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History of Belle Rive and Dahlgren, Illinois And Surrounding Territory

Prepared by Continental Historical Bureau of Mt. Vernon, Illinois
December, 1960

Page SC-1

Sugar Camp Baptist Church

Two score and four years after the Prairie State had been admitted to the national union, and one decade and nine years prior to the firing on Fort Sumter, which was the initial action of the War Between the States, a group of people who were residing in a rural area located for the most part in the southeast portion of Jefferson County, Illinois, had decided that they were in need of a place in their community to worship their Creator in their own way.  These people were pioneers who had descended from families who had largely come to Illinois from southern states.  The closest places of worship at that time were probably at some of the villages that were a considerable distance from their homes.  Lovilla was situated a number of miles away in the western part of Hamilton County and Spring Garden, an enterprising village several miles to the west, was too inconvenient for the residents of the Sugar Camp area to attend religious services regularly.

There was a church of the same faith and order that was situated in the northeast part of Franklin County.  This church in the adjoining county was called Liberty Church and was organized the year before Sugar Camp Church came into being.  While the members of the Liberty Church were believers of the same doctrine that the founders of Sugar Camp Church held to, it was several miles distant and it would be more convenient to have a place of worship in their own locality.

With the above thoughts in mind, a number of farm people who were residing in the lower part of Moores Prairie Township assembled together and on February 26, 1842, organized what they called at the time Sugar Camp Creek Church.  This new religious organization was located on the “Old Goshen Road” that ran from St. Louis, Missouri, to Shawneetown, Illinois.  The original location of the church was in the southeast part of Jefferson County, Illinois, a short distance from the Hamilton County line.

A number of well know families in that area were among the ones that are credited with taking the responsibility to organize this new church of the Baptist faith.  In this group there were such names as Wilbanks, Allen, Cates, Foster, Hood, Pharis, Williams. Vance, and Hosea Vise of the Macedonia area.

Like many churches of various denominations of the earlier period, the record indicates that they maintained a rather rigid discipline in the procedure of worship and conduct of business meetings.  In their church constitution they set forth some very strong regulations to be followed in their form of worship.  It would indicate from the early history of their new church that the group as a whole tried to “practice what they preached”.  This philosophy of worship a century and more ago pretty much prevailed among many church groups.

The founders of Sugar Camp Church and their families lived in an area that contained countless acres of timber.  Much of this had to be cleared before fields could be put into cultivation and new roads constructed.  Like other communities, transportation was by horse drawn vehicles.  At times when there was freezing and thawing the local travel had to be done on foot.  There were many times when the members of the new church had to walk from their homes to their church to attend services.

In view of the many obstacles with which they were confronted, they continued their regular worship, as they felt led to do.  During winter seasons when they were afflicted with the common ailments as most families were, there being a scarcity of physicians and medical information, there were times that they found it difficult to survive.  Death took its toll in the area.  As “miracle” drugs and vaccines were unknown and medical science had not advanced to the place that it has since the turn of the century, the early settlers of this community were confronted with the battle of survival and as a result had to look for a suitable burial ground.

We have not found records that show the exact time when construction of the new church building was begun.  It is believed that the first building was erected the year that the church was organized.  Reports from various people state that the first building was constructed of logs.  This only stands to reason because timber of the hard wood varieties was plentiful in that ware when work on the new building began and sawed and paned lumber was expensive and not available in the immediate vicinity for the new building.

As additional deaths occurred in the community, more grave lots were acquired from time to time.  Years later, another section of the cemetery was cleared on the south side of the road, and it too began to be filled with those that sooner or later became occupants of the silent city of the dead.  The appearance of the cemetery would look to the stranger that there were two such burial grounds located across the road from each other.  For many years, Memorial Day services were held at this cemetery, as was the custom in many localities from one coast to the other.

