The history of the Chapel on the Green begins with the birth of the “Long Grove Congregational Church” in 1834…
In October of that year, a wagon carrying the Elisha Johnson and James Gilliam families from Chautauqua County, New York arrived in what would later (1841) become Kendall County. They came upon a cabin near present-day Yorkville where the owner obliged them with a meal. The land as far as they could see was high grass prairie, punctuated here and there with thick stands of timber. Mrs. Johnson, the first white woman to settle in what is now Bristol Township, would later recall “everything was wild,” and “deer and wolves were plenty.” She was frightened by the presence of Indians.
On Sunday, the wagon party traveled another several miles south to attend Sabbath services at a fledgling little squatter settlement that the inhabitants called “Long Grove.” The families who met that Sunday formed the nucleus of what would later become three area churches: the Pavilion Baptist Church, the Bristol Baptist Church, and the Bristol Congregational Church. Note: The settlement of Long Grove, which was later named “Pavilion,” no longer exists today; all that remains is a road called “Pavilion Road,” and the Pavilion cemetery, south of Yorkville.
The following day, the Johnson family moved into a cabin near present day Yorkville, owned by Lyman Bristol. Both the village of Bristol and Bristol Township were eventually named for this family.
In 1836, the Long Grove Congregational church “Society” was organized by Rev. Mr. Parry, at the house of Deacon Elisha Johnson, who, with his wife and daughter, Justus Bristol, with his wife and daughter, James Gilliam and wife, and Lyman Bristol, made up the first nine members.Later, in December of that same year, Deacon Johnson, Justus Bristol, James Gilliam and John Witherspoon, all trustees of the church in Long Grove, applied for financial aid in a letter to the American Home Missionary Society, requesting financial support to hire Reverend Heman S. Colton as their first minister. The A.H.M.S. responded to this request with the appointment of 29-year-old Rev. Colton and a commitment to furnish seven and a half months of his salary. Reverend Colton, having recently moved from New York to Princeton, Illinois, was especially known for his anti-slavery views, and would become actively involved with the Underground Railroad over the coming years. Today, the lingering memory of Reverend Colton lies in a street two blocks east of the Chapel by the name of “Colton Street.”
The Johnsons, Bristols, and Coltons had been well-known to each other through prior association with the Bristol Hill Congregational Church in Volney, New York. Elisha Johnson’s brother had served as one of the nine charter members there, and Justus Bristol’s wood house had accommodated the Bristol Hill congregation before a church edifice was erected. Rev. Heman S. Colton, a New School Presbyterian, had preached the Bristol Hill dedication sermon, and supplied the pulpit through the first half of 1835. (It is interesting to note that the Bristol Hill Congregational Church in Volney, NY was also named for this same Bristol family as our local township, village and church here in Yorkville. As well, the Bristol Congregational church building bears a striking resemblance to the Bristol Hill church in New York.
Around 1839, the name of the Society was changed from “Long Grove Congregational Church” to “Bristol Congregational Church” - probably when the congregation began holding services in the village school north of the river in the small community of Bristol. In 1840, the Bristol Congregational Church Society was able to secure enough funds to purchase a store at the mouth of the Blackberry Creek, and then in 1843, they built a brick building in which to hold services, and which also was rented to the village school due to overcrowding.
As the Congregational Church grew, so did two other area churches - The “Bristol Baptist Church” and the “Pavilion Baptist Church,” both founded in 1834. The Pavilion Baptist Church was built in 1850 in the settlement of Pavilion south of Yorkville, and, in 1857, the Bristol Baptist Church was built on the west side of the town square along Church Street in Bristol - just around the corner from the newly constructed Bristol Congregational Church on Center Street.
