Southfield Reformed Presbyterian Church from 1834-1973

By Dr. John O. Edgar


At the annual Congregational meeting held in January, 1972, J. O. Edgar was asked to prepare a history of the congregation. Various materials have been preserved through the years, so it was desired that the information be edited and placed in booklet form. Among the materials are the old church record books, newspaper clippings and a History of the Church, written by Miss Mary E. Thompson, and which appeared in The Birmingham Eccentric in February, 1915.

Miss Thompson, who died in 1967 at the age of ninety-six, was a great granddaughter of David Stewart, who was largely responsible for organizing the congregation. Her account contains information which had been passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. The original purpose of her writing, which is reproduced in full in this booklet, was to try to stimulate interest in the care of the cemetery. Miss Thompson is buried in this cemetery; her continuing interest in it is evident in the fact that she bequeathed $10,000 to the church for its care.

In this foreword we also wish to note that in June, 1969, The Southfield Historical Society presented the church a bronze plaque which states that the Reformed Presbyterian Church was the first church to be established in Southfield. The marker which is now located near the entrance of the churchyard reads as follows:

This site is honored for continuous use as a place of worship. In the year 1834, John Parks, one of the early settlers of the area donated this one acre of land for a church site. The congregation consisting of nineteen members erected their first building in 1838, replacing that structure with the present building in 1861.

History of the Southfield Reformed Presbyterian Church

The Southfield Reformed Presbyterian Church was the first church to be established in Southfield. Its early leadership may be traced to David Stewart, a Covenanter who migrated to Michigan from White Lake, Orange County, New York in 1831. Shortly after arriving, he learned that a neighbor, William Connery, was also a Covenanter. The next year they were joined by John Parks, a son-in-law of Mr. Stewart. These men, having an interest in Covenanting principles, encouraged other Covenanters to come and settle in the area. Meetings were held in the home of Mr. Stewart, and, by 1834, there was a group of sufficient size to organize a congregation.

There are no church records from 1834 to 1840, but from other sources it is learned that meetings were held in the home of David Stewart until a church was built in 1838. The group did not have a pastor, so it depended on itinerant ministers who came to them at irregular intervals. The first official record is that of January 24, 1840, which reads, “By direction of the Western Presbytery of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, and after previous notice being given, the congregation formerly known as the ‘Michigan Congregation’, was by the desire of the people divided; and the branch called Southfield after due notice, convened for the purpose of being organized into a congregation, to be entitled ‘Southfield Congregation’, and of electing elders. On examination it was found that the following were members and communicants.”

They were as follows:

Alexander McClung
Sarah McClung
David Stewart
Anne Stewart
Elizabeth Ann Taylor
Ruth McLaughlin
John McClelland
Mary Ann McClelland
Jane Blackwood
Robert Brown
Anne Brown
James McClung
Sarah McClung
Margaret Parks
Sarah Harmon
Mary Ann Harmon
Marian Law
Sarah Ann Beatty

Following the making up of the roll and election was held to choose elders. This resulted in the choice of Alexander McClung and David Stewart. These men accepted the office and were duly installed a week later.

In 1842, the Rev. James Neill became the first pastor. Mr. Neill was born in Ireland and received his education in that country and in Scotland. He was 31 years of age when he came to Southfield. He is reported to have suffered from inflammatory rheumatism because of the “exposure he was required to suffer in a new country.” He continued his ministry until 1851.

Most of the Session meetings during the pastorate of Mr. Neill were for the purpose of adding names to the church roll, many of whom came by certificate from other Covenanter Congregations. We have no way of determining how many were attending in this period, but the records show that 48 names were added to the roll in this nine year period.

An interesting aspect of the church’s work in the early years is that it dealt not only with spiritual matters, but in civil affairs as well when they applied to members of the congregation. At a meeting of the Session on October 7, 1850, a resolution was passed, “that those persons having matters of difference in the way of arbitration be required to use all diligence in settling their controversy and report to the next meeting of Session.” The records do indeed show that the people brought many of their disputes to the Session and that frequently the Session would appoint a committee to try to settle the matters. The issues included personal quarrels, horse trades, and other business dealings. The reason for bringing these things to the Session was doubtless based on the Scriptural admonition in I Corinthians 6:1, “Dare any of you having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust and not before the saints?”

Members of the congregation were frequently cited to appear before the Session in answer to charges which had been preferred against them. A most frequent cause of censure was failure to attend church services on the Lord’s Day and not to be present for the observance of the Lord’s Supper. The members of the Session took their duties seriously and were deeply concerned about the spiritual welfare of every person whose name was upon the church roll.

One case of particular interest involved a man who had stood in the church service and defiantly shouted at the minister, “I’ve heard enough of that.” Furthermore, when the collection basket was passed he had seized it from the hand of the man who was passing it and “cast it out of the church.” For such unbecoming conduct the man was cited to appear before the Session. He defended his action by explaining that it was his belief that it was sinful to lift an offering on the Sabbath. The man was suspended from church privileges, but they were soon restored when he came to the Session and reported that after giving further study to the matter he had decided it was proper to lift an offering on the Sabbath.

