In 1842 Marion was just emerging from being a frontier community. Iowa was still a territory, it wouldn’t become a state until 1846. In 1839 the Iowa Territory was divided into counties and Marion was designated the county seat for Linn County. By 1842 the community had a few industries and businesses, such as a flour mill, saw mill, bank, hotel, clothing store, tinsmith, blacksmith, livery stable and other commercial establishments typical of a town at that time. Most of the people lived and worked on farms.
9 Members Organize
That was the setting when FPCM was organized February 5, 1842, with nine members, several of them transferring from the Linn Grove Presbyterian Church, located southeast of Springville. The original name was the Old School Presbyterian Church of Marion. At that time there were two distinct Presbyterian factions, Old School and New School. The Old School was considered the more conservative, but in the turbulent years before the Civil War, it usually was identified as being anti-slavery, while the New School favored slavery.
Services at first were held in public buildings, including Linn County’s first courthouse. Without a minister, the members heard sermons about four times a year by the Rev. Salmon Cowles, a Presbyterian missionary serving the Iowa Territory. Based in Keokuk, he traveled the area by horseback, as there were few roads and no railroads. He carried his Bible and belongings in a saddle bag, staying in homes where he stopped. Starting in 1849, the Marion and Linn Grove churches shared the service of The Rev. J.S. Fullerton, who preached at one place Sunday morning and the other in the afternoon, if the weather permitted him to travel.
Lot Purchased For Building
In 1851, the congregation purchased a lot on what was then Market Street, now 10th Street, across from the city square and began to construct a church building. In those early days much of the economy was based on the barter system. As a result, instead of money, many of the subscriptions or pledges toward building the church were in the form of labor, lumber and other materials. With only volunteer labor, it was five years before services could be held in the building. Much of the work was done by Rev. Fullerton himself. In 1852 the first Sunday School was organized and within a few years had an enrollment of 50. Classes were held in a brick school building.
The early 1850’s were a trying time for the membership. Rev. Fullerton had left, the building was unfinished and only occasional services were held. A minister called from the East, while enroute to serve the Marion church, became ill and died of cholera on an Ohio River boat.
Then in 1856, a young minister educated in Pennsylvania, who had been preaching for several months in Wisconsin, happened to attend a meeting of the Cedar Rapids Presbytery. Also attending the meeting was William Vaughn, an elder of the Marion church, who invited him to preach in Marion the next Sunday, April 20. The following day a congregational meeting was held and the young minister was invited to become pastor of the FPCM.
Rev. Alexander S. Marshall
He was The Rev. Alexander S. Marshall, who was called Dr. Marshall. The congregation promised him the salary of $300 per year, with the Board of Home Missions providing another $200. Thus Dr. Marshall began a career that spanned nearly 40 years as the pastor of this church. His first task was completion of the church building on 10th Street. It was ready for services in just a few weeks.
There were many periods during Dr. Marshall’s career when the church fell on hard times and could pay only part of the promised salary. Still, Dr. Marshall became a highly respected community and religious leader in this area and the Marion Presbyterian Church managed to grow, as did the community of Marion. After the Civil War the city had become a railroad hub. By 1881 he completed 25 years as pastor and during that time he had received 410 members, married 283 couples and conducted so many funerals he lost count. Membership that year totaled 194, with church attendance numbering about 350 in fair weather.
The growth of the church led to the planning for a new building and in July 1884 construction began on our present sanctuary building. Stone for the church was brought to town from Stone City on the new Dubuque Southwestern Railroad
line. As with any construction project, many problems arose but the structure was completed and dedication of the new church was held September 27, 1885.
Dr. Marshall died in 1886 and since then the church has had 12 senior pastors and several associate pastors.
Westminster House Addition
The sanctuary building existed without major changes until the Westminster House addition in 1954-56. That included a new kitchen and purchase of a new Moller organ, replacing an organ installed in 1896. Another major remodeling project occurred in 1967 with a new ceiling and new pews in the sanctuary. Our church built the Mission House in 1985 and a 1988 addition included the lounge, choir room and pastor’s office. In 1989 our church acquired the lot northwest of our building, razed a factory building there and made it into our parking lot. In 1992 the church was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1999, the first of a three-phase restoration project of the sanctuary stained glass windows was started to preserve and protect the beautiful and significant windows.
In 2006, a capital campaign was launched to raise funds for a new roof, repair and update the steeple and construct a new entryway from the alley on the north side of the church. In November of that year The Rev. Dr. Howard Chapman mounted a lift that took him to the top of the steeple, where the finial was permanently mounted in a celebration signifying the completion of the project.
Mission House Added
A history of FPCM would not be complete without special mention of the mission projects conducted in the Mission House, a building erected by this congregation just north of our sanctuary. Housed there are The Churches of Marion Food Pantry, started in 1982 and operated by nine local churches to make food available to needy families. The Helping Hands Storeroom, operated by volunteers from our church, provides donated clothing, bedding, household items and toys to individuals and families in need.
God has been faithful to our congregation over the years. As we move forward, we strive to be faithful to God, internally nurturing, externally serving.