LEE CENTER – The Lee Center First Congregational United Church of Christ, Lee Center, was organized by the Rev. Joseph Gardner at the home of Moses Crombie on July 5, 1843, under the name of the First Congregational Church of Palatine Grove. For some time services were held at the Crombie home which was situated near the south end of Crombie Lane. The house was later moved to Amboy and remodeled.
At the end of 1849 the church began holding services in the new Lee Center Academy building and in 1852 engaged it’s first regular minister, the Rev. S. W. Phelps, at a salary of $200 per year and use of the parsonage. In addition, during the winter the parishioners gave the pastor a donation, which included about $100 in cash and a large load of wood.
In October 1854, plans were initiated for erection of a church building. Completed in 1856, it joined the Methodist and the Episcopal churches in Lee Center. The pews in the church all had doors, and the seats were rented to the church members. Receipts from these “rentage slips” paid the pastors salary. An entertainment was held in Mr. Blake’s store to raise money for the furnishings. It took all day for the ice cream to freeze, but was declared a success. Articles of fancy work were sold by the ladies and supper was served. Proceeds of this sale purchased a roll of bright carpet from a store in Amboy, where it had just arrived from Boston.
The church has undergone several remodeling and additions over the years. It was wired for electricity in 1907. In 1917, a balcony was added along with back of the church to a corner under a newly erected tower. The bell was purchased by the “Wild Flower Club” from a Methodist Episcopal Church society in 1918 when their church was dismantled. The church sheds, which were used to shelter members horses during services, were torn down in 1926. The final major change came to the building in 1949 when the annex was completed. It was built almost entirely by volunteer efforts. For several years it housed the overflow of pupils from the elementary school and in the basement the kitchen was used by Lee Center students as a cafeteria and also a base for meal preparation for over 600 students of District 271. The dining area was remodeled in 1977, again with volunteer help.
In 1953 and electric organ was installed to replace the pipe organ which had been installed in 1902. The wood from the pipe organ cabinet was made into what is now the present alter and lectern. The interior of the church contains extensive stenciling by an Amboy artist in 1952. In more recent years, the hardwood flooring of the church has been sanded and refinished, a lighted church sign placed in the front yard and a cement handicap ramp constructed.
The church has ordained nine ministers, sent out one minister to Turkey, has seen to other Congregational churches established in Amboy (1854) and Sublette (1871.) During the 1940s and 1950s, the church was yoked with the Amboy congregation, sharing a common pastor. At this time, the church is yoked with the Franklin Grove Presbyterian Church, with Jack Briggs serving as pastor.
During its 175 years, the church has been a moving force in the community. It continues to give focus and leadership in the Lee Center community. The congregation will celebrate the anniversary on July 15, at the 10:30 a.m. service.
Special entertainment for the day will be The Sauk Valley Barber Shop Singers, performing after a luncheon. RSVP is requested for the luncheon at 1140, Inlet Road, P.O. 72, Lee Center, Illinois, 61331.