Our History of the Church

Bell Tower & Clock History | Organ History

In the Beginning

A small prayer meeting was the beginning of the First Congregational Church of Redlands. In the 1870’s, pioneers began to settle the area between the banks of the Santa Ana River and the irrigation channel known as the Zanja. These pioneers would gather on Thursday evenings for informal worship, usually at the home of Col. and Mrs. William Tolles at the corner of Church Street and San Bernardino Avenue. Although there were no written records of these prayer meetings, it was noted in letters that Col. and Mrs. Tolles, Deacon and Mrs. M. H. Crafts, Mr. and Mrs. Truman Reeves, G. W. Beattie and Rosa B. Robbins were the attendees of the first meeting. These meetings are believed to have served a need not only for worship, but a need for social mingling and for the exchange of ideas.

As the population of the area grew, a school district was formed in 1877. The schoolhouse built at the corner of Church Street and Lugonia Avenue immediately became a center for the social and religious life of the community. J. S. Edwards described this building as about fourteen by twenty-four feet in dimensions and whitewashed on the outside. The core of this building still exists, incorporated into the house at the southwest corner of Church and Lugonia. With a place to meet, an organized Sunday school began to meet, and this led to preaching services which were held Sunday afternoons with the Rev. James T. Ford, who came from San Bernardino to lead them.

As the prayer meetings had led to the Sunday school, and the Sunday school had led to the preaching services, so the preaching services led to the organization of a church. After drawing up a constitution, the church was officially organized April 18, 1880, and named The Second Congregational Church of San Bernardino. There were originally nineteen members. They were: Mr. And Mrs. M. H. Crafts, founders of Crafton; Mrs. Laura Strong, the Beattie Grandmother in her 95th year; Mr. And Mrs. F. E. Brown, co-founders of Redlands, Edward G. Judson, co-founder of Redlands; Mr. And Mrs. George A. Cook, first store owner in Lugonia; Mr. And Mrs. Israel Beal, an African-American family who owned land on East Pioneer (Mr. Beal was one of the early deacons); Mr. George W. Beattie, educator, author and historian; Mr. And Mrs. Orson Van Leuven, pioneers of the Mission district; Mrs. Hattie Mosmon, Mr. John Bates, Mr. Brainard Brown and Mr. Ben Van Leuven.

In 1882, Rev. Ford felt that he was not able to carry on with both the San Bernardino and Lugonia churches, so he resigned. The Rev. J. G. Hale was elected pastor at a salary of $1,000 a year. He served as minister until 1885. Mr. Hale also continued with his work at the Bellevue Academy, which took care of secondary education before the starting of a public high school.

In the period that followed from 1882 to 1885, the building of our first church edifice at the corner of Church Street and the Terrace, took place on two and one-half acres of land donated by Mr. Judson and Mr. Brown, co-founders of the city-to-be known as Redlands. The church was incorporated in September of 1882 for the purpose of raising money and handling financial affairs, and a building committee was appointed. In addition to the activities of the official members of the congregation, the community did its part in raising money, any by March of 1882, $1,015 had been raised. Mrs. Charles E. Truesdell, the first bride among those first settlers of Lugonia, related that she and the few other girls of the church cut fruit for the fruit growers association dryer at five cents a tray and gave the money to the church. The Ladies’ Aid bought the blinds, carpets, chairs and chandeliers; they also provided the bell, then an important part of a church, purchasing it in Chicago and having it brought to Lugonia with the household goods of Mr. Samuel J. Hayes. This bell cost $200, and when the Terrace church was discontinued it was given to the Highland Church where it still hangs. The Highland church chimes are played before the church service, but this old bell still rings every Sunday morning calling the children to Sunday school.

At last, the church had a home of its own. The interior was perfectly plain, with a pulpit and chairs but with no special place for a choir. Those who could sing stood up in front and led the congregation with the help of a small organ. One quartet consisted of George Nickerson, Fred Gernich, Dan Findlay and Al Pratt. Mr. Pratt had belonged to the Amherst glee club. At another time there was a quartet of Mr. and Mrs. J. S. Edwards, Lucy Diffenbacher and Mr. A. S. McPherron.

