Scottish immigrant helped establish Presbyterian seminary in Monmouth
MONMOUTH, Ill. — Even before it adopted the nickname “Maple City,” Monmouth had been bestowed with the moniker “U.P. town.” That referred to the United Presbyterian Church, which was organized in 1858 through the merger of the Associate Presbyterian and Associate Reformed Presbyterian denominations.
The driving force behind Monmouth becoming a U.P. town had been the establishment in 1853 of an Associate Reformed Presbyterian academy, which in 1856 was elevated to Monmouth College. With the arrival of the railroad the previous year, Monmouth College was accessible to students from eastern hotbeds of Presbyterianism — particularly Pennsylvania and Ohio — and the influx was putting the once secluded frontier town on the church’s map.
Because the merger of the two Presbyterian denominations would have resulted in four theological seminaries located east of Indiana and none in the emerging western territory, the Second Synod of the West suddenly eyed Monmouth as a prime location for a new seminary, and it directed that its well-established seminary at Oxford, Ohio, be removed to Monmouth.
Charged with making the removal was Oxford professor Alexander Young, who had earned his doctor of divinity degree from Pennsylvania’s Jefferson College in 1858. He would become not only professor of Hebrew and Greek at the Monmouth seminary, but also its sole professor.
Born in Scotland in 1815, the Rev. Young had emigrated to Pennsylvania as a young man, where he graduated from Western University of Pennsylvania in 1838 and studied theology at Allegheny Theological Seminary. He was licensed to preach in 1841, a year after he had married Lucy Jane Bennett, an immigrant from England. The couple settled in St. Clairsville, Ohio, 70 miles from Pittsburgh, where he preached. He also taught at Oxford seminary, some 230 miles west of St. Clairsville, when it was in session.
Concurrent with the 1853 establishment of the Monmouth Academy had been the establishment of the Associate Reformed Church of Monmouth. Initially, the church had no home and the first communion was served in the Warren County Courthouse. When the first Monmouth College building was completed in 1856 (in the 500 block of North A Street), the church used its chapel, but by the following year, the congregation had grown enough to demand its own building.
In less than one week, the building committee raised $6,000, which was sufficient to erect a handsome two-story church with a cupola at the northwest corner of Broadway and B Street, despite having to begin construction again after a severe storm knocked down the walls of the unfinished church.
Monmouth College’s dynamic first president David Wallace also served as pastor of the new First United Presbyterian Church, but with his increasing duties at the college he requested that Young serve as co-pastor, a role Young assumed when he arrived at Monmouth in January 1859.
Young must have been skeptical when he first saw the little college building that would also house the seminary. At the time, its eight classrooms were stretched to capacity by 172 college students, but President Wallace assured him that plans were already underway for a large new building just east of town. Besides, the number of seminarians Young would oversee that first year totaled only eight. In addition to running the seminary and preaching, Young would also teach Greek and Hebrew at the college.
Known as the Theological Seminary of the West, the institution welcomed members of all evangelical churches. Its three-year program was designed to make students familiar with the Bible by requiring them to read considerable portions in both Hebrew and Greek, and to prepare them for the ministry by delivering public sermons twice a year.
The Rev. John Scott, like Young a native of Scotland and pastor of the nearby Henderson church, eventually joined the faculty, teaching church history. The Rev. Andrew M. Black, a native of Ireland, also taught classes for a time, but low enrollments made further expansion unfeasible. By 1863, there were only 22 students, four of whom were serving in the Union Army.
In 1862, First U.P. Church was thriving so much that a movement was started to organize a second church, nearer to the college. President Wallace, who had earlier resigned his co-pastorship at First Presbyterian, was named co-pastor of Second U.P. Church and Young was named his co-pastor. Young would become sole pastor in 1866. Services were held in the college chapel until 1867, when a wooden church was built on the site of the current Faith United Presbyterian Church.
Wallace and Young were soon developing strong reputations within the church. In 1862, Wallace was elected moderator of the General Assembly, and the following year, Young succeeded him as moderator. In 1872, Young received an honorary doctor of laws degree from Jefferson College.
Young and his wife, Lucy, along with their son and daughter, William and Lizzie, had settled into a comfortable residence on East Broadway, located on the site of the current Monmouth College admissions building. In 1868, they welcomed into their home the daughter of Mrs. Young’s brother, who came from Pennsylvania to enroll at Monmouth College. Her name was Louise Bennett and in 1869 she would become one of the four original organizers of Kappa Kappa Gamma. (She would later become the last surviving Kappa founder, living to the age of 95 before her death in 1947.)
After the Civil War, the Monmouth seminary continued to function despite mounting financial problems. Finally, in 1874, it was moved back to Ohio and consolidated with the seminary at Xenia. Young was invited in 1875 to accept a professorship at Xenia, but in loyalty to President Wallace he turned it down. However, in 1876 he decided to return to his roots and accepted a theology chair at Allegheny Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh.
Young’s son, William, would not join him there. After graduating from Monmouth College in 1864 he had become a banker, and returned to Monmouth in 1875 to become cashier of the Monmouth National Bank, a post he would retain until 1899. Daughter Lizzie, who had graduated from Monmouth in 1866, married the Rev. John A. Gordon — an 1868 Monmouth graduate — in 1871. He was a professor of English and librarian at Monmouth College until 1876, when the couple followed Lizzie’s father to Pittsburgh to assume a pastorate. They would move gradually west, eventually settling in Los Angeles.
President David Wallace, whose health was ruined by tireless devotion to Monmouth College, retired to Wooster, Ohio, in 1878. Never forgetting the assistance provided by the Rev. Young, he asked his former associate to officiate at his funeral, which was held just five years later following his death at age 57.
In 1890, when Monmouth’s First U.P. congregation moved from the old wooden church on West Broadway to a new stone building on East Broadway, it invited the Rev. Young to deliver an address on the history of the church. Although ailing in health he dutifully attended, noting that in over 48 years as a pastor he had missed just two appearances in the pulpit.
In 1891, after 50 years in the ministry and 36 years as a professor, Young resigned his chair at Allegheny. Although he remained in Pennsylvania, deteriorating health caused him to travel to California in 1894 for a prolonged stay with his daughter. On Dec. 4, he died suddenly, the cause of death determined to be a strangulated hernia.
Young and his wife, who died in 1902, are buried in Angelus Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles.
Jeff Rankin is an editor and historian for Monmouth College. He has been researching, writing and speaking about western Illinois history for more than 35 years.