Organized religion plays a major role in the culture of our Northern Illinois/Southern Wisconsin region. We enjoy highlighting places of worship, one in the country and one in the city.
“I love the recklessness of faith. First you leap, and then you grow wings.”
–William Sloan Coffin Jr.
Country Church: Cooksville Congregational Church • Est. 1860
12113 W. State Road 59 Cooksville, Wis.
Cooksville was established in 1842 by John Cook; in 1860, the Congregationalists organized a church, holding services in the schoolhouse until 1879, when they built the church still standing today.
It was designed and built by Benjamin Hoxie, a local self-taught architect, one of the early settlers of Cooksville and its postmaster. The distinctive church features round Italianate arches, Gothic Revival spires (or minarets), varnished interior woodwork, and a hand-painted stained-glass window.
In 1857, the planned railroad to Cooksville was never constructed, and the economic growth it spurred bypassed the village, whose population never rose above 200. The Congregational Church was closed in 1939, and the structure languished over time, losing its bell tower, minarets and front porch.
In the 20th century, Cooksville became well-known as “the town that time forgot,” because of the well-preserved and relatively unspoiled mid-19th-century architecture and its locally made vermilion brick residences.
The church was purchased in 1971 by Michael J. Saternus, a preservation architect, who restored the exterior, including the missing bell tower, minarets and front porch, as well as the interior. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, and in the State Register of Historic Places as part of the Cooksville Historic District.
Today, the Cooksville Congregational Church is not affiliated with any denomination and is available for weddings and other celebrations. Pews and side benches seat about 120 people, and the building is unheated and without facilities, but facilities across the street at the “parsonage” may be used. For rental information, contact Cooksville historian Larry Reed, (608) 873-5066.
City Church: First Baptist Church of Dixon • Est. 1842
111 E. Second St., Dixon, Ill., (815) 284-6823, fbcdixon.net
The roots for this church were planted in 1838, when residents of Dixon’s Ferry and Buffalo Grove joined to hold services together, calling themselves the Regular Baptist Church of Dixon and Buffalo Grove. At this time, circuit preachers traveled from town to town, and it was the custom for communities to form such groups and take turns hosting services, in order to secure a large enough congregation to become part of a circuit.
Original Dixon members included Rebecca Dixon, wife of Dixon founder John Dixon, and five of her sisters. The Rev. Thomas Powell was secured to lead the meetings, and he baptized close to 50 members through 1840. By 1841, Dixon’s membership was outpacing Buffalo Grove by a considerable margin, and the two bodies separated in 1842, when Barton Carpenter became pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dixon. The group shared worship space with the Methodists by alternating Sundays, until May 5, 1849, when a Baptist Meeting House was dedicated, on the west side of Ottawa Avenue, facing east, between 1st Street and the alley running through the block.
Pastors came and went over the next 15 years, staying anywhere from a few months to four years, until 1864, when Rev. J.H. Pratt began a 10-year pastorate, the longest in the church’s history. It was during his tenure that the present church was built, the cornerstone laid in October 1869 and the Romanesque-Revival building dedicated in July 1872.
A pipe organ was installed in 1909, and two separate doors in the flanking towers were removed. A new center entrance was installed in the 1950s. A major addition was built during the early 1960s, along with a new set of stairs to the choir loft.
On May 4, 1873, the church was conducting baptisms in the Rock River, and crowds had filled the Truesdell Bridge to watch. Suddenly, the bridge collapsed, drowning 45, 12 from the church’s own ranks. It would be three years before another Baptist baptism, when a baptismal font was installed in the church.
Today, 200 members are led by The Rev. Rachel Cocar. Sunday worship is at 10:30 a.m., with coffee & fellowship at 8:45 a.m. and Sunday School for all ages at 9:15 a.m.