Chartered on October 15th, 1884, ours was the first church organized in Ogallala!
The organizational meeting and early services were held in a building that also served as the town’s school. Indeed, its teacher was our first pastor – Luther E. Brown, who also organized and taught the town’s first Sunday School.
In 1875, Andy Adams first drove cattle up the Texas Trail to Ogallala. He later wrote a book, “Log of a Cowboy,” in which he described the town which was the End of the Texas Trail. He wrote:
“We finally scaled the last divide, and there below in the valley of the South Platte (River) nestled Ogallala, the Gomorrah of the cattle trail. From amongst its half hundred buildings, no church spire pointed upward, but instead three-fourths of its business houses were dance halls, gambling houses and saloons.”
However, in the mid-1880s, as the vast heard of cattle faded from the landscape, Ogallala began to become domesticated.
On April 30, 1884, in the first edition of the town’s newspaper, “The Ogalalla (that’s how it was spelled then) Reflector,” editor Mark M. Neeves began his first column: “First the Press, then the Church.” Although one might question his priorities, less than six months later Editor Neeves’ prediction came true.
On October 15, 1884, eight citizens gathered at the school to found the first church in Ogallala, The First Congregational Church.
In 1888, the church’s first building was completed at what became 416 West B Street. It was a white, frame church. In 1892, a church bell was purchased and survives today in the bell tower of our present church building.
Efforts began in 1917 to build a new and larger church, and the property on which our church building stands today was purchased for $2,450. The imposing brick building was soon enclosed. But the building wasn’t finished until 1949!
The financial leader for the new church, banker/businessman J.W. Welpton died, and money troubles began. World War I made manpower and materials scarce. In 1921, the church organization was incorporated and was then able to get financial assistance from the National Congregational Church. The congregation remained steadfast and faithful and completed the north wing of the new building. Worship services and other meetings were held there for more than 20 years. Meanwhile, the unfinished sanctuary became the Ogallala Public Library with the Library Board donating $80 a year in lieu of rent.
Matters were not helped by the Great Depression, and the church’s indebtedness was not paid off until 1943. Then, World War II again made manpower and materials in short supply.
Finally, after more than 30 years, the beautiful church building was completed and dedicated on February 20, 1949. It quickly became the social hub of the community.
In October of 1984, capping a year of special events, our congregation celebrated its Centennial – 100 years old!
Just five months later, tragedy struck. On Sunday, March 17, 1985, while we were worshiping in the sanctuary, the basement of the church was afire. Just minutes after the congregation departed after worship, the building filled with smoke and was consumed by fire.
For the next two years, we worshiped across the street in the former Masonic Temple, now a parking lot, while our new church was constructed on the same property as the building that had burned and was completed debt-free.
Today, our church is used by many community groups because of its favorable location, parking lot, accessibility for the disabled, and its attractive and functional layout. We provide the venue for the annual non-denominational Community Thanksgiving Service and the Inter-Faith Lenten Meditations and Luncheons.
As our longtime pastor, the late Rev. Louis G. Poppe was fond of saying, “We are the church with the open door.” Come on in!