Idaho History: Boise's Congregationalists built their first chapel in 1896

IDAHO HISTORY

SPECIAL TO THE STATESMANJune 30, 2013 

This series has explored the early history of Boise's religious organizations and the houses of worship they built, in the order in which they built them. The Congregationalists were the last denomination to erect a church of their own in the 19th century. They met for the first time in their new building on West State Street, across the street from where the Capitol would be built a few years later, on Sunday, Sept. 20, 1896. The dedication took place less than a month after Temple Beth Israel was dedicated four blocks to the west.

The Congregationalists, who trace their history in America to the Pilgrims and the landing of the Mayflower in 1620, had organized in Boise in 1891. They met in Good Templar Hall near Sixth and Main streets before moving to the new G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) Hall on State Street in January 1892. Good Templar Hall, built in 1870 by a temperance lodge, had been used by other groups for church services, public meetings, dances and theatrical performances. In 1870, and again in 1872, it was used for sessions of the Territorial Legislature.

On Oct. 7, 1896, the formal dedication of the new Congregational chapel took place, with distinguished visitors the Idaho Statesman found impressive: "Hon. O.H. Ingram of Eau Claire, Wis., arrived in Boise yesterday, accompanied by his son-in-law, W.H. Shellman, and the Rev. C.H. Taintor of Chicago. Mr. Ingram is one of the most extensive lumber merchants on the upper Mississippi. He is also interested in lumber mills on Puget Sound, and in the coal fields of British Columbia, being president of the Eau Claire National Bank and an officer in numerous other banking and mercantile institutions." Ingram, a native of Westfield, Mass., and a lifelong Congregationalist, came to Boise with his son-in-law to dedicate the Fannie Ingram Shellman Memorial Chapel in memory of his late daughter, Shellman's wife. Ingram had donated $2,000, about half the cost of the building. Taintor, a member of the Congregational Church Building Society, was often called upon to preach on such occasions.

"A touching and impressive feature of the services," noted the Statesman, "was the unveiling of the picture of Fannie Ingram Shellman by the Rev. C.H. Taintor," who concluded his sermon with "God may be worshipped everywhere, in the quiet home, the bustling market place. In the depth of his own nature, there man may worship God. The Christian sanctuary is the special property of God. It stands for the highest and purest conception of God."

The Rev. R.B. Wright and his family had arrived in Boise in June 1893, and had been invited to move into the home of Col. Judson Spofford, a prominent member of the church, while the Spoffords were out of town. Wright, for whom Wright Community Congregational Church is named, succeeded George W. Rose as pastor.

In 1912 the First Congregational Church completed an elegant Akron Plan building next to the little Fannie Ingram Shellman Chapel. On Oct. 4, 1912, a Statesman headline urged readers to "Inspect New Church and Enjoy the Music." The open house brought throngs of visitors and gave pastor Arthur Sullens the chance to show off its unique features, especially its electrical connections. "The pastor can summon an usher from the rear of the church, can signal to the organist, or call to notify the choir from his study when he wishes them to enter the church from the choir room, all by touching electric buttons at his pulpit desk." The state-of-the-art pipe organ, built by W.W. Kimball of Chicago, had been dedicated a week earlier. Its $4,000 cost equaled ten percent of the $40,000 cost of the building. Before the congregation moved to its present home at 23rd and Woodlawn in 1967, the organ was disassembled, stored for a year, and then reinstalled in its present location.

In 1957 most Congregational Churches in the U.S. merged with the Evangelical and Reformed Church to form the United Church of Christ.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email histnart@mindspring.com.

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