The church continued to grow and in 1884 there were forty members. Mr. Hale resigned in 1885, after which there were two short interim pastorates, under the Rev. F. Parker and the Rev. D. McCunn. Then the Rev. Clarendon A. Stone who was called from the East to be the minister, had served in the Civil War and served only from November 1886 to January 1888. Upon his death two years following his arrival, he was interred at Hillside Cemetery, the second person to be buried there. The lovely central window on the Olive Avenue side of our sanctuary, that of Christ holding a lamb, was given in memory of Mr. Stone, and it is a beautiful reminder of a short, significant period of our church.

At the annual meeting in 1889, the important decision was made to move the church to the church to a new chapel being built at Cajon and Olive. This move occurred during the pastorate of Rev. George Willett, who had followed Mr. Stone. However, 24 members of the First Church of Lugonia asked for and received letters of dismissal, and they established and maintained the Lugonia Terrace Church for nine years. This church made a valiant effort to survive with the Rev. Orange H. Spoor as their pastor. Their numbers were few, but they maintained a full round of activities. However, by 1898 the membership agreed that it would not be wise to continue the Terrace Church, and they voted to discontinue services after December 31st of that year. The reasons stated: the trend of events had been other than had been expected as Redlands had become the dominant section and people liked a central church; also they had not been able to pay the pastor as much as had been promised and they could see no prospect of greater financial strength; Mr. Spoor had handed in his resignation and they felt they could not carry on without him.

It should be noted here that our church has had several different names. It was organized as, The Second Congregational Church of San Bernardino. When the name, Lugonia, became identified with the section, the church took the name, The First Congregational Church of Lugonia. When they divided and the main body of the church located at Cajon and Olive, it became The First Congregational Church of Redlands, and those who dissented and stayed on the north side took the name, The Lugonia Terrace Church. Consequently we have operated under four different names, although since 1890 the church has proudly continued as The First Congregational Church of Redlands.

As first built, the chapel at the Olive and Cajon corner was a plain unpretentious structure with a low tower at the northeast corner. The chapel was dedicated March 9, 1890. For ten years this chapel served for all church functions. In 1894 the chapel was expanded and improvements made to the interior. A. K. Smiley landscaped the grounds, donating shrubs and a year later the Smiley Brothers had the parsonage and barn painted at their own expense. By the last of the 1890’s the chapel was outgrown and people were turned away for lack of room. Courageously the church started to raise money for the auditorium.

On April 23rd, 1899, Dr. Williams, then the pastor, preached on “Building the House.” A picture of the sanctuary that was to be and a blackboard covered with pledge cards was on the platform. At the close of the sermon, the ushers moved through the congregation taking pledges, and as the cards were turned in, the corresponding cards were removed from the board. In less than half an hour $15,000 was subscribed and the blackboard cleared. It was a memorable day! Dr. Williams pointed to the picture and with tears in his eyes he said “There, my friends, is our church!” In addition to the money raised on that day, the Ladies Union pledged $2,000 for the furnishings and the Young Ladies Society gave the pulpit and pulpit chairs, the same ones we use today. One gift that has become a landmark in the town was that of the clock and bell. These were given by Horace Cousens, a winter resident from Newton Center, Massachusetts. Later his daughter gave money for the perpetual maintenance of the instrument.

The reunion with the Terrace Church gave the church a strong membership of 355, and the sale of the Terrace church property helped to finance the new sanctuary. The cornerstone of the sanctuary was laid September 24, 1899. The dedication of the sanctuary took place on April 1, 1900.

As this is being written, we look toward the end of 1999; we look to the end of a century and the One Hundredth Anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of the beautiful sanctuary we now call our home. The heritage that has been passed down to us from those first nineteen pioneers who began their prayer meetings over one hundred twenty years ago is felt by each of us as we gather together each Sunday to worship. If you look very closely, you may even see those original pioneers sitting among us on Sunday morning, with pride and a smile on their face, worshipping with us. It is from their diligent work and their dreams that we can sit here today and call this church our church, The First Congregational Church of Redlands. It stands today, the oldest church building in Redlands. It is a part of the history of Redlands and will be a part of the future for generations to come.

As we rededicate the cornerstone in September 1999 and look to the rededication of the sanctuary in the new millennium, we must think of the future generations that will take up our work in this church. We must preserve the history, the beauty, and the tranquility, that has been handed down to us. A quote from One Hundred Years of Christian Witness, states “The Church truly was a community project. The church congregation included Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Disciples and Methodists as well as Congregationalists. Mr. C. E. Brink had died before the organization of the church, but on his deathbed he had urged Rev. Mr. Ford to ‘open wide the door’. The early membership set those ideals of open minded tolerance and far-flung interest for which our church has always stood. As Mr. Ide said at the time of the fiftieth anniversary, ‘Always our church has stood for intelligent religion, education and civic responsibility in unusual measure. Without losing spiritual passion or forfeiting its essential unity it has blended the peculiar gifts of Christian experience into one happy family’.”