The pastorate of Rev. Mr. Neill was followed by that of the Rev. J. S. T. Milligan, who served from Nov. 11, 1853 to April 11, 1871. Mr. Milligan was born at Ryegate, Vermont, August 26, 1826. He graduated from Geneva College and studied at the Cincinnati Seminary. Those were pioneering days in Michigan. Much of the countryside was still primeval forest. It was no easy task to eke out an existence. They were able to purchase land for $1.25 per acre, but it was a tremendous task to cut down the forests and drain the swamps. In addition to farming, there was doubtless some income from the sale of logs. The growing City of Detroit provided a ready market for the things which were produced. This is set forth in the history written by Miss Mary Thompson when she writes of one of the pioneer women, Mary Connery. “She was a hard worker as were all of the women of those days. A large family of children were to care for and support. Many a time her children and herself walked behind an ox team load of cranberries, picked in the Royal Oak marsh, clear to Detroit, over the old Pontiac Trial. This was the only outing and many were the purchases made.”

It was not only difficult to support a family in those days, but it was equally difficult to pay the preacher. Some of the early ministers supplemented their income by farming on a small scale. Mr. Malcolm McDonald reports that the Rev. J. S. T. Milligan owned a farm at the northwest corner of 11 Mile and Evergreen, where the Birney School is now located. Also, that the Rev. Mr. McCracken owned a farm at 14 Mile and Evergreen. As was typical of the pioneers, the ministers probably produced their own fruits, vegetables, meat and milk. Although the pastor’s salary for 1858 amounted to only $350, there was still great difficulty in raising that sum. One year, after paying all expenses, the treasurer reported a balance of $0.37. But that was after one of the better years for there were times when the congregation failed to meet its salary payment. It is difficult for us to have an accurate concept of the buying power of the dollar in those days, but some light is shed by the following items of expense which appear in one of the records; “Broom $0.28, dustpan $0.28, dipper $0.25, pale $0.25”.

Southfield was not the only place in the area where Covenanter Congregations or societies had been organized, for work was being carried on in Detroit, Novi, and Bloomfield. When Mr. Milligan first came to Southfield he served part time at Novi. In 1854, it was decided that Southfield could support a pastor full time so a petition was sent to Presbytery requesting that Southfield be separated from the Novi organization. The request was granted and provision was made for eleven members from Southfield to be certified to Novi in order that the work might be strengthened in that place.

The only information about the first church building is that which appears in the record of Mary Thompson. It was erected in 1838 and stood close to the location of the present building. As the congregation grew in numbers and financial strength, the building was inadequate for its needs, so it was determined that an effort should be made to erect a new church. At a meeting on October 10, 1859, a resolution was passed, “that this congregation make an effort to erect a new church.” A committee was appointed to ascertain how much money could be raised for the project. It was also decided that the new church should be located as near as possible to the old church.

The finance committee went to work promptly, for in December the committee reported to the congregation that it had received pledges totaling $1,753. This amount was deemed sufficient to take further steps, so a building committee was named to draw up specifications for the church. Another resolution was passed, stating that various members of the congregation should draw the stone which would be used in the foundation of the church. The records also reveal some of the details which went into the planning of the building.

The building committee was also prompt in fulfilling its duties, for at a meeting on January 16, 1860, it was agreed that the committee “should enter into contract with a building for a sum not to exceed $2,000.” At another meeting on January 30, it was decided that the committee should “enter into contract with Mr. Joseph Torrens for a new church edifice.” The sum finally agreed upon was $1,989. A stipulation was made that the building was to be completed by December 1, 1861. Later additions to the plans brought the final cost to about 2,100. Miss Thompson has written of how the building of the church by Mr. Torrens was a labor of love and that after purchasing the materials he had little left for his labor.

The construction of the church was typical of others buildings of that period, having a timber frame. Today, in the attic of the church [one] can see the huge beams which had been hand hewn by a broad-axe. The joists, purlins, and rafters, carefully fitted with mortise and tenon joints, secured by wooden pins, testify of the skill of the workman. What a contrast this 111 year old building presents to the 18 storey office building which is being completed across the road from the church!

The church was completed on schedule, and, on November 11, 1861, the congregation met to determine the amount that should be charged for pew rental. Three seats at the front of the pulpit, and three seats in front of the stove were to be free. Also, the pastor and his family was to be given their choice of a pew without cost. It was decided that the pews should be rented at the cost of not less than $8 per year. However, the deacons were to have the privilege of negotiating with adherents for a rate less than that which was charged the members. A Mr. McKinney was appointed to serve as auctioneer in renting the pews, so it would appear that the one who paid the most for his pew would be given first choice. An item in the deacons’ report for 1864 indicates that all the pews had been rented that year.

