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Marking Time

Madison Presbyterian Church
to celebrate 200 years

'Tribute to Heritage' planned for February

(February 2015) – Ever wonder how Presbyterian Avenue in Madison, Ind., got its name? After four years of meeting without a permanent place of worship, a Presbyterian congregation of about 20 people began work on the first home of the Madison Presbyterian Church in 1819. Led by William Robinson, a frontier missionary, the church was located on West Street, which marked the western edge of the pioneer settlement.
Upon completion of the church, a new road was cut through a wooded area. This road guided parishioners to the new church’s doorway and was named Presbyterian Avenue.  
Through wartime, peacetime, political and societal changes, a Presbyterian congregation has been present in Madison for almost as long as Madison has been in existence. This year marks the church’s 200th year, and four events are planned to celebrate this milestone throughout 2015. A Tribute to Our Heritage is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Feb. 22 at the church, located at 202 Broadway St. This celebration will commemorate the George Washington Birthday Feast, which was a yearly happening for the church from 1887 until 1955. For 68 years this event was held faithfully, only stopping once in 1918 when coal was too scarce for an elaborate celebration.

Madison Presbyterian

Photo by Jenny Straub Youngblood

Madison Presbyterian’s 200th Anniversary Committee consists of (front row from left) Jill Wiest, Joyce Ashbrook, Pam Newhouse, (second row from left) Pastor Scott Hookey and Mary Elizabeth Goldsmith.


The first feast was organized by the Ladies of the First Presbyterian Church and was held above Rea’s Livery Stable on Main Street, or Main Cross as it was known in those days. Over the years, the affair was held in various locations, including private homes, until it finally settled in the current church’s Fellowship Hall. Growing into what was considered one of the community’s biggest church dinners, the feast would consist of roasted pig, scalloped oysters and creamed chicken in timbles. This last dish is somewhat mysterious today but seems to refer to a type of tart pan called a timbale.
“It was fun to taste other foods as no one ate out much,” wrote Jessie Tidball Dunn in 1990. Dunn was the daughter to Dr. Jesse Tidball, who was pastor at Madison Presbyterian from May 1923 to July 1946.
Guests at the first feast were encouraged to dress in Colonial costumes and were served by the female Sunday school attendees dressed in the same manner. Church member Mary Elizabeth Goldsmith still has her mother’s dress that she wore as an attendant of the feast, or tea, as it was eventually called. “It was most likely made in the late ’20s or early ’30s,” Goldsmith says.
The event has historically provided some sort of entertainment. Skits were performed on occasion, and sometimes traditional songs would be sung. In 1937, The Courtship of Miles Standish was read to all in attendance.
This year, “a historical musical journey” is planned, according to Pastor Scott Hookey. A vocalist, organist, harpsichordist, trumpeter and violinist will perform songs from the past. The church has also commissioned a hymn to celebrate “200 years of worship, evangelism, and service.” The hymn is called “We Offer Thee Our Grateful Praise” and was written by local organist James Stanley. The public is invited to this event, which is now a “feast of desserts” rather than the traditional feast of the past. There is no charge to attend, but free will donations will be accepted.
A Community Block Party is also being planned in June as well as a “Celebration of Our Reformed Heritage” in October. As 2015 comes to a close, a conclusion of the 200th anniversary will be celebrated on Nov. 22. This event will embrace the church’s roots in Scottish heritage by showcasing, among other things, bagpipe players.
The church is steeped in history and has done an excellent job of maintaining meticulous records.  Interested parties can refer to the church’s website for excerpts from member Pam Newhouse’s column “What a History!” that is included in the church’s newsletter. This history follows the beginning days of the church to a temporary split of the congregation into the First Presbyterian Church and the Second Presbyterian Church. There were disagreements between conservative “old school” members and more progressive “new school” members.
The Second Presbyterians built their own sanctuary on the corner of West and Third streets and is now the home of the John T. Windle Auditorium and Historic Madison Inc. This house of worship was in close proximity to the original church, and it is said that the congregations could hear each other singing during services.
The First Presbyterians eventually built a new church of their own that was located on Main Street between West and Mulberry. Unfortunately, this building was destroyed in 1845 by what was considered the largest fire in the town’s history. Construction on the current church began immediately. The new church incorporated pews with pew doors that were meant to keep out drafts. Worshippers were encouraged to bring their own sources of heat on cold winter days and also brought their own candles for evening services.
Pastor Hickey said he is proud of the church’s long history but is quick to add, “This year is only a celebration because this community is so deeply rooted in faith. It is amazing how compassionate, loving and supportive of each other the congregation is.” He added, “We don’t have to hold on to our history for our survival.”

• For more information, call the church at (812) 265-2952.

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