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The Fairv iew Reformed Church
A unique witness for Christ on the Illinois Prairie
Organized in 1837, Current Building dedicated in 1841
The History of Fairview Reformed Church:
1837, the Fairview Reformed Church has been a vibrant and welcoming Christian
community, teaching and practicing
biblical truth and providing Christian fellowship to all who seek it. We
have a unique and inspiring story to tell- a history that promotes faith
in The Living God. We are the oldest Reformed congregation west of the Allegheny
Mountains. Dutch and Huguenot pioneers founded the church. They were primarily
from Bridgewater Township in Somerset County, New Jersey, and were descendants
of New Netherlands settlers who brought the Reformed faith of John Calvin
to the New World in the 1620’s. From the beginning, they shared their
faith with those in surrounding communities, and today the congregation
reflects the general ethnicities of the area, reinforced by the descendants
of more recent Dutch immigrants who settled in Iowa and Michigan. We welcome
you and offer you the Peace of Christ, whether you are our neighbor or visiting
us from the other side of the earth. Our members were raised in a wide variety
of churches. If you cherish the biblical faith, you will feel at home among
us. The atmosphere is reverent and friendly. New members are always welcome.
For its entire history, the Fairview Reformed Church has been a stalwart member and supporter of the Reformed Church in America. Many of the pioneers who founded our congregation, and many current members, are descendants of the earliest followers of Calvin who fled from France to New Netherlands after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. By the time they reached Fairview, most were Dutch-speaking and intermarried with Dutch and English families.
Please come and visit us. Enjoy our genuine welcome and join us in praising and worshiping God. Feel the timelessness and reverence of our historic building, as you are inspired by authentic preaching from the Word of God.
have been served by a remarkable number of godly men. A portrait of our
first pastor still hangs in the foyer. Of colonial Dutch and Huguenot descent,
Pastor Abram D. Wilson traveled from New Jersey to Fairview in a covered
wagon to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Illinois Frontier. Several
RCA congregations originated from his inspired efforts. One of his descendents
provided funds for restoration of our wonderful 1910 Hinners tracker pipe
Extract from a letter from Peter A. Vorhees, dated Dec. 9, 1837:
"Fairview is a Jersey settlement and Mr. Wilson has organized a Dutch church there, and they are in fine spirits about building a house next summer. They have set off their lot for the church and subscribed about $1,100 in a little time for the work. We must remember them in N. Jersey for they have the only Dutch church West of the Alleghenies.
"And they feel very near to me as a people. The Sabbath we spent with them was a precious day. You may judge when I tell you such men as Peter Pumyea and Lawrence Williamson and others were bathed in tears, and some asking what they must do to be saved. My Dear Uncle, here is an open door for usefulness, and I must confess that a strong sense of duty bore hard upon my mind when, with earnest persuasions and entreaties, they plead with me to move among them. I love them as a people; their town is a strict temperance town, and all long for the establishment of a church among them. The Lord prosper their efforts!"
Notes from HISTORY OF FAIRVIEW REFORMED CHURCH 1837-1912, by H. M. B. Wilson, who was the son of the founding pastor:
In 1836, a few families from New Jersey arrived in the area that was to become Fairview. By 1837, the following families were represented: Addis, Clarkson, Van Nostrand, Davis, Gilmore, Pumyea, Robinson, Wyckoff, Groenendyke, Ten Eyck, and Cox. A meeting was held on August 19, 1837 to organize a church. A letter was sent to the Classis of New Brunswick, New Jersey, a district of what was then called The Reformed Dutch Church of North America and would later be known as The Reformed Church in America.
On October 3, 1837, Rev. A. D. Wilson arrived at Fairview. He was dispatched
by the Classis of New Brunswick, and was then pastor of the North Branch
(New Jersey) Dutch Reformed Church (http://www.nbrc.com/), which was the
home church of a number of Fairview pioneers. The Fairview Dutch Reformed
Church was organized on October 16, 1837, in the home of Daniel Groenendyke.
Rev. Wilson returned to New Jersey to get his family, and arrived back
at Fairview on July 1, 1838.
for the Fairview church were sent from Somerset County. It very closely
matches the Blawenburg Reformed Church there, which was built earlier in
the 1830’s and is pictured just above. It was one of many built in
the "meeting house" style. These braced frame churches were perilous
to build and so a standard plan, much like the barns of those days was the
safest. There was frequently a master builder in charge, but the bulk of
the work was carried out by the men and boys of the congregation. The details
of the cornices, doors and windows were often copied from a pattern book,
but the belfry or steeple showed a lot of individualization from church
to church. We thank Frank Greenagel for his assistance with this information.
For more information about New Jersey churches, including a number of historic
Reformed churches there, visit his extensive Web site at http://220.127.116.11/index.html
The cornerstones for the current church building were laid on November 26, 1838, and it was dedicated on October 3, 1841. During the dedicatory service, a dove flew in an open window and rested on the rail of the back gallery, symbolizing to many the Lord’s acceptance and the arrival of the Holy Ghost. Though begun by only eight families, the building seats about three hundred and fifty people and is still filled to capacity several times a year and well attended each Sunday for more than one hundred sixty years.
In the very early years of the church, a member awakened in the middle of the night, troubled by the risk of lightening striking the new church. He climbed to the attic of the church with a bucket of water and when lightening struck, he extinguished the fire. Some thought this was just a legend until a renovation in the 1990’s revealed the charred attic beam. There has been much evidence over the years of the hand of the Lord watching over this historic church, but the greatest miracle of all remains unseen in the hearts of its members and visitors. The sacrifice of the Fairview Pioneers remains an inspiration to many, as we feel the Spirit of God within the beautiful structure they built so many years ago.