In the 1890’s during the pastorate of Dr. J. H. Williams, there was a period of rapidly changing thought on theology and Bible interpretation. Dr. Williams led our church into more scholarly attitudes toward the Bible and was a determining factor in saving the Southern California Conference from serious dissension over biblical criticism. Dr. Williams said, “We are not afraid of our Bible, and are perfectly willing that it should be subjected to the most searching criticism. We have never been afraid of scholarship.”

A quote from Henry David Gray, Oneonta Congregational Church sums it up for us, “This is our heritage!”

With that, those early pioneers gave us a far-reaching responsibility. We must keep the doors of our church “wide open” and always think to our future, keeping an “open mind” also to new ideas and new responsibilities.

First Congregational Church of Redlands

“A Sanctuary is Built”

As we know, by the last of the 1890’s the chapel was outgrown early 1899 the members of the church courageously started to raise money for an “auditorium”, under the chairmanship of K. H. Field. The membership of the church at this time was probably 400 or more. On April 23, 1899, Dr. Williams preached on “Building the House”. A picture of the sanctuary that was designed by William S. Hebbard was on the platform.

Apparently there was some mystery as to who actually designed the sanctuary. The architectural firm of Hebbard and Gill of San Diego was hired to design the building. However, First Congregational Church of Redlands has a twin, the First Congregational Church of San Diego, built in 1896. In 1896, William S. Hebbard was not in a partnership. The partnership of Hebbard and Gill was not formed until 1897. William S. Hebbard did design the First Congregational Church of San Diego and probably also designed the church in Redlands by himself, even though by this time, he was a partner of Gill’s. As they were in partnership, both names appeared on all blueprints, etc. Gill designed a number of buildings during their partnership, which also always had both architects’ names on them even though Gill was the designer. The partnership of Hebbard and Gill broke up in 1906 and apparently each architect took the originals of the drawings for buildings that they had taken the greater hand in designing. Gill’s are preserved in the Art Galleries of U. C. Santa Barbara. Hebbard’s have never been located and are probably lost. The design of the Sanctuary of the First Congregational Church of Redlands is not among the Gill drawings at U. C. S. B.

Ground was broken in August of 1999 and the cornerstone for the sanctuary was laid on September 24, 1899. Construction of the sanctuary was undertaken and the new sanctuary was dedicated on April 1, 1900. The firm of Schaniel Bros. of San Diego did the carpentry work and A. E. Taylor of Redlands did the masonry work. The church itself is basically rectangular with some irregularities. The exterior is red brick gothic structure on a prominent foundation of ashlar cut stone. Cut stone curbs are echoed on a retaining curb on the northeast face. The major entries at the north, east and south corners and the clock tower are accented with cut stone buttresses. The entries are arched porches with stepped, radiating stories. The original plan appeared to be a cross for the main church connecting it to the original chapel. The gable ends facing Cajon and Olive are characterized by expansive gothic tracery and stained, leaded glass windows. Brickwork outlines and echoes the gothic (two center pointed) arch windows. Stained and leaded glass are also featured above the doors (in arch points) and in the doors of the east entrance. The east entrance is the primary entrance. The east corner also features the “steeple” clock tower, which features crenellation, which appears to be metal clad. The east entry is below a bell tower, which on three sides features triplet gothic traceried openings (screened) and midway between ground and roof is a hooded gothic slit window. The northeast façade features an arcade with nine gothic arch windows with tracery and stained leaded glass. Many windows are now protected by Plexiglas. At the meeting of the cross gables above the main church is an octagonal cupola and is topped with a ball-shaped finial. Each side of the cupola is a horizontal slat vent panel. There are a variety of materials that appear in the structure of the Sanctuary building; in addition to stone and brick, small areas on gable ends of chapel and church show some stucco and plain wood shingle. Several doors are oak with five rows of two panels (10 panels). The main doors have three rows of two panels below the window.