When the new church was completed, a committee was appointed to secure furnishings. We assume that it was at this time that the beautiful old sofa, which is now in our library, was purchased for the seat behind the pulpit. The committee was also specifically charged with “laying the carpet.” We suppose that this refers to a carpet for the platform at the front of the church. Another item of interest concerns an additional entry in the list of expenses, which reads, “Center piece, with pulley, $11.00.” It is our conjecture that it refers to the ornamental decoration in the center of the ceiling in the sanctuary. The pulley may have been used for the raising and lowering of some kind of lighting fixture.

It is apparent that there was something to be desired in regard to the personal habits of some members of the congregation, for at a meeting on January 15, 1863 a resolution was adopted “that tobacco chewers be requested not to spit on the floor or in the pews of the new church.” But it is apparent that some had not taken heed to the edict for another resolution appears in the minutes of January 15, 1867, “Resolved, that no spitting of tobacco on the floor or in the church be allowed hereafter.”

In the earlier years of the congregation, the deacons would appoint a day each year when the men would meet to cut wood for the church. But later, a contract was given for someone to furnish the wood. For example, the agreement one year stated that the contractor was to furnish 10 cords of 22” oak or beech wood for which he would receive a sum of $15. When the church was first built the gallery was not completed, but by 1864, due to the need for additional seating, a committee was appointed to complete this project.

The first burial in the cemetery was that of David Stewart in 1852. At that time nothing had been done about laying the cemetery out in plots, and it was not until much later that this was accomplished. On April 24, 1862 a committee was appointed to attend to the matter, but a year later, the committee reported that it had done nothing “on account of the failure of the congregation to dispose of the old church.” The committee was dismissed. The following year (1864) there is another minute which reads, “Resolved that there be a fence erected between the new church & the graveyard, and that there be a committee to lay out the graveyard into lots.” But the task was never carried out, for in 1882 it was still necessary to appoint a committee “to lay the graveyard out in lots.” This committee apparently took some action, for at a meeting in 1883 in reported that some progress had been made.

One of the organizational features of the Reformed Presbyterian churches of a century ago is that which is known as “The Society.” In an era when travel was by ox cart or horse drawn vehicle, it was difficult for members of the congregation to meet except at the services on the Sabbath. Consequently, for the sake of convenience a “Society” would be organized for the members living in a certain locality. Usually, a member of the session would be in charge of a society. Mid-week meetings would be held for prayer and for the reciting of the Catechism. This was doubtless the forerunner of the mid-week prayer meeting. In 1859, Southfield had the following Societies: Woodburn; Stewart; Neill; Henning and McKinney; McKinney; and Openings. The name is given of each person, old and young belonging to a particular society, together with the names of out-of-bounds members who were not associated with any society. There is a total of 205 names on this list. We are intrigued by the designation of one society as “Openings”. It was doubtless given this name because it was located at an open area within the forest.

In the records for 1863, there is an item of interest pertaining to the Civil War. Young men in the Northern States were being drafted to serve in the Union Armies, and this of course involved the taking of an oath to the Constitution. This was a matter of concern for Reformed Presbyterians refused to swear allegiance to the Constitution because it contains no acknowledgement of God, or His Son, Jesus Christ. The records of the session read as follows: “Resolved, 1st, that the hiring of a substitute who is mustered into the service of the United States by taking of the regular soldier’s oath which is in terms of an allegiance to the government of the United States, is contrary to the principles of the Reformed Presbyterian Church and the decision of the last meeting of Synod. 2nd, Resolved, that the subscribing of money to hire substitutes is of the same nature and character. 3rd, Resolved, that this session cannot consistently with their duty allow such acts to pass without due notice and the exercise of discipline, however much they may sympathize with those who have done so. 4th, Resolved, that we kindly invite those who have offended in this matter to meet with the session at its next meeting and have the matter amicably and properly adjusted.”

Later minutes indicate that there were those who did appear before the session to state their cases. We do not find a record of action being taken against anyone, nor do we find record of any men from the congregation who served in the army. The issue appears to have been primarily, the hiring of substitutes for army service, who would have been required to take the soldier’s oath.

It is also interesting to note that the congregation had an interest in ministering to Negroes who have escaped from slavery. At a called meeting of the congregation on February 29, 1864 the record states: (A meeting of the congregation was held) “to take into consideration the general interests of the congregation in this crisis and the leave of absence of the minister on a mission to the Freed Men at Washington. Resolved, that Mr. Milligan have leave of absence from the middle of March until the meeting of Synod, with understanding that his pulpit be supplied.”

Nothing more appears in the church records about this matter, but Glasgow, in his History of the Church provides a note in his account of J. S. T. Milligan. “In 1864 he organized the mission among the contrabands at Washington, D. C.”. The congregation’s continuing interest in this work is found in the records where it indicates that each year a special offering was taking for the “Freed Men Mission.”

Because of its proximity to Canada, Detroit was doubtless on the places Negroes came in their attempt to escape from slavery. There is no record of this congregation having been engaged in the “Underground Railroad”, as was true of some other congregations of the church. Following the Civil War, there were a few Negroes who settled in this area. Mr. Malcolm McDonald recalls that when he was a boy, his family lived in Troy, and that each week they would bring with them a Negro man, named George Washington, who lived in Birmingham. Although he attended the church regularly, he never became a member.

