A Brief History of Union Church

Adapted from “Union Church is Formed”
Found in Hinsdale & the World: One Hundred Years, by Tom Sterling and Mary Sterling

The Union Church, as its name implies, was formed when Hinsdale’s Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Unitarians came together in the spirit of community to form a singular church.

Hinsdale’s Congregationalist church was first organized in 1866 when C. M. Saunders, a student at the Chicago Theological Seminary, conducted their first services at the old Hinsdale train depot. The station agent’s wife had a piano at the depot which the church used for services on Sunday. Rev. Saunders continued in this fashion for another year after his ordination in 1867. In 1869, church leaders approached fiery anti-slavery preacher Flavel Bascom about becoming their new minister, and he accepted, serving until his retirement in 1872. As church membership grew, the congregation began assembling in the stone school house, Robbins School. When a Baptist church was built on the southwest corner of First and Garfield, the Congregationalists were able to share it for a time, always striving to raise enough money to build a church of their own. When they had enough money, William Robbins donated a lot on the northeast corner of Garfield and Third, and work began on the church in 1872. Though they incorporated in 1873, Hinsdale’s Congregationalists had to wait patiently until 1881 for their church to be completed.

In December of 1896, the church entertained its members with a magniscope featuring pictures with motion! This device showed them the “surging throng of a city street, a railroad incident, [and] the veil-like falling of the most beautiful waterfall in Switzerland.” In March of 1898, a cycloygascope – something like a large kaleidoscope – and a cinematograph teamed up to show church members actual moving pictures. Through these entertainments, church members were exposed to the first motion pictures, which later evolved into the movies we see today. On a more serious note, in 1904, twenty church members journeyed to the Union Park church to hear a speech by the impassioned orator Booker T. Washington.

In September of 1916, the old Congregationalist Church was torn down and the brick church we see today was built in its place with its official dedication held on October 21, 1917. One month later, William Jennings Bryan, the “great commoner,” came to the church to speak about “Dealing with the War and the Present Crisis in National Affairs.”

Union Church was formed in 1918 with the consolidation of area Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Unitarians. In 1930, Rev. Wilfred A. Rowell dedicated the church’s new stained glass windows, which were designed and crafted by Charles J. Connick of Boston.

The parish house addition with its 21 classrooms and chapel fronting on Garfield Street was completed in December of 1951, with former ministers Wilfred Rowell and Theodore Vogel returning for the dedication ceremony. Today, Union Church, with its ivy-coated walls and stained glass windows, stands as a fine example of community and sharing.