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The Port Byron Congregational Church

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

In July of 1854, the men of the Congregational Church in Port Byron, Illinois, rolled up their sleeves and set about raising their first building. They had been meeting after hours in the Methodist church.

The new church would cost $3,000, and the building fund had only $250 in it, but the men liked to dream big dreams. After all, someone reported in the church minutes, "Providence helps those that help themselves."

Even the new pastor, Reverend William Porter, joined in, carving a pulpit from black walnut trees on Deacon Pearsall's farm.

The Port Byron Congregational Church was finished in two years, but not all the help, as it turned out, came from God. There was the Port Byron Ladies Sewing Circle. The ladies had already held a dinner on the 4th of July the summer the church was begun, which had more than doubled the building fund. Now, as the church neared completion, the ladies realized the men, in dreaming their big dreams, had overlooked such minor details as furnishing and painting the inside.  A sewing fair brought in $170; a fancy New Year's Eve dinner at Moor's Hotel was even more successful.

When the ladies realized that the men had made no provisions for a steeple, they organized a Juvenile Sewing Circle, which began holding Young Ladies’ Festivals until they had paid for the whole steeple.

Now everything was ready for the dedication: fresh paint, new pews. Just before the dedication, one of the ladies noticed that a crucial item had been overlooked by dreamers and sewers alike. Several women scoured the town until they had found enough spittoons to provide one for every pew. And one for the pulpit as well.

At the first service in the new church, thirty-two new members were received into membership by Reverend Porter, bringing the total membership to fifty.

If I had to guess, I would say that half of the new members were attracted by the Reverend Porter's preaching, and half by the availability of spittoons. Or maybe more than half. Those determined ladies in the sewing circle seem pretty feisty.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.