The third pastor of the church was the Rev. James R. Hill, who served from May 10, 1872 to May 22, 1876. There is nothing in the records which seem to distinguish his ministry. Thirteen names were added to the roll in this period. After leaving Southfield he served other missions stations in Michigan. In 1877, he became pastor of the St. Louis Congregation, and later became identified with the Presbyterian Church.

Mr. Hill was followed by the Rev. Joseph McCracken who served from June 15, 1878 to May 29, 1903. He has been described as a man who combined the graces of a preacher, a pastor and a missionary, and made full proof of them all. It was also said that his home was “perfumed by the sweet odors of Christian love and hospitality.” Mr. McCracken was the boyhood pastor of Malcolm McDonald, and Mr. McDonald recalls that in those days when there were both morning and afternoon services, that Mr. McCracken would lie upon the sofa behind the pulpit to get some rest before starting the afternoon service. Before coming to Southfield, Mr. McCracken had served pastorates at Clarinda, Iowa and St. Louis, Missouri, and for five years, immediately before coming to Southfield had served as professor of mathematics at Geneva College which at that time was located at Northwood, Ohio.

Mr. McCracken served during a vibrant period in the life of the congregation. Numerous names were added to the roll, many of whom had been baptized and grown up within the church. But there were also those who had migrated from other parts of the country. On the other hand, there were many who left the church in this period. Some moved away, but there were others who left apparently because of the stern discipline which was exercised. As in earlier days, if one was not in regular attendance at church it was almost certain that he would be visited by a committee of the session to ascertain the reasons for his failure to attend. We cannot help but question whether such stern discipline accomplished its purpose of developing a deeper Christian life. But it is also true that in modern times the church has probably erred in the other direction by not exercising enough oversight in respect to its members.

There were some who also left the church because they were not in agreement with some of the distinctive doctrines of the church, particularly as they applied to Political Dissent and to the holding of membership in Fraternal Organizations. Still another problem for some was a matter pertaining to Sabbath observance. Southfield, for more than half a century had been a remote farming community, little affected by the outside world. But economic conditions were changing. It was more profitable to sell whole milk to the milk processors than to make butter at home. But selling milk required that it be delivered seven days a week. This became a controversial matter and the session referred it to the Presbytery. The ruling of the Presbytery was that milk should not be sold on the Sabbath, and this in turn led to some of the members leaving the church.

The decade of 1890-1900 brought other changes. Six men who were serving as elders – some for as many as 40 years – were called to be with the Lord. They were: William McDonald, 1891; James McKinney, 1893; Hugh Woodburn, 1898; William Young, 1898; Alexander McKinney, 1899; and Samuel Bell, 1901. But each generation brings forth new leadership and we find that in this period A. M. Cannon, J. M. Henning, and William Hanna were elected to carry on in the office of elder.

In reading through the minutes of the Congregational meetings, there are fragmentary bits of information that appear. It was necessary because of the swampy nature of the churchyard to purchase tile for the drainage of the property. This appears to have been a problem to a greater or lesser degree through the years. Many of the present members of the congregation can recall the condition of the road in front of the church at certain times in the year. This problem did not cease until Evergreen Road was paved a decade ago.

For many years there were sheds on the south and east sides of the churchyard for the protection of horses in cold and stormy weather. Some of the people provided their own sheds, but some sheds were constructed which were reserved for the use of visitors. At one of the meetings a resolution was passed that anyone who wanted to provide a shed for his horses must confer with the committee which was in charge.

There are two items of interest which appear in the minutes for 1902. When the land was first given for the church and cemetery, no deed for the property had been prepared, so a committee was appointed to attend to the matter. The following year the committee reported that it “had secured a deed to the land and had had the lot surveyed.” It was also noted that the deed had been made out in “the name of ‘The Trustees of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America,’ to be held in trust for the R. P. Congregation of Southfield, Michigan.” The other item of interest reads as follows: “Resolved that the clock be left entirely in the care of the janitor.” No explanation of this item is given, but we assume that not all of the brethren were in agreement as to the correct time. Probably someone had adjusted the church clock to accord with his own time piece. Times have changed, but human nature is much the same. Today, the problem is not changing the clock to suit one’s time, but adjusting the thermostat to suit one’s desires of temperature.

The minister who succeeded Joseph McCracken was the Rev. Harvey Galbraith Patterson, who came to Southfield directly from the Seminary. The period of his service was from October 11, 1904 to May 27, 1910. Dr. Patterson grew up in the Old Bethel Congregation near Sparta, Illinois. He served only three congregations, Southfield for 5 ½ years, Vernon, Wisconsin for 3 years, and Morning Sun, Iowa for 35 years. In 1945 he was elected moderator of the R.P. Synod, and in 1946 received the honorary degree, Doctor of Divinity, from Geneva College. For 56 years he attended every meeting of Synod – a record which perhaps has not been equaled by any other minister in the church. He was a faithful pastor, an able expositor of the Word, and one who always prepared carefully before coming to the pulpit.