In 1854, the Trustees of the “First Congregational Church (or Society) of Bristol” purchased, for $50, Lots 5 and 6 in Block Twelve of the Original Village of Bristol for the purpose of constructing a new church. Each lot measured 80 feet wide and 160 feet deep. The building was constructed on Lot 5 by local builder, Menzo W. Lane, at a cost of $900. Members’ subscriptions and pew rents provided $600, and the remaining $300 was borrowed from the Congregational Church Building Society. The design was taken from a publication called “Book of Plans for Churches and Parsonages,” which had been commissioned by the Congregational Convention in 1853 as a collection of suitable plans for their churches. It was built with hand-hewn oak and walnut beams cut from the woods along the Fox River, and members of the church provided volunteer labor by hauling gravel and installing a hitching post. A dedication ceremony was held the first Wednesday in June, 1855.
In 1871, a brick parsonage was built on adjacent Lot 6.It was a two-story, gabled Italianate residence located at 105 W. Center Street; today it stands as a private home.
During the 1890s a variety of renovations and decorating projects took place inside the church including the replacement of two circular stairways with one set of straight stairs leading tothe gallery, various decorative touches, and the highly celebrated replacement of kerosene lamps with electric lighting in 1898.In 1899, a Hinners pipe organ was purchased, which arrived by train and was transported carefully to the church. With that special addition, music became an important aspect of church services. In 1900, a single room “chapel” was added at the rear (north end) of the building for Sunday school and social purposes, and in 1902 a new heating plant was installed in the cellar, replacing the previous wood stove.In that same year, concrete sidewalks were added along Center and Church streets. By 1903, additional renovations included new curved pews, new carpet, a new choir loft, and a new steel ceiling.
During the early 1900s talks began about a possible merging of the Bristol Congregational Church with its close neighbor, the Bristol Baptist Church.The Bristol Baptist church and the Pavilion Baptist church had previously merged in the mid-1800s, but later reestablished their own identity.Then, in 1904, the Pavilion Church once again merged with the Bristol Baptist Church (by then called the “Yorkville” Baptist Church) due to declining membership. Financial difficulties prevailed for the merged congregations, and in January of 1920, members of the Congregational and Baptist churches voted to officially combine and form the “Yorkville Federated Church” at the Congregational church location. The Baptist church building was used for Sunday school and community activities for the next several decades.
The Pavilion Baptist church was razed in 1940, and the Bristol Baptist Church was torn down in 1947.The following year, plans were announced for the construction of a new church annex at the Federated Church.This annex would be known as the “Friendship House,” and would be available for Sunday school classes, as well as church, community, and social activities. In 1953, construction began on the new two-story annex with full basement at the Federated Church.The remodeling project also included raising the original church building and adding a full basement below to replace the existing cellar, allowing space for a commercial kitchen on the basement level.The Friendship House annex was completed and dedicated in 1955.
By 1959, the Baptist membership at the Federated Church had declined, and the congregation voted to dissolve the Federation and affiliate with the Illinois Conference of Congregational Christian Churches, taking the new name of “The Yorkville Congregational church.” In 1964, the Yorkville Congregational church voted itself into the United Church of Christ, and took the name, “The Yorkville Congregational United Church of Christ.”
Due to increased membership, the congregation voted, in 1987, to relocate to Countryside Center at the corner of Routes 34 and 47 in Yorkville, and build a new church at that location. Construction of the new church took place in 1989, and the old church parsonage at 105 W. Center Street was sold to private buyers.
1990 saw the first church service at the new location, and the old church building on Center Street was sold for $1.00 to the Kendall County Historical Society - with the stipulation that the building would remain as an historic structure.In 2010, the Historical Society removed its artifacts and the building was taken back by the Yorkville Congregational Church. Then, in 2011, the “Chapel on the Green, nfp” historical society was formed to maintain and preserve this historic building.Over the past decade, the Chapel has seen many improvements including a new roof, a new handicap-accessible front entrance, new landscaping features, and interior renovation and redecorating.In 2016 it earned its place on the National Register of Historic Places. It serves as the home of BSA Troops 40 and 50, is the central office for Treasure Breads company, and serves as a regular meeting place for the Kalico Kwilters quilting group.The Chapel is available for weddings and special events, and serves as a community center for public programing and other activities.