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The Baptists of Marshall Center

The following is reprinted, from a pamphlet I obtained from John Sanderson dated May 1979 a distant cousin who later on is his life, together with others volunteered to caretake the cemetary where our mutual ancestors were laid to rest. As John has passed, knowing that he assisted me in every way when I needed help looking for my ancestors, knowing that he strived to see this information was available to those folks that needed it to complete their past-I undertake this knowing he would approve. He was also a member of the Historical Society of the area and we corresponded especially early in my research.

John writes: "As I grow older, my interest in the family history of my forebearers becomes greater. For some time I have been concerned that someone should record the history of Marshall Center Baptist Church before all the records and remembrances are lost.

Now that I have the time, inclination and certain information at hand, it seems good that I try my hand at being an amateur historian.

Thru the cooperation of Russell Ankeny, I have the use of the clerks records of the church for practically its entire life. His mother, Lila (McKee) Ankeny, had preserved these irreplaceable records. Only one book covering twelve years (1895-1907) is missing. I am indebted to Mr. Dane Dexter who supplied information of the Grimes Mission from which I am able to patch in some scanty information of those twelve years. The records of the Winifred Baptist Church furnished bits of information to help fill gaps in the original books. From my personal correspondence with with Leonard Oakley, I am including several items that was related to me. From all this, plus personal information handed down thru my family, I hope to build a fairly accurate and enjoyable work.

The Sandersons had connections with the Dexter families thru the marriage of grandmother Sanderson's brother, William Parker to Margaret Dexter. The Elliotts connected to the McKee clan by marriage one generation back thru the Finlay family. Thus having roots into both clans and friendships with some of the others, I feel that I can discuss them all impartially.

I write this not with any intent of ridicule of expose, but to reveal the convictions and ways of life of those earlier generations, that my children and grandchildren may know of their heritage. Also that it might be a document of interest to anyone into whose hands it may fall. Respectfully, John E. Sanderson.


When Coronado began his long trek in 1541 from Mexico and journeyed north in search of the fabled city of Quivira, it is a well established fact that he reached the Great Bend area of what is now Kansas. Some believe that his scouting parties visited the Pawnee Indian camp near Belleville. Others believe that the Quivera was near the Indian burial ground just east of Salina. Be that as in may, instead of the seven Cities of Gold, all that he found were huge herds of buffalo and occasional tribes of Red Men. For nearly two hundred years, these great plains were visited by only a small number of Spanish and French explorers, hunters and trappers. With the development of California, important wagon trails crossed the area. The Sante Fe road extended southwest enroute to New Mexico and the Oregon Trail crossed Marshall County thence to Nebraska and on west. Marysville was established in 1854 at the crossing of the Blue River. As the tide of immigration rolled westward, the Indians resisted the white man's encroachment of their hunting lands and fought to defend them. But in the early 1800s they were being shoved off into reservations and Indian territories, either by war or by treaty and title to the lands they claimed was extinguished. The most of Kansas was part of the Louisiana Purchase and was a territory until it became a state on January 29, 1861.


When the early pioneer settlers came to Kansas, Marshall County was settled by several distinct groups of people according to their nationalities and religions. For example: The Irish located tow large settlements in the NE and SE corners of the county where they erected Catholic churches amed St Bridget in St Bridget Township and St. Joseph's in Cleveland Township. Sandwiched in between them were the Swedes in Lincoln and Rock Townships and they built their own Salem Lutheran and Mission Covenant churches about five miles south of Axtell.

Several townships in the NW part of the county were occupied by a large settlement of German nationality and of the Lutheran faith. They named their towns and churches such names as: Afton, Bremen, Hermansburg, and Herkimer. Then there were the Bohemians or Czechs along the south border in the Blue River Valley in the Irving vicinity and their church was near the county line south of Blue Rapids.

Right square in the center of all these was a colony of Canadians from the general area of Peterborough Ontario who had emigrated here and settled south and southeast of Marysville in Center, Wells and Elm Creek townships and into Blue Rapids and a few into Waterville. My Grandfather, John Sanderson, was among those located in Center Township. A lot of these people were of the Baptist faith, but the Episcopalians were also represented in the area.