Through some unfortunate circumstance, there are no church records from 1908 to 1923, so our information about this period is limited. The pastor who followed Dr. Patterson was the Rev. W. M. Robb, who served from December 5, 1911 to June 2, 1915. Mr. Robb grew up in the Sharon Congregation, and attended Geneva College and the Reformed Presbyterian Seminary. In 1907, he and his wife, the former Orlena Russell of Bovina, New York, sailed for China, to serve as missionaries. After three years, they were compelled to return home on account of Mrs. Robb’s health. In 1916, they were able to return to China, where they served until the death of Mr. Robb in 1929. Mrs. Robb is still living and resides in Orlando, Florida. Their daughter Grace is the wife of Dr. S. E. Boyle, who, with her husband is serving as a missionary in Japan.

The next pastor was the Rev. Robert E. Willson, who served from November 22, 1917 to January 20, 1919. Like his predecessor, he was brought up in the Sharon Congregation, attended Geneva College and the Reformed Presbyterian Seminary. In 1908 Mr. Willson and his wife, the former Margaret Kilpatrick, also of the Sharon Congregation, went to the Levant to serve as missionaries. They were home on furlough at the time the United States became involved in World War I and were not able to return to the mission field at that time. As a result, they accepted the Southfield pastorate. With the signing of the Armistice in 1918, it became possible to return to the Levant so Mr. Willson resigned his charge in 1919. But he was not to serve long in the field, for he was called home to be with the Lord, early in 1923. Mrs. Margaret (Willson) McFarland lives today at the Home for the Aged in Pittsburgh. Their son, Dr. S. Bruce Willson, accepted the ministry as his calling in life and today serves as President of the Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh.

Following the resignation of Mr. Willson, the congregation was without a pastor for about a year. On January 15, 1920 the Rev. J. C. B. French took up the work at Southfield. He was born in Branch County, Michigan in 1858. He graduated from Geneva College and the Reformed Presbyterian Seminary. He served pastorates in Sterling, New York; Oakdale, Illinois; Denver, Colorado; and Regina Saskatchewan. His ministry in Southfield was cut short by his death on December 7, 1921. The account of Mr. French in Sketches of the Ministers states, “His last days were filled with suffering, but he bore them with resignation and faith and found his strength in the Lord. He died just two years to the day, from the time of their arrival in Birmingham to take up the work of the ministry there.”

The congregation was again without a pastor for almost two years, until the Rev. J. C. Mathews took up the work. He was ordained and installed November 4, 1923 and served until October 1, 1947 when he resigned to become Executive Secretary of the Christian Amendment Movement, and Managing Editor of the Christian Patriot. Shortly after coming to Southfield he was married to Miss Iva Jane Allen of Morning Sun, Iowa. She was another who grew up in the bounds of the Sharon Congregation. Since the Southfield Congregation did not have a parsonage, the Mathews lived in several locations. These included Ferndale, Birmingham, and 11 Mile Road, near Lahser. A son, Robert Paul was born to the Mathews while they were at Southfield.

Clifford Mathews was a greatly beloved pastor. Today, those who knew him, speak most highly of his work. In looking over the careful records which he kept, we know that he must have been a methodical man. His death occurred at Topeka, Kansas, on September 28, 1950. Following the death of her husband, Mrs. Mathews accepted employment in the office of the Christian Amendment Movement. When the office was moved to Pittsburgh, she too moved to that city. She continued in this work until her marriage to Mr. Raymond Milroy of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania.

The pastorate of the Rev. J. C. Mathews was followed by that of the Rev. Harold Thompson, who with his wife, the former Mary Carson of Greeley, Colorado came to take up the work in 1948. This term of service continued from August 3, 1948 to July 30, 1961. Mr. Thompson labored faithfully in contacting new families who were moving into this community and sought to interest them in the church. In the summer of 1953, Mrs. Thompson had the misfortune of being afflicted with infantile paralysis. For many weeks she was in a helpless condition, but gradually she regained partial strength to her limbs and was able to return to her work of teaching in the public schools.

Mr. Thompson is remembered as the pastor with the “Green Thumb.” He and his wife did much to improve the landscaping around the church and parsonage. We may give them credit for planting many of the trees which now grace the property. Mr. Thompson gained considerable reputation for his work with African Violets. The breezeway at the parsonage was converted to a greenhouse where he would have several hundred violets growing at once. They sold the violets commercially and Mr. Thompson frequently spoke at garden clubs on, “The Care of African Violets.” At one time, he and his violets were featured in the Sunday edition of the Detroit News.

After leaving Southfield in 1961, the Thompsons moved to Denver, Colorado, where they continue to reside. Mr. Thompson entered the field of Accounting and is today Senior Citizen Analyst for the State of Colorado. Mrs. Thompson continues to teach in the Denver School System.

