Madison Presbyterian Church’s 200th anniversary celebration — “A Tribute to Our Heritage” — on Sunday has been postponed due to weather concerns. The event will be rescheduled, but a date has not been set. (Staff photo by Josh Hunt/jhunt@madisoncourier.com)
Madison Presbyterian Church’s 200th anniversary celebration — “A Tribute to Our Heritage” — on Sunday has been postponed due to weather concerns. The event will be rescheduled, but a date has not been set. (Staff photo by Josh Hunt/jhunt@madisoncourier.com)

Madison Presbyterian Church is celebrating its 200th anniversary this month.

Pam Newhouse, a member and church historian, has compiled many stories about the church and its history in Madison. Much of the information for this story came from Newhouse’s writings...

The church was founded in 1815, but it did not receive its first official pastor until 1824. 

Rev. Thomas Seale’s tenure was cut short by his death during his first year of service. The congregation then called Rev. Josiah Trimble to serve, but he died the day after his ordination in August 1825.

In October of that year, Rev. James H. Johnson took over as pastor.

Johnson was a stickler for rules.  Members were not allowed to play cards, drink alcohol, attend horse races or dance.

Johnson was known to give lengthy prayers and sermons. Members were often expected to stand through the 45 minute to two-hour long services. The services were especially long on Communion Sundays.

When an outbreak of cholera struck Madison in the late 1820s, Johnson’s sermons reflected on reasons why the community suffered. 

Government sanctioned Sabbath breaking, lack of good faith toward Native Americans, intemperance and swearing were all reasons he gave; but one of the most important he listed was that of slavery.

In 1833, Johnson and 63 church members petitioned the church council to form a second Presbyterian Church, citing differences in the direction they felt the church should take. After leaving the church, they formed the Second Presbyterian Church.

This schism between the First and Second churches would last until 1921.

The current church, on Broadway, was built in 1846 after the old church burned the previous year. The fire that destroyed the building was the biggest fire in Madison history at that time. The church was rebuilt for $15,000.

The Rev. Frederick Brown, of the First church, continued the church’s opposition to slavery, by preaching against the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. This act forced anyone finding escaped slaves to return them to the South.

Being positioned on the Ohio River, Madison was an important stop on the Underground Railroad.

In 1863, at the height of the Civil War, Gen. John Hunt Morgan and his men raided many southern Indiana towns. He sacked Vernon, Dupont, Salem, and Versailles. Many were sure that Madison would be next.

 Union troops, numbering 10,000, were brought to Madison to protect the city. Both Presbyterian churches fed and cared for the soldiers sent to protect the city.

In the years following the Civil War, the First church held the George Washington Birthday Feaste on Feb. 22, 1887 in an effort to reach out to the community. The “feaste,” later called a “tea,” raised $101.46, and became an annual fundraiser until 1955. The celebration was open to the public, and though it was called a “tea,” it was actually a full meal.

In October 1896, 12 women of the First church came together to provide charitable works for the area’s poor. After visiting a “needy home,” where they witnessed an 11-year-old boy suffering from disease and malnutrition, the women decided that Madison needed a hospital.

The group, Bethany Circle of King’s Daughters, recruited women throughout the community to start up a hospital. They began in a two story, 15 room building. Their efforts would evolve to be King’s Daughters’ Hospital.

After 88 years of separation, the First and Second churches reunited to become Madison Presbyterian Church in 1921. This reunification came during a transformative years in American history.

World War I had ended, Prohibition was in full swing, the Great Depression was under way. Through these struggles, the church continued to move forward. 

In 1955, the congregation had 400 members, the largest number in the church’s history. There were 210 Sunday school students. To support a thriving congregation, a two-story education wing,  was added in June 1957.

That year women became eligible to serve in administrative roles within the church, including elders and deacons. The first woman to serve as elder was Mrs. J.G. Ross, who went on to become the first woman elected to the Madison City Council. 

In 1987, the church welcomed its first female pastor when Rev. Marie Cross was called to lead the congregation.

The church’s community outreach continued in 1983, when they proposed building housing for Madison’s elderly and handicap residents. This residence was to be built at the corner of West and Second streets. 

Madison Presbyterian Housing Corporation was formed to begin the project. By 1990, the building had been completed and all the units were occupied.

Mary Elizabeth Goldsmith, church committee member for the anniversary celebration, says the church looks forward to continuing helping their community.

Various church groups and members continue to be involved in organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army, Pathways Youth Shelter, and House of Hope.