One segment of the Episcopal people, under the leadership of Mr. Alan Reed started a village called Reedsville, with several houses, a store, a blacksmith shop, a school, a church and a cemetery. For a time there were high hopes that the town would grow and due to its central location that the county seat would be located there. But Marysville got the courthouse and the new Topeka-Northwestern Railroad bypassed the area soon after the turn of the century, so the village dwindled away till practically all evidence of it was gone by the time I grew up enough to remember anything about it. Although I do have a faint childhood rememberance of the men dismantling the brick walls of the church. This was probably about 1912-1915.

The school was known as Reedsville School, Dist 40 and it remained in existence until 1956 when it was disbanded just prior to the county unified school program. During its life time it was the source of education tor three generations of Sandersons. My father and his brother and sister attended there as did myself and my brothers and sisters, also my four children. There were not many years without a Sanderson name on the attendance rolls.

Now all traces of the school are gone and the cemetery with its few tombstones is the only remaining evidence of the former village. The name on these stones are mostly of the Reed Family but are others, including several Jensens and a Civil War veteran and his family named Bain who were of the Christian Church denomination and there was a Methodist Mission called Mound Chapel about three miles south of Reedsville. Overall it was a Protestant community.


TO the best of my knowlege, there were seven Baptist Churches organized in this area. They were Blue Rapids, Waterville, Marysville, Beattie, Elm Creek, Marshall Center and at a much later date Winifred. Waterville was disbanded in the 1890s and its members joined the Marysville and Blue Rapids churches. I did not know that there was a Baptist Church in Beattie until I got to researching this report and learned that there was a congregation there in the 90s and that Sunday School was conducted as late as 1915. Also that the building still stands today. It has been converted into a home. Other than this I know nothing of it. Likewise, I do not havy any records of Marysville, Blue Rapids, nor Elm Creek. My grandparents moved to Marysville when they retired and attended the Baptist Church there. I sometimes visited it as a youth and I was baptised there as there was not baptistry in the Marshall Center Church. But such information as I do have shows these three churches shared their ministers with the Marshall Center Church and all worked together for the common cause and fellowship together a Associational meetings, etc.

The Elm Creek Church owned a parsonage in partnership with the Marshall Center Church. It was located about midway between the two churches on the Oakley farm. Reedsville is located three miles west of Winifred. Marshall Center is one mile north of Reedsville and Elm Creek was about seven miles southwest isn the valley of the Elm Creek.


By all accounts, Marshall Center was the largest congregation of all the churches. Such names as Ankeny, Dexter, McKee, Campbell, Jester, Johnson, Oakley, Riley, Sanderson and Winters are on the grave markers of its cemetery. These were the people were neighbors and friends of my ancestors and this is the place that they worshiped. It is to the task of assembling and recording as much as is possible of all the history of this church that I now address myself.

These people were all farmers and livestock producers. Some specialized in one thing more than another. The Dexter clan tended to lean more to general crop production and the raising of hogs, whereas the McKee men all had cattle feed lots and produced prime fat cattle for the Kansas City and Chicago Markets. And of course everyone raised hosrses and mules for power. I can remember B.T. Oakley as an extensive mule dealer.

I believe that the size of the average farm was about 160 acres, although Uncle Johnnie McKee owned the entire section of 640 acres that the church was located on. But probably half of it was in native sod and not plowed up until the turn of the century. My grandfathers farm was 160 acres at first but when his sons grew up he purchased another quarter section with a stone quarry on it and as a stone mason he produced much stone for bridges and building foundations.

The two prominent families were the Dexters and McKees. I found a list of names of a Sunday School roll. It is not dated but my guess is that it was about 1890-95. There are eighty-two names listed and twenty one are Dexters and seventeen are McKees. In fact, I have been told that outsiders called it the Dexter-McKee Church.