We are also informed that some time prior to the year 1870 another church was organized at this place of the Primitive Baptist faith.  It is said that their place of worship was located on the south side of the road.  Presumable both churches erected their buildings in the cemetery.

In the year of 1870 when the church membership had grown considerable (due to the fact that new settlers had moved into the community and the early families now had grown children), it was found that a larger building was needed.  After some discussion as to what kind and type of new building they would erect, Malias McPherson who was living about a mile northwest of the old church site offered to donate the land for a new building.  This location was at the edge of “Moores Prairie” and was more suitable to the needs of the congregation than the one where the first building had been erected.

A number of donations from individuals, and from churches of different faiths, were offered, some of them being as high as five hundred dollars.  Therefore, it was decided to erect the second building of Sugar Camp Missionary Baptist Church at the place where it is located at the present time.  One report is that part of the lumber that was used in construction of the new building was hauled by wagon from Ashley, Illinois.  The second building of this church is a frame structure and at the time that this history is written is in its ninetieth year and still in good condition. It has, of course, undergone the process of remodeling two or possibly three times.

This place of worship can truly be called one of the landmarks of Jefferson County.  Unlike some churches of various faiths that were organized and held worship services for a number of years and then died out, this church has continued steadfast through the years since its inception.  The church holds a record of one hundred eighteen years of continuous worship.

Some older people of the church have stated that the a Primitive Baptist people of the locality united with the Missionary Baptist people after the new building was erected, and both groups worshiped together for quite some time.  The year of 1877 marked the beginning of Lowry Hill Primitive Baptist Church a few miles northeast of Sugar Camp, and as this was the closes church of that faith, the people of the latter faith removed their membership and joined the Lowry Hill Church.

This Jefferson County landmark has witnessed many changes during its time.  At the time of its origin it saw a rugged countryside with many acres of timber, numerous wild animals running to and fro, countless wagon trains traveling on the “Old Goshen Road’ between St. Louis and Shawneetown.  This place of worship also witnessed the Great War Between the States and furnished a number of her young men to serve with the “Boys in Blue”.  Again, it saw men from its community join the armed forces during the Spanish American War.  Following this conflict, this wonderful old church witnessed the turn of the century.  Later, it gave some of its sons to serve in the conflict that was to “end all wars”.  However, within one generation, again this place of worship gave a number of her sons to serve in the Second World War.

Sugar Camp Church as seen the rapid transition of farming with a team of horses and clearing woodland to plow the virgin soil, to the coming of the machine age which increased immensely the volume and production of agricultural pursuits.  In its 118 years of existence, it has also witnessed the change from kerosene lights to modern electric service.  In general, this place of worship has seen the revolutionary change from the rugged life of its pioneer founders to the modern life of the people of the Twentieth Century whose way of life has been drastically improved.

Below we submit the first order of business of the founders of this church:



February 26th 1842.  We the presbytery by request come forward and examined the standing of these Brethren that was desirous to come into a Constitution at Sugar Camp Creek Meetinghouse and found them orthodox and holding the necessary qualifications.  We pronounce them a church of the United Baptists order to be called Sugar Camp Creek Church and give the right had of Fellowship to the following members that was holding letters of dismission from the United Baptist Church of Jesus Christ.  Abel Allen, Stephen Allen, Thomas Cates, Daniel Wilbanks, Robert Richardson, James Allen, James Wilbanks, Isaac Foster, Nancy Allen, Susannah Cates, Nancy Allen, Lucinda Allen, Malisa Allen, Fanny Allen, Mariah Allen, Manerva Allen, Tulana Hood and Sarah Jane Pharis.

  Elders: { G. M. Williams
              { T. M. Vance
              { Hosea Vise

Saturday Before the 4th Sunday in February 1842 the church met in order:

1st     Church chose Brother Silas Williams moderator protem, Brother Hosea Vise Clerk protem

2nd    Chose Brother James Wilbanks to serve us as clerk

Hosea Vise, Clerk protem

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