Congregational Church of Tabor, Iowa

The men and women who founded Tabor were deeply committed evangelical Christians who were on a mission to establish an ‘Oberlin of the West’ on the Iowa frontier; they envisioned a community based on Christian values built around a college open to all. Their spiritual leader was John Todd, a minister who had been pastor of a small church in Clarksfield, Ohio, since his ordination in 1844.  In 1848 he joined fellow Ohioans George Belcher Gaston, Samuel H. Adams and their families in the move to Civil Bend, a village near the Missouri River. The location proved unsuitable for their purposes due to flooding and disease so the group shifted to higher ground in 1851, two miles southwest of present-day Tabor. Todd purchased a timber stand with two log cabins—one was used for his family and the other as a church and school. It was there, on October 12, 1852, that George Gaston and his wife Maria, their sons Alexander and Alonzo, John Todd and his wife Martha, Samuel H. Adams and his wife Caroline, formally assented to the articles of faith to found The Tabor Congregational Church of Christ. They were assisted that day by the Reverend George G. Rice of Council Bluffs,

The Tabor College chapel, around 1905

Church services continued to be held on Todd’s timber claim while permanent homes were constructed in Tabor. Dual use of buildings was standard practice for the settlers, and as the village took root during the winter of 1853-54, church services were conducted in the northwest room of the Gaston home in Tabor, which was also used as a village school. The first public school was constructed by residents in November of 1854, located on the northeast corner of Center and Elm streets, in the spot where the church parsonage now stands. This building would be used as a community meeting hall, church and school.  

By the late 1850s it was clear the original schoolhouse was too small for the growing community so residents voted to solicit pledges to build what would become known as the College Chapel, a frame building thirty-two by forty-two feet with a stone foundation, located across the street to the west of the school. Ready for occupancy in December of 1861, the building would be home to the Tabor Literary Institute (high school) as well as serving as the community church and center.

Membership in Tabor’s Congregational Church grew apace with the town—by 1870 there were 244 members and it was evident an even larger and more lasting edifice was required. Accordingly, in the summer of 1871, a committee of town fathers began supervising the construction of a new brick building designed to hold 1,000 worshippers. Always proud of the fact that their church had been self-sustaining from its beginning, Tabor residents raised over $20,000 through pledges, donations of material, and labor to erect the building; bricks were obtained locally from the kiln of John Weatherhead and the structural design supplied by Reverend J.K. Nutting, the pastor known for his ‘Little Brown Church’ near Nashua, Iowa. The new church was dedicated by the congregation on June 8, 1875. Church membership continued to climb under the ministry of Reverend Todd, who served for over thirty years. Father Todd, as he became known in later years, retired on January 1, 1883, but remained as pastor emeritus until his death in 1894.

The old church has weathered much in over 140 years, including a destructive tornado in 1907 and a fire that gutted the interior in 1945. But it remains standing today as a proud monument to the men and women who founded Tabor as a Christian community dedicated to the fair and equal treatment of all people.

Vested church choir, around 1912

Church and parsonage, around 1910

Church with cars parked on Elm Street, 1925

July 6, 1907 damage from a tornado caused significant damage to the structure. A new organ was installed in April, 1908, at a cost of $2,500

Tabor Historical Society

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PO Box 584

Tabor, Iowa 51653

(712) 313-0102

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