Kimball Porter, a Founding Father

No. 4

Have you had a chance to examine the recently refurbished table which now sits in the entryway to the sanctuary?  Thanks to the generosity of Del and Marilyn Gilmore, the table has been restored to its former glory with a new marble top (see church newsletter for week of Nov. 11).

Disciples of Christ do not venerate relics, but if we did this would be one for our congregation.  It was donated to our congregation for use as a communion table by Mary Porter in 1863, thus making it our first permanent communion table.  It was used for many years for such purposes until it was retired.  Somewhere along the way the marble top got broken and was replaced with a wooden surface.

Kimball and Mary Porter were significant people in the early history of our church.  Most successful congregations have from time to time patrons or benefactors.  Such persons provide support and inspiration for the church and have much to do with their growth and prosperity.  The Porters were such people.  In fact Kimball Porter can in many ways be considered a founder of our congregation, along with Jesse Higbee.

Kimball Porter was a New Englander, born in 1803.  In 1831 he came west to Wooster, Ohio, where he soon became business manager of the Central Ohio Stage Company, and later Superintendent.  While living in Wooster in 1836, he and his first wife, Susannah, became charter members of a small congregation of the followers of Alexander Campbell.  The church grew, became prosperous, and today is the Central Christian Church of Wooster, Ohio.  Kimball served for many years as Elder of this congregation.  He also became one of the founders of the Eclectic Institute in Hiram, Ohio.  A few years later this institution became Hiram College, an early Disciples of Christ College which still thrives today, and from which several of our pastors have graduated.

After his first wife’s death, he remarried to Mary McCurdy.  By 1855 Kimball’s stage business was suffering from increasing competition from the newly constructed railroads, and he and Mary moved to Iowa City, where he became a partner in the Western Stage Company, a company still thriving in advance of the railroads.  Here they soon became charter members of the nascent congregation of Disciples of Christ in Higbee’s Grove.  When the building of the defunct Methodist Protestant Church in Iowa City came on the market, Kimball Porter bought it for $1300, and asked his friend, prominent Disciples evangelist David S. Burnet, to come to Iowa City, hold a series of meetings, and establish a new congregation.  There are some indications that the Higbee Grove church, or at least parts of it, opposed this move, but Burnet persevered, and the Higbee’s Grove congregation eventually bowed to the inevitable, and joined in this new effort.

Kimball Porter died June 27, 1863, barely three months after the congregation signed its covenant.  The record does not indicate it, but it seems not unlikely that the marble-topped table (which was already a family heirloom) was donated by Mary as a memorial to her husband.