A number of other congregations were organized from the Fairview Reformed Church, and the first classis in Illinois was organized at Fairview on November 11, 1841. The Reformed Church grew phenomenally with the later arrival of immigrants from the Netherlands in the 1850’s and 1860’s, though they were mostly attracted to Western Michigan, Northern Illinois, and Northwest Iowa. Fairview was under strong consideration as the location for the first Reformed college in the Midwest, an institution that became Hope College in Holland, Michigan.
Nearly all of the interior woodwork in the Fairview Reformed Church was made of local black walnut. Most is at least a full inch think and some walnut planks are over eighteen inches wide. The original seating on the ground floor was box pews with doors. An original pew is on display in the upper left gallery. Whale oil lamps and a beautiful central chandelier are still owned by the church. The chandelier was adapted to use electricity many years ago, but retains its beauty. A number of pieces of furniture in the church date from its very early years. A very early communion cup and small hand held baptistry are also pictured below.
In 1909, a new hand pumped seventeen rank pipe mechanical action pipe organ was purchased from the Hinners Organ Company in Pekin, Illinois, requiring a ten foot addition to the west side of the building. The instrument was the gift of William B. Polhemus, a grandson of a pioneer member, in memory of his parents, Garrett Vorhees Polhemus and Jane V. Brokaw, who were married in the church on December 7, 1848. It bears a plaque reading, “The Garret V. Polhemus Family Memorial.” It is one of the best preserved organs built by a company that revolutionized American organ building by standardizing manufacturing processes. Their assembly line techniques brought high quality instruments within the reach of churches throughout the country. The Fairview organ is one of their more complete models, with pedal, manual, and octave couplers, and stops at 16, 8, 4, and 2 foot pitches, providing resources for organ music of every period. Though never in disrepair, it was restored and is serviced by the Berghaus Organ Company and is maintained exactly as it was originally installed, except for the addition of an electric blower. It can still also be hand pumped. The organ was restored and is maintained with a very generous gift given by a descendant of the founding pastor. It is used for church services, community events, meetings, recitals, and has been featured several times in THE AMERICAN ORGANIST and THE DIAPASON. It has also been featured on the Spoon River Drive and in events sponsored by the Western Illinois Chapter of the American Guild of Organists. It has also been registered by the Organ Historical Society. Of nearly one thousand pipes in the organ, only a small percentage can be seen without entering the case. The instrument is still entirely mechanical and can still be played beautifully without electricity..
The Fairview Reformed Church may be the only church in the Midwest with strong French Huguenot roots. Most of its founding members, and also the first pastor, were descendants of French Protestant refugees who fled France after the Revocation of the Édit de Nantes in 1685 and settled in New Netherlands. Some estimate the Huguenot population of New Netherlands at fifty percent. Somerset County New Jersey, the point of origin of many Fairview Pioneers, was largely composed of New Netherlanders. By the 1830's, most families were a mixture of both French and Dutch stock and spoke both Dutch and English. Many of the French family names had assumed Dutch spellings. Brokaw is an example. It was originally Broucard. Brokaw descendents remain among our membership. Others were left and helped found the Raritan Reformed Church to our west, or went elsewhere.
This engraving from the 1869 Manual for the Reformed Church in America, portrays how a Dutch Reformed minister dressed for services in the Mid 19th Century. Rev. Abraham Polhemus, who is pictured, was never our pastor, but many other members of his family were active in the Fairview Reformed Church. The family descended from the Rev. J. T. Polhemus, who settled on Long Island in 1654. The same book lists Fairview’s founding pastor, Ab. D. Wilson, as being an 1811 graduate of Queen’s College, which is now Rutgers University, and as an 1815 graduate of the New Brunswick Seminary. He was ordained by the Classis of New Brunswick, in 1815, and served the New Jersey congregations at New Prospect and Shawangunk 1816-1819, and North Branch, from 1831-1837, before serving Fairview from 1837 to 1856. It also provides information about the then current pastor, J. S. Joralmon, who graduated from Rutgers in 1852, the New Brunswick Seminary in 1855, served a mission to China from 1855-1858, and began his ministry at Fairview in 1859.
An original box pew is retained in the North Gallery. As was the case in most American churches in the first half of the 19th Century, there were two main doors to the church. Men entered and were seated on the left and women on the right. Families could rent main floor pews, which had doors on them. In the winter, pots of coals were brought to help keep feet warm.
lead from the foyer to the North and South Galleries.
The original bell is still rung at the beginning of services. It was cast in 1844 in Troy, New York, weighed 850 to 1000 pounds, and was brought across the prairie in a horse drawn wagon. Such a large bell was a rarity in Illinois then, as was such a spacious and beautifully designed church. Much of this was made possible through the generosity of our founding classis in New Brunswick, New Jersey. We remember their generosity by contributing to Christian missionary efforts throughout the world. For the past several years, we have also participated in "Operation Christmas Child" which allows us to personally pack shoeboxes filled with Christmas gifts for distribution by Christian missionaries overseas. We also contribute towards expenses of an RCA missionary couple with Fairview connections who are now working in Alaska.
Many Huguenots also settled in the Netherlands, and the current membership also includes their descendants, as well as descendants of later Dutch immigrants whose Huguenot ancestors settled in the Netherlands . We remember our Huguenot roots, and our direct links to the purified church that John Calvin founded in France, with this representation of the Huguenot Cross.
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