History of Churches in the Leonardville Area

The following history was written in 1981 and was taken from the Leonardville Centennial book,
"City of the Plains, A Story of Leonardville."

The influence of the Church reaches back to the beginning of the Leonardville community. When settlers from eastern states and European countries took advantage of the Homestead Law and came to Kansas soon after the Civil War, they brought the church and desire for its services with them. School houses were built and used for church meetings and Sunday School as well as for general education.

The work of the Methodist Church in the community dates from 1871 when the Timber Creek Circuit was detached from Clay Center Circuit and a parsonage was built in the vicinity of Bala. The pastor who lived there served the groups at Timber Creek, Sumner Creek, and possibly Union.

Methodist Episcopal Church built in 1890

When Leonardville became a reality, with the coming of the railroad in 1881, a school house was built across west from the present water tower and Methodist services were held there and a class was organized. The townsite was surveyed and platted in September of that year.

There was a Catholic church in Leonardville from very early times -- at least by 1885.  The Monitor-Regent report at the time of the 75th anniversary of the town was that a large congregation was present at the dedication of the building which is the present home of Mrs. Nadine Zeisset.  Father Meili was the priest from Clay Center who served the congregation in the years including 1881 and 1888.  We do not have the information as to when the church was discontinued, but Mr. and Mrs. Pfeifer (who had been Catholic members and who purchased the church to make a home of it) did so before 1910.

The Evangelical congregation, commonly known as the German church, began through an acquaintance made at Winkler's Mill.  In the early spring of 1880, Christian Hoch, who had homesteaded two miles south of Leonardville, met the Rev. Wm. Heiser there.  The Rev. Mr. Heiser, who was the father of Mrs. George Harbes, was then pastor of the Big Blue Circuit of the Evangelical Association, living at Swede Creek, and he accepted Mr. Hoch' s invitation to come to his home to baptize two of the Hoch children.  When he arrived on the appointed day, he found the house full of people ready to hear a sermon and witness the baptism.

Zion Evangelical Church built in 1884

Later, when the Rev. Mr. Heiser returned to preach a second time, arrangements had been made to hold the service in the Fairview school house.  This resulted in regular meetings every two weeks plus prayer meetings in various homes.  The Leonardville Evangelical congregation was organized in 1880.  When Evangelical meetings were first held in town we do not know, but in 1883, the Rev. J. F. Schreiber who had succeeded Mr. Heiser as pastor on Swede Creek Circuit, held nightly revival meetings in the Erpelding Hall which was the upstairs part of the store building which stood where the Leonardville State Bank now stands.

Evangelical pastoral appointments had a two-year time limit in those days and in 1884, the Rev. Mr. Heiser returned to Swede Creek and on one of his trips to our community led in the decision to build a church building in Leonardville.  The business meeting was held in the G. R. Nanninga home.  During the time the building was under construction, Mr. Heiser met death in a horse-buggy runaway accident.

All the services of this church were held in the German language until World War I when a gradual shift to English was begun.  The early services at Walsburg were in Swedish, as were also those of the Baptist and Mission churches in Leonardville.  Fairview services were in German, also, until World War I. The Methodists built a parsonage in Leonardville in 1882 and a church edifice in 1889.  This church was destroyed by fire in 1912 and the building was erected which is still standing and used for the Cornerstone Christian Youth Center.

Several of the Leonardville churches were parts of circuits that included outlying preaching places.  The Evangelical Church was served with the Mill Creek congregation until the union of the two in 1921.  The Methodist pastor had this schedule in 1888:  Sunday mornings, Riley; Sunday evenings, Leonardville; alternate Sunday afternoons at Union and Grandview.  Grandview had its own building 2 1/2 miles east of Fairview until 1935.

Pastoral support was not all in money until recent years. The following Methodist announcement was made in 1888:  "Donation party at parsonage. Entire circuit -- Leonardville, Riley, Union, and Grandview. Come with teams and bring donations of hay, corn, oats, and anything edible or wearable.  Also gold, silver, and greenbacks."

The Swedish Evangelical Mission Church of Leonardville was tied to the Alert congregation from its start in the late 1870s.  The Leonardville congregation was organized in the home of Peter Swanstrom, December 29, 1884, and continued until the late 1930's when the building stood empty until the Rev. C. J. Algott moved from a farm in the Alert community to town.  He revived the congregation for the period of approximately 1946-1953. After it had stood unused for about five years, the Rev. Edgar Lindstrom bought it and resold and was torn down and a home built on it. The bell was sold to the Minneapolis United Methodist Church.

Swedish Mission Church built in 1892

While the church life in the early days was somewhat divided by language, as well as by doctrinal barriers, there is record of a Union Memorial Day service held in the Evangelical Church in 1889.  The choir on that day consisted of A. J. Swingle, W. H. Sikes, C. A. Chingburg, H. Hollenbeck, Lillie Crans, Hattie Newman, Mollie Burk, and Mrs. Loofbourrow.

Camp meetings were big events before the turn of the century.  Rev. Richardson, Methodist pastor on the Leonardville Circuit in 1888, conducted such a meeting in Weible's grove at Riley Center. For it he provided and rented 22 tents for families staying all night in addition to the big meeting tent, the boarding tent, and two refreshment stands. On Sunday over 2,000 people were on the grounds; included were some from Manhattan, Clay Center, and Junction City.  There were 17 conversions.

