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Pittsburg, Kansas


Photo from History of the First Christian Church, Pittsburg, Kansas
on the 75th Anniversary
1881 - 1956

Wright moved from Pierce City to Pittsburg during the winter of 1897-1898, and stayed until sometime in 1902--the longest pastorate of his career. He preached in the building shown above and used this coal mining town as the setting for his first book, That Printer of Udell’s.

In 1956 this congregation published a 52-page booklet (including covers) celebrating their 75 year history. About the second building, shown above, the booklet says: "R. E. Carlton donated the site, and a frame church was built at 7th and Pine, where a dedicatory sermon was preached March 15, 1890...." Wright seems to have been the first pastor to preach in this building for more than one year. Early pastors are listed as:

1891-1892  J.E. Pickett
1892-1893  Edward Cantrell
1893-1894  B. B. McGraw
1894-1895  Willis F. Jordon
1895-1896  C. D. Purlee
1896-1897  J. C. France
1897-1902  Harold Bell Wright

     
Click photos to Enlarge

The booklet reports on page 17 that in 1899, near the middle of Wright's time there, the pastor was paid $800 per year and the membership was 25. The salary figure is probably accurate, but I don't believe the membership figure is, for several reasons: twenty-five members founded the church in 1881, the same booklet says the membership had grown to about 200 in 1884, 25 members could not have paid a salary that high, and the photo of the choir in 1901 shows about 25 people in the choir. I am guessing the typesetters dropped a zero, and the membership in 1899 was about 250. By 1927 the membership had climbed to 2560. In 1956 the Pittsburg church membership was 1285.

The booklet goes on to say: "It was during the ministry of Bro. Wright that we are furnished with the first definite records of church activities. The first choir was organized, Mr. Evans as director and Mrs. Minnie True as leader.

"It was while at this church that Bro. Wright was ordained by Rev. Milton of Fort Scott, and at a board meeting in June, 1900 Rev. Wright talked of his coming vacation and his plans to devote part of it to writing a book of facts such as he found in this church; and to set forth a plan of procedure he would like to see carried out. It is believed that this plan, which he called, 'Applied Christianity,' is the one set forth in 'That Printer of Udell's,' the first of many novels which were to make him a famous author.

"Wright popularized reading, for his books were ones to be read, enjoyed, interpreted and understood. The lonely pioneer, pitted against the forces of nature, realized his weakness and turned to a Greater Power for strength. In his humbleness the pioneer said grace before every meal, read his bible, and closed his day with prayer, and in that world Wright's books had great appeal, since many of them were thinly veiled sermons. He was indeed one of the most interest-holding preachers of any pulpit."

During Wright's pastorate the church made an advance in sanitation: "In 1900 a motion was passed by the church board to purchase another goblet and plate for the communion service. 'Our sacred ordinance of communion has undergone a commendable change. The individual cups we now use came after long years of rebellion at use of the unsanitary goblet...and this rebellion reached its height of distastefulness when fashion decreed that men wear whiskers and mustaches, and many of them were tobacco users.'"

Besides serving as pastor, Wright is listed in 1901 as co-chairman of the Prayer Meeting Committee and the Reading Room, and as Financial Clerk.

Music was a hot topic in this congregation. The authors of the booklet note that "We believe the music of the church plays a very important part in our worship. Those who opposed this belief broke fellowship with us about 1912 and began a 'Church of Christ', which forbids the use of a musical instrument in their worship service."

Evidently this controversy was already in progress when Wright was there because the board minutes of January, 1901 state: ""***after quite a discussion*** the Board unanimously authorized and instructed Bro. Wright to organize a chorus and to use his best judgment in conducting the same***', and such a group was organized, with Mrs. Minnie Carlton True as leader, which position she held for seventeen years."

The minutes of December 16, 1901 include this note: "***Bros. Wright and E.G. Tucker suggest that a bathroom be built***four bathtubs and one shower bath; they have plans and estimate of cost, including all building, plumbing and necessary appliances to a first-class bathroom,***of $750.00. The plan***is that they will build and furnish one room without asking the church for any money until the end of the first year, then only $200.00 shall be asked for, the balance to be raised during the year by selling bath privilages, and with the payment of the entire $200.00, it shall become church property***."
.

I said in my Collectibles book [1997], “Residents in Pittsburg . . . have done much to keep his memory alive. They have renovated the second of the three homes he lived in here, at 410 West Kansas Street, and may now have it ready of tours.”   


Click to Enlarge
From Little Balkins Review, Fall, 1981
The History of Crawford County website says, "Harold Bell Wright House, located at 412 W. Kansas, is currently being restored by the Little Balkans Preservation Guild. When renovated it will house a museum relating to the history of Wright while he was minister here in the 1890's at the First Christian Church and his writing of "The Printer of Udell" which contains references to many people who were living in the Pittsburg area at the time." I have not heard any updates since then. Perhaps someone from that area of the country will send me a report.

I also mentioned that Gene DeGruson, curator of special collections at Pittsburg State University has developed an extensive collection of [published] references to Wright, undoubtedly the most extensive in existence. Mr. DeGruson passed away recently, but his work still lives on at the university.

Click here for more information about Wright's stay in Pittsburg

The postcards, booklet and plate below show the First Christian Church that was built in Pittsburg, Kansas in 1917, fifteen years after Harold Bell Wright last preached in the wooden structure pictured above--which stood at the same address.


                   

The plate was evidently created in 1956, the 75th anniversary of the church.  On the reverse of the plate is written: 

First Christian Church
Pittsburg, Kansas
Our church was organized in 1881 as the
early evangelists of our Brotherhood moved
 into Kansas.  The first building was located
at 7th and Pine Streets; the second church
was a wooden structure on the present site.
In 1917 under the direction of Sam I. Smith,
the present building was erected.  For 75
years there have been continuous services
meeting the needs of our community.  Notable
among the ministers was Harold Bell Wright
(1897-1902). The current church membership
is 1285 with a Sunday School enrollment of
852.  Officers are H. B. Medlin, Chariman (sic)
of the Board . . . .'"

 


Click to Enlarge.
   This 100th anniversary plate, owned by Robert Lewis, gives a history of the Christian Church before, during, and after Wright's pastorate there.  Wright pastored the church on the left.

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This Harold Bell Wright web site is written and produced by Gerry Chudleigh with the help of many friends.
Copyright © 2000-May, 2011 by Gerry Chudleigh
Last updated 05/26/11