Churches proliferated in the first years of the city. At least 10 denominations started churches in the 1850s. In some cases a denomination was represented by more than one building, even in the earliest times. For all its reputation as a rough, rag-tag river town, Leavenworth counted churches among its earliest buildings.
Reading between the lines of the city's history this appears to reflect not so much different neighborhoods – the city wasn't large enough that a carriage or a walk wouldn't get you to the church in time – but rather either ethnic or theological differences. Also, immigrants from particular places back East liked to stick together.
Catholics had a German church, Saint Joseph; a Polish Church, Saint Casmir; and a black Church, Holy Epiphany.
Lutherans were divided in to a German church and an English church.
A broad mix of nationalities populated the frontier town and naturally helped establish their churches.
Pioneer settlers gathered together and became congregation meeting under trees on the levee (Methodists and Presbyterians), or in a private home where a bureau served for an altar (Roman Catholics).
One pioneer pastor apologized to his church superiors for the
expenses he incurred -– $1.50 a week to rent a room for services.
The earliest churches, like all the first buildings, were crude, green wood planks sawed down at the mill on the river.
Leavenworth historian H. Miles Moore says the Town Company, of which he was a member, "had a strong religious element in its organization, three stockholders being ministers and most of the others laymen of a similar turn of mind"
Sacred Heart parish in Kickapoo was established on June 1, 1836 when the missionary priest Charles Van Quickenborne founded Saint Francis Xavier Mission for the Kickapoo Indians.
Because the early buildings in Leavenworth were made of crudely constructed wood, fires were always a threat. Fires destroyed many of the first church (and business) buildings, and of course the church records. Churches were outgrown and sold to other smaller congregations. One example of this is the Catholic Church in Lansing.
Saint Francis de Sales Church was located at 103 First Street, Lansing and after a newer building was finished, moved there, selling the 125-year-old building to the Trinity Church of God in Christ congregation.
Some of the above was taken from an article by Evelyn Delaney of the Leavenworth County Historical Society. Some was from my own research to prepare for the next issue of my historical calendar. The theme this year is historical churches. Evelyn's article appeared in the April 25th, 1979, issue of the Leavenworth Times. My calendars are sold to merchants who then give them to customers. The minimum order is 100.
Annie Johnston is a Leavenworth resident and wife of the late J.H. Johnston III, former Times publisher.
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