A History of First Congregational Church, Prescott, Arizona By: Jay Eby
It seems to me that the current popular history of Prescott would like to emphasize the wild west, Indian wars, mining boom town, and of course Whisky Row. All of these are of course a part of our history. But, as the Capital City of the new Territory of Arizona, there was within our community a concerted effort to make our town a well-planned, civil place to live and raise a family. In spite of all the sin and distractions of Whisky Row, they did just that.
Our predecessors in the faith at First Congregational Church worked hard to make this happen.They did it by example and action to bring churches, schools and culture to what was then a wilderness Capital in the Wild West. First Congregational Church was not the first Christian fellowship in Prescott. The persons that formed this congregation had been in fact a part of other fellowships before.
All of the written histories of First Church start with: "First Congregational Society of Prescott, Arizona was organized with thirteen charter members on September 26, 1880, at the home of T. W. and Pamela Otis. This church is the oldest Congregational Church in Arizona and what is now the Southwest Conference."
Most church histories, including ours, highlight the buildings built, the Ministers that served, and the numbers of persons in the membership. These are important, but I would like to celebrate those men and women that built and sustained our City of Prescott as a great place to live and raise our families.
Lest we get too prideful we must recognize that our beginnings were with the cooperation and assistance of other congregations of faith that existed in Prescott before us. We know that Bishop Lamy from Santa Fe held at least Christmas Mass in Prescott in 1863. That that has been described as Sunday School classes were held in several buildings in Prescott from the beginning. The teaching was often augmented by Army Chaplains from Fort Whipple.
The first building in town specifically built for worship was on Marina Street by those that called themselves Methodists. A Baptist congregation shared this building for some time as well as a Catholic and Presbyterian congregation.
The Rev. Dr. Warren, Missionary Superintendent for Southern California, came to our fair city twice in 1880 and addressed our citizens at the Lone Star Baptist Church. Since the Baptists had not yet constructed their first Church building Dr. Warren must have spoken at the Marina Street Church during a time allocated to the Baptists. This is the same Baptist Congregation that is now on Marina Street across from the Library.
Dr. Warren, I believe, traveled to Albuquerque to their mission and returned on September 26, 1880. He then assisted thirteen of our community in forming the First Congregational Society which began to build our congregation. This meeting was at the home of Theodore and Libby Otis at 113 North Pleasant Street. This house is still with us.
It was not by happenstance that Dr. Warren was also a member of a clandestine group within the Congregational Church that called themselves the “New West Educational Commission”. As best I can understand it, the aim of the Commission was to bring education to the southwest that was public and free of religious domination.
In 1880, education was available if you could afford the tutors, and the Mormons and Roman Catholics dominated the schools in Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico.
It should then be no surprise to us then that most of the founding members of First Congregational Society were New Englanders and educators. Let us then look at some of these remarkable persons.
At he top of every list of members is one Woman. She always signed in as Maggie B. She was Margaret Forman Bashford Burmister.
The daughter of Coles Bashford, former Governor of the state of Wisconsin, a member of the Governor’s party, secretary to the first Territorial Governor, and Arizona’s first Representative to the U.S. Congress. She was wife to Robert H. Burmister who with her brother Levi Bashford ran the B&B Mercantile. She taught music and was the organist for the Church. There is no doubt in my mind that she was the driving force in this effort. Besides organizing our Women’s Fellowship she was active in the History and Poetry Club and the Monday Club and as such active in the Arizona’s Federated Women’s Clubs.
Maggie B. was not able to attend the organizational meeting held at the Otis’ home. She was confined at home awaiting the birth of her third child. Immediately at the close of the meeting a message was sent to her that the Congregational Society of Prescott, AT had been formed.
Robert Henry Burmister was a merchant, a principal in the Prescott and Arizona Central Railroad, and a member of the first Board of Trustees for our Church; also in 1901 Mayor of Prescott. The Burmisters had three children and their home was, and still is, at the corner of South Mount Vernon and Gurley Streets.
Second on each list of members is Theodore Weld Otis. He was a descendent of our Patriot father James Otis of New York. He was a graduate of Oberlin College, had served in the Army, and was a School teacher. He came with his family to Prescott in 1874 from New York and established a grocery. His business building at Union and Cortez Streets as well as his home at 112 North Pleasant Street are still with us.
He and others on our list had belonged to a Presbyterian congregation in Prescott that had not survived. It was to Brother Otis that this Presbyterian Congregation left the deed to the property on Gurley Street where the first of our church buildings was built facing the Territorial Capital Building.