The Sanctuary was dedicated on Sunday, April 1, 1900 and was observed by all the city churches. Although not finished to every particular, it was the time set apart for dedication and the building was ready for occupancy. The church was built at a cost of $24,863.70, of which $21,544 was received in subscriptions and donations, leaving an indebtedness of a little over $3,300. This total cost included the bell, clock, carpets, furniture and art windows.

At the dedication in April 1900, the church was decorated with large bunches of calla lilies, with palms, ferns, roses and marguerites. The main auditorium was filled and nearly all the seats in the Sunday school room (at that time there were panels which opened between the Sanctuary and the original chapel, which had been converted to a large Sunday school room/overflow room) were taken, making a congregation of nearly 1,000 present to witness the dedication exercises.

The dedication prelude, with Miss Louise Hoppock at the organ, opened the ceremony. The Doxology was then sung by the choir and congregation, and Rev. Dr. J. H. Williams pronounced the invocation. The selection from the Scriptures was red by Rev. George Willett, a former pastor of the church. The choir and congregation then joined in singing “O Thou Whose Own Vast Temple Stands”. Rev. O. H. Spoor, pastor of the former Terrace Congregational Church, then led in prayer, followed by response by the choir. An anthem, “Alpha and Omega” was then sung by the choir. The dedication sermon was given by Rev. Dr. Geo. C. Adams, pastor of the First Congregational Church of San Francisco. He took for his text, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)

E. M. Lyon of the building committee, then presented the keys of the church to the church trustees. He stated that it was on January 12, 1899, that the first committee was appointed to make the inquiry among the members of the church as to the advisability of building and ascertain what could be done. This committee consisted of K. H. Field, A. H. Smiley, E. M. Lyon, Rev. O. H. Spoor, S. J. Hayes and M. M. Phinney. After making investigation and becoming convinced that another dry season was ahead, the committee reported advising not to build. But on Easter Sunday, the church could not contain those who attempted to gather there for the service, and Sunday after Sunday the church was full to overflowing; so further effort was made to secure an expression. The result was so strongly in favor of the building that on May 4, the following were appointed a building committee with instructions to proceed: M. M. Phinney, E. M. Lyon, J. P. Fisk, K. O. Wells, with pastor, ex-officio. Plans were called for and three submitted. That of Messrs. Hebbard & Gill, of San Diego, were accepted as embodying the most desirable features as to architectural beauty, seating capacity, material to be used and working into the best advantage with the old church building. Although the estimated cost was greater by about $2,000 than the committee had decided upon expending, it was deemed better to go ahead and use the plans as presented than to attempt to cut them down or remodel them, especially as response for donations was far beyond expectation – over $15,000 being offered within half an hour. Therefore, bids were called for, with the result presented at the dedication service.

At the conclusion of the account of the building, Mr. Lyon asked F. B. Farwell, chairman of the Board of Trustees, to step to the platform. He then turned over to him the keys of the church. Mr. Farwell received the keys and said that with the expansion of the church came enlarged opportunities and new and greater responsibilities.

The act of dedication then followed with the Pastor, Rev. Dr. J. H. Williams and the people standing and reading the service and responses. The congregation then sat and the prayer of dedication was made by Rev. James t. Ford. Mr. Ford was identified with the church work when Redlands was in its infancy and at the time of the organization of the First Congregational church society.

All united in singing Whittier’s “Dedication Hymn,” and the benediction was pronounced by the pastor of the church, closing the morning service and completing the dedication of the building.

A Changing Architecture

As originally built, the Sanctuary was without an organ and the walls were of a white washed plaster. The Sanctuary could be expanded at will by the opening of large folding doors in the wall to the right of the Chancel. These doors opened on a large room, normally used as the Sunday school room. This room was the original chapel 6hat had served at the church for ten years. When the children would put on a play or there was a pageant, the doors would be folded back and the room used as the stage for the “Auditorium”.

The area over the choir loft was an open area with a high ceiling. The choir loft (a flat stage area with a railing that fronted it) went to the back wall of the sanctuary with a door that probably opened into a small room or alcove. The door may have led to the outside of the church.

When the church was originally built, there was no center aisle. The chancel area was entered from side steps, and there was a small railing that was at the front of the chancel.

This architecture and design soon began to change. When the Austin organ was installed, dramatic changes took place in the choir loft. Paneling was installed at the back of the loft to form a wall behind which the air chest was placed. Pipes for the organ were placed overhead in the open area above the loft. The Organ was placed at the back of this loft facing the back wall. It was also about this time that decorative scroll artwork was painted on the trim and moldings and over the arches of the ceilings of the Sanctuary.

