The picture this week is a familiar sight to those who have
traveled along US 169 between Grant City and Gentry during the
past 20 years. But for 85 years before that the Knox Church stood
proudly at that same spot.
Sunday, July 17, will be the observance of the 105th anniversary of the dedication of the church building. There will be Sunday School at the regular time of 9:30 in the morning. A basket dinner will mark the noon hour beginning at 12:30. Then at 2 p.m. the anniversary observance services will begin.
When I was a youngster and attended Knox anniversaries the person giving the history of the church always began with a group of Scotch-Canadians migrating to this area and organizing a church. Some ten years ago, when I began doing some historical research about these people, I realized that the story really began in Scotland and that Canada was only a stopover on the way to their final destination.
To me, the story begins in southern Scotland in the year 1839 with a young 22 year old man by the name of Walter Gladstone. That year he and his 18 year old brother James migrated to Ayr, Ontario, Canada. They secured some land and built a small house and the next spring their father, William Gladstone, brought the rest of the family to Ayr.
Old records show that this Gladstone family had been in southern Scotland for generations. One of the family descendants, Jane Kerr, traced the family back as far as 1690 in the area of southern Scotland. So until Walter Gladstone appeared on the scene the family had not been one that wandered.
At that time, 1840, several families from southern Scotland were migrating to the area of Ayr, Ontario. Wallaces, Pringles, McPhersons and Gladstones were all families originating in Scotland.
Walter Gladstone was a carpenter by trade and an entrepreneur by disposition. His first enterprise was a chair factory. He built two churches in Ayr. He then built a large, two story, wooden store building. He and his family lived in the upper story and he operated a general store on the first floor. The building is still in use to this day in Ayr.
I have never been able to discern the reason why but the wander bug must have gotten to him again in the late 1860's. In 1869 he brought his wife and 8 children to settle in north-central Gentry County on what later became known as Canadian Ridge.
As the story unfolds it becomes clear that Gladstone's move was part of a much larger pattern. In 1870 four more families came and there is evidence that Gladstone had secured farms for these people. The families of John Wallace, Hugh Wallace, Peter McPherson and James Shillingslaw came.
The following year, 1871, the migration was complete with the coming of William Gladstone, Robert Pringle, Reverend Duncan McRuer and their families, along with Eliza, James and William Kerr.
There were some strong bonds woven between these families. The two Gladstones were brothers and Wm. Gladstone and Robert Pringle were brothers-in-law. Hugh and John Wallace were brothers and Hugh and Peter McPherson were brothers-in-law.
Reverend McRuer had been the minister of the Presbyterian Church in Ayr and all of the families with the exception of the Kerrs were members of his church.
All of the families were of Scotch descent.
In addition to the nine families who came there was one more person--Irish Mary. Irish Mary was an older woman who lived with the McRuers and helped with their large family. She was also a midwife. In the spring of 1871 the families who left Ayr to come to Missouri had to go some distance to a railhead. The families packed their belongings on wagons the day before they were to leave.
Early the next morning as they prepared to leave the McRuers began to hunt for Irish Mary to tell her goodbye. No where could she be found and they assumed that she didn't want to go through the agony of goodbyes.
When they began unpacking the wagons to load on the train there was Irish Mary secreted away. Who could tell someone that loyal that they couldn't go? So she too came to Missouri and lived out the rest of her days with the McRuer family. Her body lies in an unmarked grave somewhere along the north side of the Snyder cemetery.
Not many months after the last arrivals these people met together and organized themselves into a church congregation called Knox's Church. They used the Peyton schoolhouse was some 1 1/4 miles south of the present church location and is now part of the George and Aletha Whittington home.
In 1878 the present church building was constructed. By profession Walter Gladstone was a carpenter and his brother William was a mason. Records indicate that these two men were given the responsibility for the building.
The limestone rock for the foundation was quarried near Denver and hauled to the site. The lumber was hauled from Maryville by team and wagon.
William Gladstone was the bookkeeper. He kept meticulous records of who had made pledges for the building, whether the pledge was for money or labor and whether the pledge had been fulfilled.
In the fall of 1878 the building was completed and a dedication ceremony was held.
Over the years the physical appearance of the building has changed very little. Originally, the entry door was in the center of the front with a window where each door is now. They soon discovered that the center door presented too many problems in bringing a casket into the church so the front of the church was altered to its present configuration.
The old wooden perch gave way many years ago to concrete.
Inside, the kerosene lamps have given way to electricity and the wood burning stoves gave way first to oil and now LP gas. But kids (and adults) still fidget on the old original handmade wooden pews.
The most distinguishing physical feature of the church is the spire with the ball on top. The ball was fashioned out of wood, most probably in the driveway of Walter Gladstone's barn. Looking at it on top of the spire, it doesn't look very large but supposedly it just fit comfortably in a 26 inch wagon box.
The story has come down through the generations that when the ball was hoisted to the top and fitted onto the spire that the carpenter, Walter Gladstone, stood on top of the ball. Either there was ample scaffolding surrounding him or the old boy wasn't too much for smarts.
So this coming Sunday we celebrate the 105th birthday for that venerable old lady, the Knox Church.
Sometimes the ties with home are too strong to be broken and some of the nine families returned to Canada. The first to go back were the Peter McPhersons who went back. At least one and possibly all of the Kerrs also went back.
The Shillingslaws moved to Albany but the other five families lived out their lives near the church they had built and nurtured.
Through all of those 105 years the church has been open and active. About 80 percent of the persons who attend services there are descendants of those who came from Canada. This morning (July 10) six of the youngsters were the sixth generation descendants of that tough old bunch of Scotchmen who settled on Canadian Ridge some 114 years ago.