Brother Otis served his community as Judge, Coroner, and Postmaster and in 1895 he and Rev. McLean began a school for the Chinese men in our town. We have a photograph of some of the participants in this school taken inside the white frame church building. The school building was down on Granite Street near the creek. There was a Mrs. Elizabeth Clark Fisher that taught with them at the school as well as Rev. McClain’ s sons who read to these men each evening after their school was out.
Brother Otis also donated to the community a portion of the land that is now Citizens Cemetery.
Pamela Libby Foss Otis was born December 31, 1835 in Limington, York County, Maine. Pamela attended Parsonfield Seminary in Maine and taught for twelve years at Westside High School in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1869 she married Theodore W. Otis in Ohio. Their only child Mary Kate was born in New York in 1870. With her new baby they moved to California in 1872 and on to Prescott in 1874It was at her home on North Pleasant Street that the meeting was held with Dr. Warren to begin the Prescott’s Congregational Society in the fall of 1880.
A young Chinese woman, Jun Moy, escaped from her owner and ran to Pamela Otis for refuge. The Otises made her a part of their household. The Women’s Fellowship at First Congregational Church collected clothing and funds to help get her started in her new home. The Otises put away funds to provide for her education when she came of age or was able to function on her own.
The local newspaper said of Pamela “Mrs. O. is said to be one of those noble ladies who never tire of doing good things”. She organized the local WCTU was active in the Arizona Federation of Women’s Clubs and Prescott’s Monday Club.
Mrs. Otis died September 19, 1911 and is buried in Mountain View Cemetery.
Eli Payson Clark. Born in Iowa, Eli was educated in the public schools there. He was briefly a student at what would become Grinnell College. He taught school in Iowa and Missouri before coming to Prescott in 1875. Mr. Clark was a saw-miller, secretary-treasurer of the Prescott and Arizona Central Railroad Company, later the Santa Fe, Prescott and Phoenix Railroad with Frank Murphy. He served as Territorial Auditor while in Prescott.
Later he and his brother-in-law, M. H. Sherman, constructed and managed the Los Angeles Consolidated Electric Railway Company then in Portland the Mt. Hood Railway and Power Company. These men then sold their railroads and developed that area in California that is Sherman Oaks.
Lucy Hazeltine Sherman, dubbed by the Weekly Miner, “Prescott’s Favorite School Teacher” came to town to join her brother Moses to teach school and then married Eli Clark, the saw-miller, whom we just met. It is at their house on North Pleasant Street that the board meetings for this congregation are held until the first church was built. The Clarks purchased the Burmisters' home on North Mount Vernon when R. H. and Maggie B. moved to California.
Moses Hazeltine Sherman. A native of Vermont, Moses attended Oswego Normal School, Oswego, NY, and another school later in Wisconsin. A teacher, he was invited by Gov. Safford in 1873 to organize the Territory’s schools. In Prescott he built the Prescott Free Academy, the first graded school in the Territory and the second school building in Prescott; across Alarcon Street here in front of what is now Washington School. He was then appointed by Gov. Fremont as Superintendent of Public Instruction and later elected to that post in 1880.
He and brother-in-law Eli Clark then went into the business of Electric railroads and developing lands.
Angeline Brigham Mitchell from Massachusetts graduated from Holyok Seminary, served as Master of the Young Women’s Seminary at Bridgewater, MA. She came to Prescott with her surveyor husband Daniel F. Mitchell and taught in the school. She was appointed to the Territorial Board of Examiners for teachers and was asked by M. H. Sherman to develop a graded curricula for the Territory of Arizona.
Kathryn A. Dunning was born in Plattsburg, NY. Graduated Oswego Normal School and came to Prescott in 1879 to teach school. Later she married Amos D. Adams, a partner of Eli Clark in the sawmill at Lynx Creek. Sharlot Hall contended that Kate Dunning was a great influence on her development while as a young girl she stayed at Kate’s home while attending school in Prescott.
Mary S. Snyder. A graduate of Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH, a teacher, she came to Albuquerque and then Prescott as a part of the New West Education Commission. Here she married Wm. E. Hazeltine. For evidently some convenience they were married at Fort Wingate which was about half-way between Prescott and Albuquerque. A missionary, her brother, the minister of our sister church in Albuquerque and officiated at the wedding.
William E. Hazeltine. Born in Suncook, NY. He came to Prescott in 1875 at the invitation of his cousin M. H. Sherman who told him that he believed that he could get him a job clerking in Buffum’s store. He and his brother Moses B. Hazeltine became bankers. Even before our congregation was established Will Hazeltine was a member of the Board of Directors for the Albuquerque Free Academy for the New West Education Commission of the Congregational Church.
Prepared by the First Congregational Church Archives Committee.