The Dexters were staunch Democrats and the McKees Rock-Ribbed Republicans. Altho they differed on political issues, they were united in their religious faith and believed the fundamental gospel. The older generation of Dexters were dogmatic and adamant in their convictions concerning Baptistic docterine and theology. In doctrinal matters the Sandersons leaned towards the Dexter viewpoint. I can recall that as a boy, my grandmother Sanderson, in dealing with me on religious matters, cautioning me to not let my other grandmother influence me. She said that the Elliotts were good people, but that they were Methodists and the Methodists did not baptise right. And that the only proper mode of baptism was by immersion, regardless of the circumstances. I might interject here the story that Mrs Tom Cooper used to tell about her baptismal experience. It was in February and how they went to a creek where a hole was chopped in the ice and the evangelist waded out into the chilled water and immersed the several candidates among the floating chunks of Ice. There being no place to change to dry clothes, they were bundled up in warm blankets and rode the several miles home in farm wagons. She said it was a wonder that they all didnt catch their death of pneumonia but none of them even got a case of the sniffles from their experience.

At about the age of thriteen, I made a profession of faith at some special meetings and was baptized by immersion, which pleased grandma very much but produced some caustic comments from the other side of the house, to wit: that I was outgrowing my clothes fast enough without ruining a pair of perfectly good wool knickerbocker pants by getting them soaked and shrinking up beyound further use. Tart remarks about "dry cleaned" Methodists and "water logged" Baptists are not new to me. I must comment tho that the Elliotts were true and devout Christian people and faithful believers of the Gospel as preached by John Wesley. One of my childhood memories of the family dinners at grandpa Elliotts house was everyone kneeling beside their chair before the meal while he led in prayer, giving thanks for their blessings.

The McKee men were very staunch pillars of the church but possibly not as straight laced as some of the other members of the congregation. Leonard Oakley relates this story by one of the most circumspect members of the clan, told in a moment of conviviality over a good cigar which he enjoyed immensely in the seclusion of the home but never in public. It seemed that in the old home in Ontario the fairly large family of bous didnt have a surplus of spending money. So when the annual fair and livestock show was in session, one of the boys would buy a season ticket and after presenting it at the gate and being admitted to the grounds, he would promptly go to a place out of sight of the entrance and slip the ticket through the fence to one of the brothers who would repeat this process until all the brothers were inside. "Of course", he hastened to explain "that was before we became Baptists"


My earliest recollections of the church location is that the entire property was enclosed by an Osage Orange hedge fence that had been planted on the fence lines many years before and then full grown by my time. The short section across the sound end was kept trimmed to about waist height but the rest was allowed to grow in its natural state.

The building was in the center of the front lot with the burial plots extending to the north. The two areas were divided by fences just back of the church. One was a high solid board wall extended from the building west to the hedge. It was a windbreak for the horse hitch rack. It and the hedge afforded shelter for the horses.

A wooden picket fence extended east to the east hedge fence. It was painted white and had a pland stile over it for those who wished to enter the cemetary and not have to struggle with the heavy carriage gate.

The building itself was a single room frame structure painted white and it had a porch floor across the south end just the right height for the vehicles to drive close by and the ladies step directly onto it and not have to soil their shoes in case it was muddy. The interior was furnished with the usual two rows of pews and a raised pulpit area was in an annex built onto the north end of the building. A high backed, cushioned chair stood behind the pulpit. The musical instrument was an old fashioned foot-pumped organ. An octagonal faced Seth Thomas type clock with its swinging pendulum hung on the east wall. A pot bellied stove set two thirds of the way back and in the center isle furnished the heat in the winter. Wires strung across the room supported curtains that could be drawn and partitioned the area into sections for several Sunday School classes. The adults used their bibles for Sunday School lessons and the children were furnished with leaflets and cards with pictures and scripture verses. The hymnals were soft paper-backed song books. Services in this chursh were always held at two oclock on Sunday afternoon. I am sure there were evening meetings sometimes but I cannot recall what kind of lamps were used, probably coal oil as there were two little lamp stands on the organ. Russell Ankeny says that he remembers about a five gallon, hand pumped, pressure gasoline tank standing in a corner with a small copper tube running up to two mantle type burners suspended from the ceiling. He says that a torch was used to heat the generator between the mantles and when it got hot a chain was pulled opening the valve and creating brilliant white light, much better than the yellow glow of kerosene wick lamps.

