry in Winterset. Reverend Potter made a deep impression on the community and, under his leadership, the church made steady progress. In 1871, a new Communion Service was purchased to replace the pewter service then in use. The new set was triple plated silver and consisted of six pieces-a pitcher, two goblets, two plates and a baptismal font. Today, individual pieces of these Communion Services are preserved in the sanctuary.

In February 1875, the congregation voted to build a new and more adequate church.  Two lots on the southwest corner of Taylor (now 2nd Avenue) and West Green Street were purchased for this purpose. These two lots also contained a house that was temporarily used as a manse. The old manse that was acquired in 1866 was sold for $1200. This house apparently still stands at 116 South 3rd Avenue. It was at this time that the Old School Church building previously mentioned was sold to the Winterset Public School.

A contract to build the church with a capacity for 300 people and a 165-foot spire was awarded to Eli Cox who sublet the brick work to T. F. Mardis and the stone work to Henry Smith. The contract amount was for $11,000, however the completed construction cost was $14,000. Three rose windows were installed in the east, west and south gables and these beautiful windows exist today. Mr. Mardis, a member of the First Presbyterian Church, was a prominent brick mason and contractor who erected many of the business and fine residences in Winterset. Eli Cox was also a noted contractor who built some of the early bridges in the county. His son, George, continued the bridge building tradition of his father. The first worship services were held in the new church on September 21. 1876. Reverend Potter’s leadership also led to a greater interest in missionary work in Southeast Asia. One of his classmates, Jonathan Wilson, was a missionary in Siam and the Sunday School established a special project called the “Jonathan Fund” to financially support his missionary work. The fund was maintained for several years. Another interesting characteristic of the congregation at this time was the unusually large number of Civil War veterans that were members of the church. Twenty-seven men of the congregation were listed as veterans including Henry J. B. Cummings of the 39th Iowa Infantry; T. C. Gilpin, Company E of the 3rd Iowa Calvary; John S. Goshorn, Company E 47th Iowa Infantry; Miller R. Tidrick, Company G. 3rd Iowa Volunteer Infantry and Herman A. Kinsman, 93rd Illinois Volunteer Infantry.

With the continued growth of the church, the congregation again voted to approve a building project in August 1885. This project entailed constructing an addition to the southwest corner of the main building. A chapel, classrooms and kitchen were included in the project. The contract was again awarded to Mr. Mardis at a cost of $1,100. An “elegant” manse was subsequently built on the church property in 1890 at a cost of $2,800. Reverend H. C. Herring who became the pastor in early 1890 was the first minister to occupy the new manse. Of interest, he, along with Mr. Gilpin, were instrumental in establishing the Winterset Public Library.

In 1907, Reverend J. S. Corkey became the minister following Reverends B. E. S. Ely, W. H. P. McDonald and R. R. Marquis.

A second major addition to the church was completed in 1909. This renovation added a north addition to the church which included a balcony that expanded the seating capacity of the sanctuary. Additional classrooms were also added. New memorial stained glass windows were installed in the sanctuary during this construction project, including a large west window that was a gift to the church from Reverend Potter’s son.

Unfortunately, fire destroyed part of the south wall of the sanctuary in 1912. During the repairs, the area behind the pulpit was extended to make room for an organ loft. While repairs were being made to the sanctuary, worship services were held in the Christian Church and Bible School was held in the Court House Court Room. By April 1915, the church reached its peak membership with 308 members on the rolls.

During the years before and after the turn of the 20th Century, the members of the congregation continued to participate in missionary activities.

Elmer L. Mattox, the son of Mr. and Mrs. W. R. Mattox, who was ordained in the Winterset church began serving as a missionary in China in 1893. He and his wife continued their missionary work in Asia for forty years. While in China, Reverend Mattox was vice president and professor in Hang Chow Christian College. Also, Ella Cassidy Heizer taught for thirteen years in Indian schools in Alaska and a sister, Mattie Cassidy Chandler, taught in Talladeea College for Negroes from 1900 to 1912. They were the daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Cassidy.