The next pastor of the church was the Rev. Armour McFarland who served from May 18, 1962 until June 1964. Before coming to Southfield he had been the pastor of the Union Congregation at Mars, Pennsylvania. Mr. McFarland organized the members of the congregation in carrying out an extensive survey in the community around the church. Through this project it was learned that there were large percentages of Jews and Catholics in the area. There does not appear to have been much direct fruit from the canvass, but at least it revealed some reasons for the difficulty of missionary outreach by the church. Mrs. McFarland was the former Siola Velazquez. The couple has four children. After leaving Southfield, Mr. McFarland affiliated with a Baptist Church. The family presently lives in Holland, Michigan, where Mr. McFarland is engaged in Elementary Education.

On June 1, 1965, the Rev. Donald Weilersbacher became pastor. This pastorate was terminated on November 18, 1968, when Mr. Weilersbacher resigned to become pastor of the San Diego, California congregation where he continues to minister. His wife was the former Sandra Smith. During this pastorate extensive improvements were made upon the church. These included a new roof, new windows, new aluminum siding, and a portico over the front steps.

This pastorate was followed by that of John O. Edgar, the writer of this sketch, who began his work in Southfield in September, 1969. He and his wife, the former Ida Briars of Lisbon, New York, had previously labored in congregations at Lisbon, New York; Glenwood, Minnesota; Sharon Congregation, at Morning Sun, Iowa; and for five years before coming to Southfield, Mr. Edgar served as Superintendent of the Reformed Presbyterian Home for the Aged in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1959, Geneva College conferred upon Mr. Edgar the honorary degree, Doctor of Divinity. In 1970, he was again honored when he was chosen to serve as Moderator of the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, which met that year at Northfield, Minnesota. Mrs. Edgar’s mother, Mrs. Barbara Briars, resided with them for almost ten years before her death at Southfield in June 1971.

The Southfield Congregation may look with pride upon eight young men who have grown up within the church and who have gone into fields of full time Christian service. The first of these was James Renwick Johnston Milligan, a son of the second pastor. He graduated from Geneva College in 1880, was employed in Boston for two years, and then attended the Seminary. He preached in Kansas and Nebraska and was installed pastor of the Allegheny Congregation in 1880. In 1891, he left the Reformed Presbyterian Church. Later he affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, and served as pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Pontiac.

The second minister who came from the congregation was Pollock Johnston McDonald, who graduated from the Seminary in 1892. His fields of labor included Seattle, Los Angeles and Chicago. For a time, he was employed in lecturing for the National Reform Association. He passed away December 9, 1956. Mr. Malcolm McDonald, a nephew of P. J. McDonald, recalls a story which he heard concerning his uncle. At an early age it was his ambition and desire to become a preacher. He had long curly hair and one day, while quite young he went into a weed patch and got burdock burrs entangled in his hair. His hair was so matted that his elders decided that the only thing they could do was to take scissors and cut them out. Whereupon the aspiring young preacher protested, “The people will laugh at me when I get up to preach.”

Next, we record concerning the three sons of George and Janet McCarroll. The first was Hugh, who graduated from the Seminary in 1902. He served two years as pastor of the Wyman, Iowa, congregation and then became affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. Walter McCarroll completed his seminary work in 1899 and went to labor in Australia. Returning to this country in 1903, he was appointed to serve in the Cyprus Mission, where he labored effectively for 16 years. After his work in Cyprus he served for 24 years as pastor of the 2nd New York Congregation. A third brother, Calvin McCarroll, was a medical doctor. He and his wife served the mission in Cyprus for many years. They chose for their final resting place the little cemetery beside the church where Dr. McCarroll had first come to know the Lord.

Another son of the congregation who chose the ministry as his vocation is the Rev. Robert Henning. His seminary work was completed in 1946, and, in 1947, he became pastor of the Hetherton Congregation. From 1954 to 1961, he was the pastor of the New York City Congregation. In 1961, he volunteered for missionary service in Equador and took the Missionary Training Program at the Seminary. When plans for the Equador Mission did not materialize, he accepted a call to the Eastvale Congregation in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. He is presently serving as pastor of the congregation at Oakdale, Illinois.

The next man to attend the seminary is Glenn E. McFarland, the son of John and Theda McFarland. He received his early childhood education in the Detroit and Southfield schools, and graduated from Geneva College in 1952. When he finished the seminary course in 1955, he became pastor of the Santa Ana, California, Congregation, where he served until 1964. He then served pastorates at Wichita, Kansas, and Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, and, in 1970, returned to the Santa Ana Congregation where he had served formerly.

The most recent son of the congregation to take up the ministry is the Rev. Paul Mathews, a son of the late Clifford Mathews. He graduated from Geneva College in 1955 and from the Seminary in 1958. That year, he accepted a call to the Hopkinton, Iowa Congregation, where he served for five years. He was later employed at the Monroe St. Mission at Phoenix, Arizona. He is presently employed in Elementary Education at Rose City, Michigan.

Although the congregation was more than a century old when Harold Thompson became pastor, it had never owned a parsonage. Though the years, the various pastors provided their own housing by buying or renting. In 1948, rapid changes were taking place in the community and it was difficult to find suitable housing for the pastor, so it was decided that a parsonage should be constructed. An additional plot of ground, across the cemetery from the church, was purchased from the Thompson farm. Messrs, Easson and George Shanklin, assisted by Joseph McGaw, (all members of the congregation) were contractors for the house. There was also much volunteer labor which went into the building.