In 1927, when the Austin organ was updated and a new console was installed, the organ was moved to the sanctuary floor facing the choir loft. Stepped seating for the choir was installed. When the Austin organ was originally installed the pipes above the choir loft were visible to the sanctuary. In 1927, the grill work we are all so familiar with was installed to cover the pipes and matching grill work was installed over the sliding doors between the sanctuary and the older church opposite the choir loft. New carpeting was installed, and the sanctuary received a new coat of paint. Much of the scrollwork that was visible throughout the sanctuary was covered over and a new artwork appeared over the chancel area. We are all familiar with this artwork, as it is the same artwork we see today. The symbols you now see painted on the arches above the Chancel are representative of the following:

The upper row – the entwined vine – represents the Biblical verse, “I am the vine and ye are the branches”.

In the second row, from left to right – the descending dove symbolizes God coming to us, the Holy Spirit descending from Heaven. The upright hand, signifying the hand of God, is the symbol meaning Jesus Christ. The lamb carrying the resurrection banner, is the lamb of God, signifying Christ’s victory over death. The ascending dove represents the spirit of Christ ascending to Heaven. The lamp represents the Bible, study and learning. The boat represents the Church in which Christians are meant to sail through the rough seas of life. The cup or chalice is the symbol for the Sacrament of Holy Communion. The grapes further represent the element of wine in Holy Communion. The lily is the symbol of the Resurrection.

In 1930, another change took place. A Mrs. G. W. Meredith paid $396 to extend the aisle that only went to about the sixth row of pews all the way to the front of the Chancel. This created our present “center aisle”. It is unclear who Mrs. G. W. Meredith was. It is noted in the church records that she paid to extend the center aisle for her grandson’s wedding. There were several weddings that year, but only two were held in the sanctuary. It is a bit of a mystery as to which wedding Mrs. Meredith was connected with as the grandson was most likely a daughter’s son.

It was from 1950 to 1955 that major changes in the architecture of the church took shape. The Chancel was rebuilt to give it a forward entrance with steps leading up the center. The railing was removed and later used to make the present kneeling bench. The folding doors were replaced by the current wood paneling and a permanent wall. That wall now separates the sanctuary from a hallway that leads from the sanctuary and Chapel of the Grail to the offices. Along that corridor is the brides room and the choir robe room. Paneling was also installed in the chancel area.

The Chapel of the Grail was built within the original church and offices were built into the area behind the Chapel of the Grail and the northwest corner of the church for the pastor and the church staff. For those of us who have not been with the church since before the 1950’s, it is hard for us to picture the “Big Room”. This was the original church. If you will, picture the offices, Chapel of the Grail, and the back hallway leading to the basement all one large room. There was a balcony of sorts that went around this room that led to rooms on the second floor of the original church. The staircase in the back hallway was visible in this “Big Room”. When the Chapel of the Grail was built, walls were formed to create a smaller room inside of this “Big Room”, creating hallways on both sides of the chapel and the space behind the chapel that was converted to office space. Imagine, if you will, standing at the main doors to the Chapel of the Grail and looking towards the offices and being able to see the fireplace in the office. This room was filled with tables and chairs for Sunday school classes. Now visualize on the opposite wall from where you are standing, the folding doors that opened into the new sanctuary. If you can picture this in your mind, you have an idea of what this “Big Room” was like.

The biggest changes in architecture in the church took place during this period of 1950 to 1955. The Chapel of the Grail was dedicated on April 16, 1950. After the renovations to the main church plant were completed in 1955 with the remodeling and construction of office space, the construction of Kimberly Hall and the educational building was undertaken and dedicated on September 16, 1956.

The next major change came in the early 1970’s when the organ was turned to face the chancel and the Coronation Carillon was installed.

In the mid 1980’s the church was retrofitted for earthquake preparedness and received new carpeting and paint.

An interesting feature in the early years was a projection room where slides and motion picture projectors could project onto screens in the chancel area. This room was over the diagonal section running across the building over the main entrance at the Cajon doors of the sanctuary. This sanctuary was one of the earliest available assembly areas in the town of Redlands, and so was used fairly frequently by civic groups for sundry purposes. That projection area, as well as the other two overhead areas in the other corners of the sanctuary now hold the main air conditioning units for the Sanctuary.