What Happened with this Huge Pioneer Church in Illinois?

A History and Picture Album

Pioneer Church in Central Illinois
Rural Windsor, Illinois


An Illinois Pioneer Church with a Bright Future

     Welcome to a special historical resource that tells of the religious life of pioneers in very early Illinois.  Illinois had become a state in 1818.  People from the east and the south were moving into the new state in massive numbers to establish farms, villages, and to seek a better life.  Illinois was famous for its black fertile soil, forests, abundant animals, and available acreage. 
     This story concerns a church in Shelby County, Illinois (about 200 miles south of Chicago, and 120 miles north east of St. Louis).  There was in 2002, one living member of the 20th century Sand Creek Church of Christ still living, and I had the pleasure of meeting with her.  The Church has been closed since the mid 1960's.
     The Church of Christ and the Christian Church were established early in Illinois.  Usually one or the other would spring from the other.  The biggest differences between the two would be that the Church of Christ would use only accappello singing (no instruments) and would not have the popular Sunday School classes.  The Christian Church usually had instrumental instruments (piano and/or organ) and Sunday School classes. 
     Sadly, these differences would at the turn of the century (about 1900 or so) cause the Sand Creek Church of Christ to split up.  The purpose of this historical site is to celebrate a pioneer church in Illinois that started in 1828, until the end of the 19th century.  If you are interested in the "Big Sand Creek Court Case" there are sites to visit that will tell of it. 
     During the 19th Century in America there was a great "RESTORATION" movement for the Church.  Alexander and Thomas Campbell, who were Scottish descent preachers, in America, were going around the country preaching "Preach and do what the Bible says, leave out what it does not say."  From these new restoration teachings, a Church of Christ would be established at Sand Creek, rural Windsor, Illinois.  This church would begin with a log building, and be finally replaced with the brick structure in 1874.
     The reason of my interest in the old building was that in August of 2002, I contacted the area key keeper of Sand Creek Church, Mr. Toby Bennett, and ask him if he would mind if I cleaned and straightened up the old building.  He and other neighbors were very happy I would do this.  It would be hard and messy work, but a labor of love.  The building has no electricity or water, so I had to haul water and work during the day's light.  The condition of the building was solid, but poor in that the wallpaper was falling, ceiling damage had occurred, birds had created havoc by entering through holes, and clutter existed throughout the interior.  The exterior showed good condition windows, brickwork needing tuck pointing, and a wearing modern roof.  It was a challenge, but I enjoyed it for a few days.
 That is why my photos exist to record the church's condition and now this history.
     I hope you are moved by the story and the photos.  New steps were added in late Fall, 2002 by a former child member of the church, and perhaps other things have been done.  I don't know, as I have moved from Windsor, and only have memories.  The neighbors of Sand Creek enjoy the serenity and architectural beauty of the old brick building, but it's pioneer history is the most important feature of it. 
 Have fun with this history site! 

Enjoy a Visit to an ancient Church in Central Illinois
Important in that it had thousands of members and hosted a 19th Century "Camp Meeting" of thousands.  Hear about its start, heyday, and demise.

        A visitor is greeted by the sign on Illinois Rte. 32, some 5 miles north of  Windsor.  Sand Creek Road, that the Church and cemetery is one of  the early pioneer paths in Shelby County.  Thousands of Church visitors would convene at the Sand Creek Church of Christ during the heat of summer to hear good preaching, enjoy family fellow shipping, and meet new people. 

   The day dawned bright and clear on the mid August morning, and as the horses churned up the dust in the quiet country lane, it was evident that the day which was waking would be humid. The heat had scorched the grass to a pale yellow, and as the battered boards of the bridge clattered under the carriage wheels, everyone noticed that the creek bed was dry. Summer had taken its toll. But it had been a pleasant drive. The Illinois countryside was ablaze with splotches of color, while birds conversed in sweet melody. The beauty of God's creation was everywhere.

The carriage turned west onto a better beaten road, and its occupants immediately were stricken with the realization that they were not alone. The church-yard was filled with horses and carriages, wagons of all descriptions, children running and playing, and groups of men huddling in small clusters in obviously avid discussion. Inside the small brick meeting house, all was a bustle of confusion. Relatives and friends who had not met for many years were recalling old times, and others were vainly seeking an unoccupied seat.

Just the idea that all these people would gather there in the heat brings to mind, what did they eat and drink?  How did their horses get fed and watered? 
Toby Bennett, who's ancestors were a part of this annual event, and a next door neighbor to the Church told me they took care of the visitors.  No one was a stranger.  No one would go hungry or thirsty.  Now you can drive down the Church and walk around the old building in serenity and quiet at a neatly mowed lawn and grove of trees.
The rural congregation had come a long way since the days of old. Men of the stature of John Storm, who could be correctly called the father of Sand Creek Church, had first trod the path of righteousness in the untamed land. Tobias Grider, who had striven earnestly in the vineyard of the Lord as a frontier evangelist, lay a hundred yards west, his spirit returned to its Maker. Bushrod Washington Henry, whose long, flowing white beard must have been reminiscent of Elijah, tirelessly established new churches in the new land and was an original trustee of Eureka College. These men had labored valiantly to establish a foothold for the Lord among the newly settled inhabitants.

The extreme Illinois summer heat would be relieved a bit for the thousands at the camp meeting at Sand Creek Church.  People would fan and stay under the shade keep from getting sick.  The excitement of the fellowship and "good preaching" helped to make the whole event worth while.  This is a photo of the Sand Creek grove next to the building, where the crowd would hear the preacher "outside."
The raw country was hard, and life was hard, and theirs was a hard religion to match. Often, denied the use of homes and barns in which to preach, the pioneers would retire to groves and riverbanks to exhort those who would listen toward a more perfect way. The men of God often were forced to travel from house to house, asking for work, and living hand-to-mouth and from day-to-day. Farm labor in the 1830's meant long hours of exhaustive toil from sunup to sunset, but these preachers were so filled with the Sprit that they did not hesitate to proclaim the word of God after the day was done.




More on Page Two

Go to Page Two of My Sand  Creek
Church History and Photo album

Sand Creek Church History Resource Page

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