With the approach of the United State’s involvement in World War I, Reverend Corkey left the ministry in Winterset in the autumn of 1917 to work with American soldiers as a Work Director for the Y.M.C.A. He was one of the first civilians to leave with the military for France. During the war he worked under the direction of the International War Work Council.  He returned to Winterset at the end of 1918 and remained until 1920 having served one of the longest pastorates.

Reverend Leroy C. Cooley became the new pastor in November 1920. And of particular note, a new pipe organ was installed in the church in 1921. An initial undesignated gift of $2,000 from the will of A. W. Crawford began the process of acquiring the organ. In 1918, the church trustees specifically designated these funds for the purchase of a pipe organ.  However, with the protracted investigation into the feasibility of purchasing the organ and rising costs, no further action was taken to buy an organ. Then, in December 1920, Mrs. Crawford made an additional offer of $3,000 for the purchase of an organ and interest in the acquisition was renewed. As a result, a contract was signed with the Austin Organ Company on April 20, 1921. The contract for the $5,000 pipe organ specified that it was to be installed in the church by Christmas 1921.

One particularly interesting item pertains to Mr. Crawford and his generosity. In 1917, he gave $25,000 to the city of Winterset for 100 acres to be used as a park. Legend says that when city officials wanted to incorporate the money into the general municipal budget, a group of women strongly objected and the money for the park was reserved. A stone monument in Mr. Crawford’s memory is located in the Winterset City Park.

Reverend Cooley resigned in December 1926 and was followed by Reverend Theodore Morning and Reverend Fowler. During this period there was considerable discussion about the merger of First Presbyterian Church and the United Presbyterian Church. Reverend C. W. Porter of the United Presbyterian Church had been preaching for both congregations during the fall of 1931 following Reverend Fowler’s departure. Although worshiping together, each congregation maintained separate Sunday Schools. At that time, a vote to combine the two churches was unsuccessful and the matter of unification was dropped.

The pulpit of the First Presbyterian Church was then occupied in succession by Reverend R. C. Cully, Reverend W. P. Fink, Reverend L. F. Davis (interim), Reverend Arthur Mortensen, Reverend Howard Strong, and Reverend Clement D. Loehr who arrived in June 1949. Another extensive renovation to the church began during this time. This included redecoration of the sanctuary, installation of new lighting, the elimination of the balcony, the relocation of the front entrance to the north addition and new furnaces. The cost of these renovations approximated $20,000. The original doors of the east main entrance to the church and the stained glass window situated above the doors were relocated to the north wall of the sanctuary leading to the narthex and the new north main entrance.

In the summer of 1952, Maas Chimes and a public address system were given to the church by a member of the congregation. The 21-pipe chimes were coordinated with the pipe organ and were a major musical treat to the community as they could be heard over a wide area of the city.

Reverend George deFaldessy Fisher came to the pulpit in September 1953. And in an historic occasion, in 1958, the First Presbyterian Church and the United Presbyterian Church agreed to a union. The agreement provided for the use of the First Presbyterian Church as the church home for the combined congregation and the church was renamed the First United Presbyterian Church.

On October 1. 1959. Reverend John Fink began his ministry at the church and was followed by Reverend Alan L. Parker. In September 1969, the church purchased the lot on the northwest corner of Second Avenue and West Green Street for the construction of a new manse. The new manse was constructed in 1970 at a cost of $37,000. Following the completion of the new building, the old manse was torn down. Reverend Fink was the first pastor to reside in the new manse. Reverend Parker was succeeded by Reverend David G. Bauer who began his pastorate in September 1985. In the following months discussions were again held about the need for a major addition to the church to meet new program needs.  With the receipt of a major financial gift, a building committee was organized and an architect hired. Ground breaking for the new addition took place on July 1, 1990. This $380,000 project provided for a new Fellowship Hall and kitchen on the northwest corner of the church, conversion of the old Fellowship Hall into classrooms and completion of a large basement. This major construction project was completed and dedicated on April 14, 1991.