After the construction of the parsonage, it was decided that improvement should be made on the church, in order that it might be able to serve the congregation and the community more adequately. In January 1955, a basement was constructed and the church was moved over the basement. Most of the work was contracted, but again, there was much volunteer labor which was used. Mrs. Harold Thompson has kindly transcribed for us some entries in her diary which show the progress that was being made. We quote:

1948 August 3 Harold installed as pastor at Southfield.
1948 November Men dug water line to church for the first water in the church building.
1948 November Started building the parsonage.
1949 May Parsonage completed, moved in May 24.
1952 October Purchased movie projector, screen, folding tables and chairs with money received from the estate of Mrs. Nannie Peck.
1955 January Dug basement and moved church. Got a new furnace and got rid of the old stoves. Services were held in the parsonage during the months of January and February. Got back in the church on March 6. The work was not all finished until May or June. Ed Robb and Joe McGaw did cabinet work in the church kitchen.
1956 March Acoustical tile put on ceiling in basement.
1957 January Floor tile applied in basement. (Men of the church doing work on both the floor and the ceiling).
1957 January Had service in basement of church while new flooring was being laid on main floor of church.
1957 November Men laid new rugs at the church on Nov. 9.
1961 July 30 Harold resigned and we moved to Colorado.

Following World War II, we come to a marked development in the life of the congregation. During the first century of the church’s history, Southfield had been a placid farming community. The forests had been cut, the swamps drained, and the land developed. Agriculture was the principle occupation. But trends of a national scope were taking place which were to affect Southfield. The development of the automobile, which could provide transportation to work from out-lying areas, resulted in many families moving to the suburbs where they might enjoy rural living. Since Southfield was within commuting distance from Detroit, the farms around the church were purchased for building development.

The growth of Southfield in the past quarter century has been phenomenal. It was incorporated as a city in 1958, and the population increased from 31,501 in 1960, to 68,444 in 1970. On every hand there has been the building of new houses, apartments, office buildings and shopping centers. Land prices have soared to the point that the cost of building lots for single dwellings is almost prohibitive.

This development has been especially significant for the church, for the Thompson farm, from which the land for the church was originally given, was purchased for the development of the Southfield Civic Center. In this development we find the City Offices, the 46th District Court, Police Station, the David Stewart Memorial Library, the Parks and Recreation Building, and the indoor Ice Hockey Rink. There are also an outdoor swimming pool, four baseball diamonds, a 9-hole golf course, tennis and volleyball courts, and a building under construction, which is to be used for hand ball.

Northwestern Highway, which had long been a main artery to downtown Detroit, was developed into the John R. Lodge Expressway. Evergreen Road, which long had been a “mud” road is now a four lane highway. Another Expressway is planned which will be constructed along 11 Mile Road and which will proceed eastward, until in joins Interstate 75. With these new roads the center of the City of Detroit is only 20 minutes from the church.

In December 1970, construction was started on an 18 story office building on the property across the road from the church. At the present time (January 1973) the Travelers Tower (named for the Travelers Insurance Co.) is nearing completion. Announcement has recently been made of the purchase of 70 acres west of Evergreen and south of 10 ½ Mile Road. This project by the Prudential Insurance Co. will be a city within a city. In the midst of this rapid swirl of building, the Southfield Church still maintains its witness on the ground where it has stood for more than a century.

Although the church is located in a rapidly growing city, it has not been able to attract to its fellowship many of the people from the community. Some increase has come through people moving to the area who have had contacts with the Reformed Presbyterian Church in other places. On the other hand, death has taken its toll of the members; there are some who have moved away and others who have left to become members of other churches. In recent years, there has been a good attendance at Vacation Bible School held each summer.

As we look back on 139 years of history, we think of the hundreds of lives which have been touched by the witness of this church. Through the years there were men of vision who possessed courage to undertake the tasks before them. The 11th chapter of Hebrews has been called “The Bible Hall of Fame,” and there appear the names of many who were faithful and who served the Church in their generation. Hebrews 12 looks back to the heroes listed in the 11th chapter and begins with these words, “Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”

Today, from the vantage point of heaven, our heroes of faith, the people who established this church, are looking down upon the changing scenes in Southfield, and upon the little church which meant so much to them during their days upon the earth. As we look to the future, we remember our “cloud of witnesses,” and it is our prayer that we may be enabled to “run with patience the race that is set before us.”

List of Those Buried in the Church Cemetery

Much of the following information appears in the newspaper article which was written by Mary Thompson in 1915. We have condensed the material, and have added the names of those buried since 1915. It is noteworthy to observe the number of children who died, and also the adults who passed away at an early age. Undoubtedly, many of them would not have died so young if modern medical facilities had been available.

