The History of Ionia County Churches
Part 1

First Baptist Church
June 24, 1834 was the date of the conference that established the First Baptist Church in Ionia. This conference held after the sermon was attended by Elder E. Loomis agent of the American Baptist Home Mission Society, Elder L. Slater, missionary from the Grand Rapids area, Samuel and Anna Dexter, Alfred and Nancy Cornell and Erastus and Phoebe Yeomans. In August of the same year, Elder Loomis returned and it was voted to ask recognition as a church. At this meeting, Dr. W. B. Lincoln was received as the first candidate for baptism. The following day, a service was held and during intermission the congregation proceeded to the Grand River where Dr. Lincoln was baptized. Dr. Lincoln was then chosen the first church clerk, a position he held for ten years. Mrs. Candace Dexter, mother of Samuel, George and Stephen Dexter was first received as a member in 1837. Mrs. Dexter had emigrated from Little Falls, New York at the age of 75 years. She was the daughter of Rev. Esek Winsor, son of Mercy Williams, daughter of Roger Williams, founder of the original Baptist church in America at Providence, Rhode Island. Mrs. Dexter was also the grandmother of Mrs. Williams Jennings Bryan. Mrs. Dexter later died in Ionia and is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery on Yeomans Street.In 1843, John VanVleck was granted a license to preach to the people. On June 1, 1845, Rev. VanVleck was ordained to the ministry and became the organizer and first pastor of the Palo Baptist Church

Church of Christ
     Rev. Issac Erret organized the Church of Christ in Muir in 1859. Several members of that church were from Ionia and they requested that he start a church in Ionia. This was done in 1859. The church grew rapidly from it's initial membership of 43 to more than 350 in 1891. The church met in halls and other churches until 1873 when their own church was built. Some of the most beloved young members of the church went on to become ministers. Dr. Royal J. Dye and Miss Eva Nichols were ordained in the church Jan. 15, 1899, and were married, also in the church the following day. They departed two days later to do missionary work at Bolenge, Belgian Congo. They returned to Ionia in 1911.

First Methodist Church
The first Methodist Episcopal class in Ionia was organized in the home of Oliver Arnold of South Ionia in the fall of 1834. For two years there were only three members of the class, all children of Mr. Arnold, Silas the leader, Anthy Phelena and Anthilda. In 1836, the Jesse Stevenson family became the fourth and fifth members. Services were held on the second floor of the Ed Stevenson store, at the corner of Main and Third Streets and later in the village schoolhouse on West Main Street. In 1844, the Methodists purchased a lot on Washington Street at the north end of Kidd Street, but due to lack of funding delayed completion of the church until 1850. During the time that the church was being built, services were held in the unoccupied Episcopal Church. The early church was dedicated in 1855 and grew in membership until it was necessary to enlarge the church. A description of the interior of the church reads, "The entrance was at the south end and the pulpit and the north end of the church. Down the center was one aisle, the women sitting on the west and the men sitting on the east. The room was heated by a big wood stove in the northeast corner. The was surrounded by seats arranged for the comfort of those who drove from the country. Here they took off and left their extra wraps, then stayed until warmed sufficiently to be comfortable in the pews."The church burned after a banquet on October 30, 1930. Just 2 years later, to the date, the cornerstone was laid for the new church. The first service in the new church were held March 29, 1933.

First Presbyterian Church
The First Presbyterian Church of Ionia was formed October 8, 1842. An organizational meeting was held with the following becoming members: William and Julia Babcock, Araminta and Rebecca Dye, Lecretia Webster, Mary S. Abby and Mary Lovell. Later that same month, Dolly B. and George C. Overhiser, Harriet A. Bates, Samuel P. Hodges, Rufus Dinsmore, Reuben W. and Martha Stevens and Olivia Babcock became members. The early congregation met and various halls and churches until 1857, when they moved into their new church. The church was totally destroyed by fire on June 28, 1908. Immediate plans were made to replace it. The new church was dedicated on March 13, 1910.

(From Ionia Michigan Centennial Book 1873-1973)

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Last update December 24, 2007