(Continued in the right column.)


Links to articles about Leonardville Area Churches:


80th Anniversary Book (1962) - Leonardville Methodist Church

Centennial Book (1974) - Fairview Presbyterian Church


Centennial Book (1980) - Leonardville United Methodist Church

Leonardville Methodist Episcopal Church Dedication (1890)


Leonardville M.E. Church Destroyed by Fire (1912)


(Continued from the left column.)

The Evangelical people held camp meetings in the Nanninga grove in those years -- in several tree-covered acres to the west of the present Merlin Potts home. There were also large trees across the road south in those days, and at least one camp meeting was held there.  The last of the camp meetings was in Pfeffer's grove about one-fourth mile south of the south end of Erpelding Street.  In 1917 a tabernacle was built on the church grounds for the purpose of holding three-times-a-day meetings without the camping feature. This tabernacle was torn down about 1950.

Sunday evening church services were regular through the years.  There were times when a few young men and boys took to disturbing them; besides making noises outside, these activities sometimes included hiding or stealing buggy whips, lap robes, etc.  Some of our readers may remember when Alfred Coltharp was designated town marshal for the purpose of keeping watch around the Evangelical Church on Sunday nights.  This was in the 1920s.

The Walsburg church was organized in 1873, meeting first in homes and then in the Walsburg school until the erection of their stone building in 1877.  The Mariadahl pastor served Walsburg also until 1884 when the first parsonage was erected.  Lightning struck the church in 1918 and it was completely destroyed; only the massive stone walls were left standing.  It was rebuilt, using the walls which were set up in 1877 and then plastered on the outside.  Additions were made to the building in 1907 and 1962.

Walsburg Lutheran Church built in 1877

As older members of the Walsburg congregation moved into Leonardville, they wished a chapel in town, and this was built in 1904 on the southwest corner of the intersection of W. Chase and N. Michigan streets.  This chapel was later remodeled and made into a house.

Walsburg Lutheran Chapel in Leonardville

The gift of land for Walsburg's church was large enough for its cemetery, too.  Most of our churches have had their own burial grounds.  The Evangelical congregation early laid out a cemetery a half mile east and a half mile south of town. In the 1930s it was enlarged and fenced with a chain link fence.  In the 1940's it was made part of a cemetery district by which it receives its regular good care.  Fairview, Grandview, Bala, and Alert are among the churches that had cemeteries, also.

There was once a Presbyterian congregation in Leonardville, too.  The new Bala Heritage book reports that in 1890 the Penuel Presbyterian Church of Bala united with the Leonardville Presbyterian Church (established in 1884, with work primarily in the Bala community), resulting in the founding of the Presbyterian Church of Bala, a building being erected there the same year.  The Bala church dates from 1887.  A devastating tornado took this building in 1903, but it was rebuilt, as was also the Congregational church in Bala.  In 1914 the two congregations united, and the Congregational building was attached to the north side of the Presbyterian building, making it essentially as it stands today.

The Swedish Baptist people in Leonardville were at first a little related to the Walsburg church as they worshiped with the Lutherans, in the language dear to them, before they themselves were organized in June of 1879.  Then, they met in the school house until the Rev. Mr. Bengston (who was also a stone mason) became pastor in 1884.  They built the one-room stone building which still stands vine-covered at Barton and Colorado streets.  After a revival in the new church, they numbered 81 members.  It has been thought by some that too long adherence to their old-world language hurt this congregation, as well as the Swedish Mission Covenant.  There was a gradual fade out at the Baptist Church in the 1930s; the last pastorate was that of the Rev. Mr. Trail.

The Alert Mission Covenant Church had its beginning in 1874 in a dugout in the community.  After a time, the first building was erected about one-fourth mile east of the present worship place.  In 1918 it was struck by lightning and burned.  Then, the congregation worshiped in the basement of the parsonage which had been built at its present location in 1910.  Besides that, an open air tabernacle was built on the grounds, and later it was enclosed for year-around use.  The depression years were hard for this congregation, especially because they felt they had an inadequate building.  In 1948 they erected the present church, and soon thereafter their numbers were strengthened by members from the Randolph and Cleburne churches which were closed by the Tuttle Creek Lake project.

About the earliest congregation in our community was the Fairview Presbyterian which was partially organized in 1870 and fully organized in 1874.  They used the German language until World War I. Services were first held in the school house across the road, but a church building and parsonage were built in 1882 and 1884 respectively.  In its present setting among the trees, it is (especially in summertime) the most photographed church in our community.

The pastors of all the churches here named, and others farther north, are tied together through the Blue Valley Ministerial Alliance which meets five or six times a year.  This group provides leadership for Sunday morning services in the Leonardville Nursing Home.  Union services are held on Independence Sunday, at Thanksgiving, on the World Day of Prayer, and on Good Friday.  The churches are a greater unifying factor now than previously, even though the number of persons attending is fewer.  A bright Second Century for this community is largely dependent on the strength of its churches.

--- Written by Merton S. Zeisset
Retired Pastor