This was the church that I attended as a youth and acquired my early religious knowlege.


In examining these old records, I have come to several conclusions. The quaint and unusual choice of words convice me that despite their lack of advantage of higher educationm these were a learned and eloquent people. The Spencerian flourishes of the penmanship of J.D. Campbell and others and the faded ink render some of the nealy century old entries almost undecipherable but with the aid of a strong reading glass I can get the gist of the matter.

Religious discipline appears to have been very strict concerning attendance and conduct during the early years. Some of the occasions are set forth in detail but others a hid behind a maddening brevity of some of the entries. It makes one wonder what was the story behind the lines. For example: In one place it says that a committee was appointed to meet with the erring brothers and sisters. I asked Russell if he had any idea of what it was all about. He didnt know for sure but suggested that it might be what could be called the "Roller Skate Incident". A roller skate rink was in operation in the near-by home city and quite a few of the young people gathered there for an afternoon of recreation. One day a deacon walked through the door, stood and watched for a few minutes, then departed. But at the next meeting he reported the incident and a committee was appointed to point out the error of their ways. Appointment of committees to deal with delinquent members are so frequent as to become commonplace and almost monotonous. Due to space limitations, I plan only to mention what I consider to be the most outstanding incidents.

Also, it seems to me that there was a great turnover of pastors and that their tenure was short. Finances seemed to be a continual problem thru the history and occasionally there is indications of conflict between the congregation and the pastor. No details were ever given, but from family stories about the rigid convictions of that earlier generation it is easy to imagine the explosive situation that could occur if something were said or done contrary to their beliefs.

This incident occurred soon after my mother came to this community. She said it was a new experience for her to observe an elderly deacon sitting with his cane between his knees and when the preacher said something that he liked he would say "Amen" but when something was said that aroused his disapproval he would thump the floor with his cane to indicate it. As a new bride straight from the Methodist Church, they jsut didnt do such things where she came from. I will never know if such actions contributed to their problems but it makes one wonder. Of course, I was a mere child then and have no memories of it but in corresponding with Leonard Oakley, who is some eight to ten years older than I, he says that he well remembers the old gentleman who had his own well cushioned captains chair in the back of the church. And that he was one of the hard liners of that time who firmly believed that anyone who slipped just a wee bit from the straight and narrow was doomed to Eternal Hell Fire and Damnation. While not remembering anything about the cane thumping episode, he says that it was common practice for those oldtimers to awaken the dozers from time to time with rousing "AMENS"

One last comment that I would like to make is that in about 1895, under the new leadership of a Rev Levi Gottman, the emphasis was changed to missionary evangelism and the organizing of Sunday Schools in the schools around avout, particularly Grimes School which ultimately developed into the Winifred Baptist Church.

There is no record of any more discipline committees ever being appointed thereafter and the attitude of persuasion was countinued till the end.

In the following pages, I pland to list as many as possible of the pastors names and when they served. Also to mention such actions and events I deem unusual or of importance. Fifty years of minutes are far too many to appear in detail here, so the routine will be ignored but I will quote verbatim such materials as I do use. Designated " ".


While there are no written records that I know of, it is common knowledge that this church organization came into existence in the early 1870s and that their first meeting place was the Reedsville School.

The first minutes, dated October 24, 1874, mention that "the deacons be a committee to see if they can make arrangements with Brother Briggs to preach".

Evidently, they were successful because it is recorded that on Nov 29, 1874, "Brother Briggs preached from Mal. 3:16-17. Then in Feb 1875 an Elder Baredon conducted a series of meetings.

There are no minutes for the next four years. From the State House records in Topeka, I learned that a Charter was granted in 1878. The Marshall County court house records show that John McKee donated a tract of land and the deed filed in 1879.

[ This story, continued (Exerpts from Clerks, Records) ]

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