In this region, perhaps, the Methodist Church can justly claim priority, for its ministers have ever been in the vanguard of civilization, and not unfrequently in the advance "picket line," yet, in this vicinity, the Baptist and Christian (Campbellite) sects had their representatives in the new and wild vineyard, at about an equally early day. It is impossible to obtain reliable data of the first "class" organized in this township, but it was far back in the forties, though the entire county was included in one circuit until 1856. Up to this date, the "circuit-rider" resided in Havana, and made his indefinite rounds on horseback. The organization from which the Methodist Episcopal society in this town was formed, was at the Pollock Schoolhouse, about three miles east of Mason City.|
This was made one of the "appointments" in the circuit as early as 1858, and religious service was held at such places as could be obtained until the frame schoolhouse, east of the railroad, was built, after which, meetings were held there until the erection of the present church building in 1863, during the pastoral charge of Rev. W. P. Paxton, who was succeeded, in the order named, by Revs. Barthelow and Rutledge. The Church in town was constituted a charge in 1868, and Rev. Simmons appointed Pastor, who was succeeded, in the order named, by Revs. Warfield, Parkhurst, Carroll, Armentrout, Sinnock and Moore, the latter now Pastor in charge. The Methodist congregation in this city has a goodly membership, both in number and quality, and sustains a good Sunday school.
Next, in order of age, is the Baptist society. The organization in town had its origin in the Church organized at the Pollock Schoolhouse, east of town, in 1856, which was bodily transferred to Mason City, in November, 1859. Elder L. R. Hastings was the first resident Baptist minister of this township, having settled on and improved a farm about two miles east of town in 1851, and it was mainly through his efforts that the organization at the Pollock Schoolhouse was formed in 1856. He now resides in town, and is a veteran, faithful servant of the Master, and is universally honored and esteemed for his upright life. The meetings of this Church were principally held in the frame schoolhouse, which was the "meeting-house" of the day for all religious sects and opinions, until 1867, when the present Baptist Church was built. Since its organization, the following ministers have officiated as Pastors, in the order named: Elders Hastings, Hartley, Holtsclaw, Curry, Haughey, Blunt, Martin, Scott and Hobbs, the latter now in his tenth year. This society now numbers nearly two hundred members.
The Presbyterian society dates its organization from 1857, when a society was organized by Revs. Templeton and Andrews-the latter, Rev. John Andrews, presiding as Pastor until 1867, when the present Pastor, Rev. Stephen J. Bogle, assumed pastoral charge. Service was principally held in the schoolhouse until the building of the frame church (now the Catholic Church), in 1864. This church house cost about $2,000, and was quite an enterprise for the prairie town at that time. In 1871, owing to the increase of membership and large attendance at the Sunday service, this house was found to be too small to accommodate the congregation, and it was decided to sell the old church house and build a larger one. The present fine brick edifice was then projected and successfully carried through to completion, ready for dedication in February, 1872. This society has a membership of about two hundred. The Pastor, Rev. Mr. Bogle, owns the residence and grounds he occupies, and, as an exception to the rule with which ministers are regarded, he is looked upon as a permanent citizen.
The Catholic society was organized here in 1872, when it purchased the wooden church building of the Presbyterian society. They added to it and re-arranged it so as to meet the wants of their service. They have only part of the time had a resident priest, but have been provided service at regular times.
The Union Chapel had its origin in a somewhat dilapidated dwelling in the southeast part of town, where, in the spring of 1876, E. M. Sharp, Dr. J. M. Taylor, and others, organized a Sunday school, as members of the Young Men's Christian Association, for the special benefit of the poor of the city. A wonderful interest was soon aroused among those who, by their poverty, considered themselves shut out from the means of grace dispensed at the regular churches, where, unfortunately, a great many attend service more to display crinoline and millinery styles than the "beauty of holiness." This building was soon found inadequate to the demand for room, and an old billiard-room, of abundant capacity, was purchased, moved to a suitable location near the scene of the first efforts of "leaven," remodeled and made pleasant and comfortable, and now maintains a good Sunday school and affords a comfortable place of worship for all who wish to avail themselves of it.
The first benevolent society organized here was Mason City Lodge, No. 403, A., F. & A. M. This Lodge was organized in January, 1864, and now contains a membership of about one hundred. The year 1869, this Lodge built a third story on the brick building now occupied as a drug store by A. Bradley, which was then being erected, which furnishes a handsome, commodious and secure lodge-room. The elective officers now serving are: H. C. Burnham, W. M.; S. M. Badger, S. W.; J. C. Warnock, J. W.; F. N. Smith, Treasurer; J. F. Culp, Secretary.
Mason City Lodge, No. 337, I. O. of O. F., was also organized the year 1866, and now contains a membership of about one hundred. The present incumbent elective officers are: J. F. Culp, N. G.; G. W. Ellsberry, V. G.; J. J. Cox, Secretary; H. M. Anderson, Recording Secretary; John Cameron, Treasurer; J. H. Faith, Deputy. This Lodge meets in a third-flour room, in La Forge Block.
Mason City Encampment, No. 175, I. O. O. F., was organized in 1876, and holds its meeting in the Odd Fellows' Hall. The present incumbent elective officers are: F. H. Cook, C. P.; H. M. Anderson, H. P.; C. W. Thomas, S. W.; S. Eulass, J. W.; A. E. Whitney, Scribe; G. W. Ellsberry, Treasurer; G. W. Ellsberry, Deputy.
Unity Lodge, No. 792, Knights of Honor, was organized in the fall of 1877, and now contains fifty members; holds its meetings in Masonic Hall. The present incumbent elective officers are: J. P. Canfield, Past Dictator; F. M. Swing, Dictator; H. C. Parker, Vice Dictator; D. E. Le Sourd, Assistant Dictator; Lafe Swing, Guide; J. F. Culp, Reporter; W. H. Tooker, Financial Reporter; B. D. Riner, Treasurer; I. A. Smith, Chaplain; O. S. King, Guardian; George Brooker, Sentinel; Dr. A. M. Bird, Medical Examiner; Lafe Swing, Marcus Kahn and I. R. Brown, Trustees.
Modoc Tribe, No. 14, Improved Order of Red Men (I. O. of R. M.), was organized in November, 1878, and now contains a membership of sixty-two. It holds its councils in the room over H. T. Lewin's grocery store. H. T. Lewin, of this city, is Grand Deputy Sachem for the State of Illinois, and Representative of the State in the Grand Council of the United States. The present incumbent elective officers of the Tribe are: S. M. Badger, Sachem; F. N. Smith, Senior Sagamore; W. A. Hoover, Junior Sagamore; Thomas Entwistle, Prophet; F. M. Conehay, Assistant Chief of Records; James D. Hawes, Keeper of Wampum.
Pioneer Relief Association, Division No. 12, was organized in this city in April, 1879, and has its regular meetings the last Friday evening in every month. Its officers are J. C. Warnock, President, and J. J. Cox, Secretary.
In this connection and under this head it is proper to state that a library association has just been formed in this city in the name of the Mason City Library Association, with forty-two members, and the first invoice of books, numbering 100 volumes. The regular meetings of this Association are the second Monday evenings of every month. The Association was permanently organized August 25, 1879, and the following officers elected: Rev. S. J. Bogle, President; O. S. King, Vice President; J. F. Culp, Secretary; Miss Olive A. Hudson, Treasurer; Ira A. Smith, Librarian, and Miss Belle May, Mrs. E. Craig, N. S. Forsyth, James Stebbings and Dr. J. M. Taylor, Executive Committee.