As mentioned, the various congregations would often worship together out of necessity.  This did not always seem to apply to Church Schools, perhaps because there was insufficient space in the church facilities. The following anecdotes relate to church schools maintained by the various Presbyterian congregations.

When the New School Presbyterians organized in 1854, a Sabbath School was also established. For a time, this group met in a log and frame building on the north side of the square where the Video Store now is in business. Later they moved to the “Walnut Church” mentioned earlier. The Old School Presbyterians established a Sabbath School and held their meetings in a frame building on the west side of the square. This Sunday School later relocated to a building situated in the rear of the lot now occupied by the Pickett Fence. Also in the 1873-1874 time frame, a class for Chinese students was organized. The Chinese operated a store in Winterset called AR SHONG and Company that sold tobacco, teas and coffee. Others students attending the classes were associated with a Chinese laundry operating in Winterset.

In 1997, Reverend Bauer left the church to continue his ministry in a country church in Illinois. As efforts began to obtain a new minister for the church, Reverend Mary Pope assumed the pulpit as the interim pastor.

In January of 2000, the Church began the new century with new leadership at the helm when The Reverend Jim Howland became our pastor.  Rev Howland moved his family, wife Joyce and their two sons, Christopher and Michael into the Manse across from the Church on Jan  .  Rev. Howland’s fifteen year tenure saw many changes in the church.  With a focus on personal spiritual growth and discipleship, Rev. Howland guided the many members of the congregation to a deeper understanding of Christ’s call to them personally.  The Session developed and adopted our current mission statement; The mission of First United Presbyterian Church is to make disciples of all people for the glory of God, through teaching, caring, and worshiping. 

The culmination of the personal discipleship growth which occurred is seen in Hope Home.  Purchasing and developing Hope Home required a huge leap of faith for our Congregation.  On the surface, Hope Home is a ministry that seems far beyond what a church of our size and resources would attempt.  Yet the Session was convinced that God was calling our church to look beyond ourselves to reach out with the love of Christ to the community.

Hope Home provides a home to a homeless family to find rest from the stress of being homeless.  But Hope Home is so much more than just a house.  Each family is provided with counseling and other resources they need to identify and overcome the cause of their homelessness.  In Hope Home, families do find hope for the future and gain the skills and confidence needed to become independent.  For more information on Hope Home, you can click here.

In 2004, the congregation celebrated with pride its own Sesquicentennial.  It was a time to recognize the significant history of the congregation, to give thanks for those faithful who have come before us and to be re-inspired to continue to serve God and the community of Winterset for the next 150 years.

Rev. Howland’s tenure came to an end on August 30, 2015.  Over the next two and a half years, the congregation used the gifts God had given us as many individuals stepped into leadership roles.  Kevin de Regnier, Paul Milhollin, and Sheryl Puderbaugh rotated worship leadership.  This team was joined monthly by Rev. Don Ely who ensured the congregation was able to receive the Lord’s Supper.  

Many other congregation members put their gifts to work in the church as well.  Deb Kneller provided the children’s message weekly while others took on roles as teachers, care givers, fellowship coordinators.  Several new families joined the congregation during this interim time despite not having a pastor.  

On Februrary 4, 2018, the congregation called Rev. Randal Lubbers to be our Pastor.  The outbreak of COVID-19 brought many challenges for the church.  Declining attendance and financial strain led to the ending of the Church’s Hope Home ministry in January of 2021 and the sale of the House in April of that year.  Also related to the pandemic, the church greatly expanded its online ministry.  

In March of 2020, the church began on-line only worship services, holding no in-person services until June of that year.  When in-person service resumed, we had expanded our digital capabilities, adding a camera, video switching equipment and video broadcasting software to allow a more immersive on-line worship experience.

At the January 30, 2022 Congregational Meeting, Rev. Lubbers announced his decision to end his pastorate with the church.  

The history of the First United Presbyterian Church is part of the fabric of the history of the community in which it developed. Through the years, the church has been blessed with faithful workers, insightful leadership and a congregation that has given generously and unselfishly of itself.

Researched and Written by Robert M. Young

Updated 2022 by Kevin de Regnier