A Brief History of First Congregational Church


     On June 1, 2007 First Congregational Church marked its 120th anniversary! It was the first church in what was then known as South Riverside. The following is a very brief history of our congregation which is still going and still growing!

     On May 25, 1887 a group of seven men and women met to consider plans for organizing a church. On June 1, 1887 they met again at the home of P.M. Coburn, and with the Rev. Horace Houlding as moderator, organized the First Church of Christ of South Riverside. The Reverend Horace Houlding conducted a service that day and preached the sermon.  He was chosen the first pastor. All denominations were invited to worship together. The pioneer families laid aside their denominational differences and worked together in the cause of Christ.

     R.B. Taylor, George L. Joy and former Governor Merrill, founders of the colony, offered $900 to the first organization to build a church in South Riverside. Rev. Houlding was the winner, with the construction of First Congregational Church on a quarter block of land given by the Land and Water Company.

      From the beginning, the little church served the growing community for religious purposes and for town meetings. Colony lots were being auctioned off, with excursions made by potential buyers. Visitors were escorted to the church building at noon, where the ladies of the town had prepared meals.  Ice cream socials, musicals, and literary entertainments were held as a means of raising money for the church. A Reed organ was purchased, and a choir was organized. According to the newspaper account, for six or seven months in 1887, there was one fold and one shepherd.

     The Methodist church was soon organized, taking many members. Others had moved away. In January of 1888 Rev. Houlding resigned. The Congregational Home Missionary Society supplied visiting preachers. The little church was improved, and the building was dedicated on July 1, 1888. Attendance was again increasing.  Total cost of the original church and parsonage was $4000.

     Over the late 1800s and early 1900s the church had its ups and downs.  But things were looking up when in April of 1909 when a special midweek meeting was called to discuss the building of a new church. There were now 192 members. The church filed articles of incorporation with the state on July 2, 1910. Work began on the “new” church in November of 1910, and the church was dedicated on October 15, 1911.  Total cost was $35,012.29.  

     First Congregational Church continued to have its good years, and its bad years, often following the general times and the trials of the city, now known as Corona. In June 1917 the church was closed for six Sundays due to a flu epidemic. There was a disastrous freeze to the citrus crops of Corona in 1913, and the growers lost nearly all their crop again to extreme heat in 1917. The church had its share of young men who served in World War I. New church by-laws were written and adopted in 1919. On May17, 1927 the “white elephant” mortgage was burned after being paid off. The ceremonial burning was witnessed by over 300 people. There was a surplus of $49 after the mortgage pay-off, and by September 1928 a committee was formed to select a pipe organ. A Robert Morgan Organ was selected at a cost of $4,225.00. A dedicatory recital was held on April 4, 1929. The organ was the first of its kind in Corona.
     Money was extremely tight during the depression years, but the membership was blessed by capable lay leadership and willing workers who continued to bring in more members and managed to keep the church solvent.

During World War II the church had a service flag showing stars for all the men and women who had been connected with the church over the years. In 1945 the Auxiliary and Missionary Society were consolidated under the name Plymouth Guild and four circles were named. The Christian Endeavor became known as the Pilgrim Fellowship, the largest youth group in the city. In 1946, 58 new members joined the church. All departments were growing, and the Sunday School Board felt a new building was needed. Albert Farmer prepared a sketch of the proposed building, and funds were raised to build it. In 1948, the old church building was moved to 1129 East Sixth St, where it still stands. The present Educational Building was erected on its former location.

     In 1955 the church membership was 419, and two services were created for morning worship. During the next nine years, the church continued to expand in membership. The interior of the sanctuary was refurbished; changes were made to the chancel platform and choir platform, including relocation of the organ console and replacement of the organ arch and curtain with a new grille. The pews were also rearranged to form a center aisle. In 1958, the lower floor of the church building was renovated. The former gymnasium area on the west end of the building was given a raised floor. The kitchen and fellowship hall were included in the remodeling. A kitchenette was also installed in the south hall of the church on the first floor.

     In 1976, a special Bicentennial service was held here in conjunction with the National Bicentennial Celebration and the city of Corona’s 90th birthday.

     In 1984, a fund raiser called Goalbusters was started. The money was to be used to remodel and renovate all the buildings in anticipation of the church’s 100th anniversary to be celebrated in 1987. The goal was $40,000. The campaign exceeded its goal by about $10,000. The church’s 100th anniversary was celebrated with much success.

     On June 30, 1996, a special dedicatory service was held in honor of receiving historic marker #2 from the Corona Historic Preservation Society. Through all the years, First Congregational Church has survived, and even thrived thanks to the grace, mercy and love of our Lord Jesus Christ!