Throughout the years, no charge has been made for burial in the cemetery. There was a period of time when little care was given to the cemetery, and it fell into disuse. But sometime in the early 1900s, the men in the congregation held a work bee to improve the cemetery so that it could be maintained. From time to time, contributions have been received for the care of the cemetery, but the greater part of the expense has been borne by the congregation.

The first burial in the cemetery was that of the stalwart pioneer, David Stewart, who passed away on February 24, 1852. Others buried in the Stewart plot are:

Ann, wife of David Stewart 1865
John Porter, son of David Stewart 1880
Mary B., daughter of David Stewart 1887
Mary Taylor, granddaughter 1863 (age 20)
Margaret Taylor, granddaughter 1863 (age 17)

Other burials include:

Bell, Samuel 1901
Bell, Mary 1861 (wife of Samuel Bell) (25 years)
Cameron, Agnes 1861 (wife of Samuel Cameron) (43 years)
Cannon, Alexander Woodburn 1895 (21 years)
Cannon, Alexander M. 1918
Cannon, Elizabeth 1925
Cannon, Martha 1918
Cannon, Clyde 1958
Cannon, Mrs. Clyde 1943
Cannon, James 1954
Connery, Margaret 1872 (Wife of William Connery)
Dermond, George C. 1873 (Dermond’s wife died before he came to Southfield, but her name is on the marker)
Douglas, Robert John 1879 (4 years)
Douglas, Samuel A. 1880 (infant)
Edgar, Joseph 1865 (6 years)
Elsey, Edna P. 1971
French, Calvin 1955
Gailey, Andrew 1871
Greer, Agnes 1860 (Wife of Samuel Greer) (20 years)
Greer, Elizabeth 1873 (Wife of William J. Greer)
Grow, Mary Ellen 1899 (33 years)
Hanna, David children:
Agnes 1881 (1 year)
James 1872 (5 months)
Infant sister (no date or marker)
Robbie 1882 (3 months)
Freddie 1882 (3 months) (Robbie and Freddie were twins)
Hanna, Habib 1970
Hebblewhite, Charles 1934
Hebblewhite, Isabella 1959
Hemphill, Nancy J. 1854 (9 years) (second burial in the cemetery)
Henning, J. M. 1929
Henning, Elizabeth 1936
Henning, William 1904
Henning, Eliza 1888 (wife of William)
Lowe, James D. 1946 (infant)
Marshall, Alexander 1860
Marshall, Mrs. Alexander (buried north of husband)
Marshall, Robert (information lacking)
Marshall, Rachel (information lacking)
Marshall, William 1872
Marshall, Isabella 1881 (wife of William) (buried north of husband)
McCarroll, Calvin 1934 (served as medical doctor in Cyprus mission)
McCarroll, Florence 1934 (wife of Calvin)
McCoy, Fred 1889 (infant of people visiting Southfield)
McCurdy, Mary Elizabeth 1859 (13 years)
McDonald, William Wallace 1866 (12 years)
McDonald, William 1891
McDonald, Mrs. William 1905
McDonald, Clarence 1892 (infant)
McFarland (baby of John and Theda McFarland)
McKinney, James W. 1858 (son of A. and J. McKinney)
McKinney, James 1891
McKinney, Martha 1879 (wife of James)
McKinney, Annie 1869 (daughter of James) (16 years)
McKinney, James A. 1893
McKinney, Grace 1921 (wife of James A.)
McKinney, S. E. 1948
McKinney, Ione 1955 (wife of S. E.)
McKinney, James Roy 1902 (son of S. E.) (1 year)
McGaw, William 1919
McGaw, Esther 1936 (wife of William)
McGaw, Clara 1968
McLaughlin, Robert
McLaughlin, Ruth
McLaughlin, James
McLaughlin, Jane
McLaughlin, James
Morrow, Archibald
Neill, Alexander
Roby, Elton L.
Roby, Ethel
Stewart, Luther
Stewart, Ella
Thompson, William James
Thompson, Margaret Ann
Thompson, James
Thompson, Mary E.
Torrens, Joseph
Torrens, Elizabeth
Wallace, Anna
Young, William S.
Young, Ann
Young, James
Young, Hugh


The Records of The Session, 1840-1973.

The Records of The Congregation, 1852-1911.

The Covenanter Church of Southfield and Its Early History related by Miss Mary E. Thompson and published in the Birmingham Eccentric, of Birmingham, Michigan.

History of The Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America by William Glasgow.

Sketches of The Ministers by Owen Thompson.

Covenanter Ministers, 1930-1963 by Alvin W. Smith.

Excerpts from diary kept by Mr. Harold Thompson.

Conversations with Mr. Malcolm McDonald, born 1882, a life long member of the church.


We wish to express appreciation to Mrs. William Wilson for typing the manuscript; to Mr. William Borden for the artist’s sketch of the church and for assembling for the booklets; to Mr. Tom Beamer for doing the duplicating; to the Xerox Corporation for donating the paper and providing the use of its equipment in the preparation of this booklet; and to the Southfield Historical Society for supplying the typewritten manuscript of the history related by Miss Mary E. Thompson.