Quick. How many buildings has our congregation worshipped in? If you said four, you are wrong. Beginning about 1856, a small group of Disciples began to worship in a little country schoolhouse near Higbee’s Grove, southeast of Iowa City. Granted, it was not a “church building”, a building specifically built for the use of a congregation, but it housed the little group which gathered there periodically for worship and mutual support. Not much is known about that little schoolhouse, but presumably it resembled the myriads of other country schoolhouses that dotted the midwestern landscape in the nineteenth century.
The other buildings, in reverse order, are: our present building; the building on Iowa Avenue, dedicated in 1968, which some of us can remember; the building built in 1887, which only the oldest of our members still remember; and the small brick structure on Iowa Avenue, which was demolished to make way for the 1887 church. What do we know about that building?
In 1863, Kimball Porter, one of the members of the Higbee’s Grove congregation, had the opportunity to purchase for $1300 a church building in Iowa City. He invited a Disciples evangelist, D. S. Burnet, to come to Iowa City to establish a congregation. By this time many of the members of the Higbee’s Grove congregation actually lived in Iowa City, and it was decided to merge the Higbee’s Grove congregation with the new one being established in the nearby growing university community.
The building which Porter purchased was located on a quarter block in the heart of Iowa City. It was approximately 40 feet by 60 feet, with twenty foot high side walls and a portico or vestibule extending from the front. It was set back from the street by about 20 feet. It was constructed of blue-gray painted brick.
This church had been built in 1841 and was the first church building constructed in Iowa City. Iowa’s first territorial governor, Robert Lucas, participated in the laying of the cornerstone. It was owned and used by a Methodist Protestant congregation for the first twenty or so years of its life. When that church failed, Kimball Porter purchased it, and it became our first church home in Iowa City.
Many photographs exist of our last three buildings, but no photograph, or even a drawing of the 1841 building is known to exist. The only graphic depiction of it known is the sketch below, which comes from a Sanford fire insurance map, drawn sometime before 1886. If anyone knows of a picture of this old building, we would very much like to see it.