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Cartwright, Carol Lohry; Shaffer, Scott; Waller, Randal / City on the Rock River : chapters in Janesville's history

12. Religion,   pp. 208-226

Page 222

The history of the Presbyterian Church in America is fraught with divisiveness. Social,
political, and doctrinal arguments caused the church to split into several groups. In Wisconsin,
early Presbyterians were generally associated with three: the Welsh Presbyterians, the New
School Presbyterians, and the Old School Presbyterians. In 1845, Thomas Fraser came to the
Wisconsin Territory to establish Old School Presbyterian churches. Finding that many
settlements already had New School churches, he concentrated his efforts on larger
communities and remote areas of the state. By the 1850s, several Old School presbyteries had
been established throughout Wisconsin. One of the most significant actions of the Old School
Presbyterians was the establishment of Carroll College in Waukesha. The Old and New
Presbyterians united in 1870 under the auspices of the Reunited General Assembly of the
Presbyterian Church in the United States. By 1920, the divergent Presbyterian groups had
united to form the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (Wyatt 1986: vol. 3, Religion, 16-2-16-6)
In May 1855, the First Presbyterian Church in Janesville was organized. Like other early
congregations in Janesville, the Presbyterian congregation first held services in the old
Academy building (not extant). In late 1855, the congregation erected a small church building at
the site of its current church (17 N. Jackson St.). Because the First Presbyterian Church was
affiliated with the Milwaukee and Dane presbyteries under the Synod of Wisconsin, it was an
Old School church. In 1856, it had 53 members. (Butterfield 1879:556; Brown 1908:286-287)
By the 1890s, with membership numbering almost 200, the old church, which had been enlarged
twice, needed replacing. The new First Presbyterian Church, erected on the site of the old
building, was begun in June 1891 and completed in February 1892. With its new building, the
congregation grew rapidly, reaching 505 members by 1908. Renovated several times over the
years, the church continues to serve its members today. (Brown 1908:286-287; "First
Presbyterian Church Here Traces Its Beginnings to 1855")
The First Presbyterian Church at 17 N. Jackson St. is potentially individually eligible for the
National Register of Historic Places because of its association with the historic Presbyterian
congregation in Janesville that dates back to 1855.
A modem Presbyterian church, Christ Presbyterian Church at 530 N. Wright Road, was
organized in the 1970s. It is not historically significant and therefore not potentially
individually eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
Liberal Congregationalists developed the Unitarian Church in America during the Protestant
Great Awakening movement of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In 1825, the
loose-knit American Unitarian Association was founded, and in 1865, a national conference
established a national organization for the church. The Unitarians united with the
Universalist Church in 1961.
Like many mainstream Protestant churches, the Unitarians came to Wisconsin with Yankee
immigrants. By 1850, there were six Unitarian churches in the state, five of them in Rock
County. By the 1860s, the Unitarians claimed to have almost 2,000 members in the state.
Unitarian membership declined during the late nineteenth century, and by 1890, membership
had dropped to 1,394. Membership in the Unitarian church continued to decline in the
twentieth century. By 1940, only two large congregations were still active, one each in
Milwaukee and Madison. (Wyatt 1986: vol. 3, Religion, 18-1-18-4)

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