The Presbyterian church directly descended from the New Salem group which was formed June 18, 1849.
In the early days of Polk Township’s settlement, several members of the Bethel, Liberty, and Richmond churches, and other Old School Presbyterians petitioned the Upper Missouri Presbytery to organize them.
On June 18, 1849, the Reverends Richard H. Allen, Robert Scott, and Caleb Scott assembled at the Union meeting house and there organized New Salem with the following members: Josiah Morrow, Dicy Morrow, Vincent Morrow, Mary Emily Cummins, James Cummins, Jedediah Smith, J. A. Smith, Calvin H. Cummins, Benjamin Snoddy, Sussannah Snoddy, Sarah Snoddy, Ann K. Burton, William Murray, Thomas Cummins, Robert Rives, Ann L. Allen, Eupha Cummins, Madison B. Cummins, Robert Rivers, Wm. H. Rives, and Elizabeth J. Parton.
The congregation met on the same day and chose William Murray and Jedediah Smith for ruling elders. Five meetings were held in September of that same year, bringing in several more members.
All churches of this region closed during the Civil war period and the New Salem group resumed services in 1867 in the Jefferson School house southeast of Lawson’s later site. There, in 1869, J. A. Smith was elected ruling elder and was ordained by the Rev. Coulter.
Two years after the Lawson Depot was built, this Presbyterian body joined with the Methodists to build Lawson’s first church. The frame building on the northeast corner of Fourth and Ingles stood on the site still occupied by the group. (At that time the site chosen was outside the town plat until August 5, 1873 when it became part of Lawson’s East Addition.) The first service, conducted by the Rev. J. M. Scott, was held on September 22, 1872.
In 1873 Robert Cummins, previously of Bethel Church, and W. W. Smith were ordained as deacons. In 1875 Samuel D. Wharton and James M. Morrow were elected ruling elders. Five years later, the numbers were increased by additions from Barnesville church and others from Bethel.
In 1887, the church bought out the Methodist interest in their building and appointed a belfry committee.
Evander McNair was called as pastor in 1895 and it was during his tenure that the missionary society of the church was organized. The manse was built in 1898 just east of the church. It was first occupied by the Rev. H. M. Kerr.
In June 1906 the group decided not to repair the old church, choosing instead to build a new one. T. C. Smith, S. D. Wharton, J. A. Smith, R. A. Smith, and J. M. Morrow were appointed as a building committee. L. P. Garrett drew up plans and on July 16, 1906, the committee was ordered to proceed.
The first sermon in the new church was given by Rev. J. B. Carpenter on February 3, 1907. Dr. S. M. Neel of Kansas City delivered the dedicatory address on May 26, 1907.
The Wharton family, formerly of Bethel, and the Morrows from Barnesville were staunch supporters of the local organization. Many men of both families served as church officers.
Jessie Scott was pianist for 26 years and was succeeded, after her marriage and move of residence, by her sister, Theda Scott Rhodus. Mrs. Marvin Baxter followed and was serving in the early 1950s.
Until 1917, when a furnace was installed, the church was heated with stoves. Later, starting with a small cellar and working at night, the men of the group removed earth from under the building and, bracing and walling as they went, built a full basement equipped with a kitchen and ample dining tables. It had both inside and outside entrances. The outdated furnace was replaced with gas units on both levels. New carpeting was installed in the sanctuary.
The Church held its centennial celebration in June 1949 at which time a history of the old church was read. As the one present whose membership was of longest standing, Miss Ola Wharton was given the honor of cutting the first piece of birthday cake. The officers at that date were: Elders W. C. Wharton (also Clerk of Session), J. S. Smith, Delbert Shanks, Elmer Rhodus, Dr. E. C. Buehrer; Deacons Frank Scott (Treasurer), E. L. Brown, Mark Meadows, Chester Holt, W. R. Morrow, and Homer Martin.
When John N. Digiacomo accepted leadership in 1945, he was still taking studies in a Kansas City seminary. He received ordination in the Lawson church in May of 1950. Following his departure for another position in February of 1953, Jonathan Holyman, and Joe Niccum, also ministerial students, filled the pulpit until Vernon Bowman’s arrival as resident minister in June of 1956. The Bowmans were the first to occupy the new manse that had been built between the church and the 1898 manse.
John VanLandingham served the church from January of 1959 through December of 1961. It was during his first year that an electric organ was purchased and a move towards adding an educational wing got under way. Dedicated on April 18, 1965, the new wing provided Sunday School class rooms, an office for ministers, better rest room facilities, and a more convenient kitchen space with an adjoining dining hall.
Harry V. McCullough served as supply minister from April of 1962 until Fred Horner and family arrived in June to serve until the mid-summer of 1965.
It was during the ministry of Gary Myers April 1967 through December 1968 that the church building was refaced with brick matching the new wing. For some months after Myers and his Lawson bride departed to accept a call elsewhere, Alfred O’Shield of Kansas City filled the pulpit on a supply basis.
Keeping a full time minister became more difficult. As a result, the Presbyterian and Christian Churches agreed on a trial period of a year as a united group. James Beaumont, resident minister of the Christian body, was chosen as full time pastor. Since the Presbyterian building was larger and more modern, services were held there, but many additions of value were transferred from the Christian congregation.
The first union service was held on September 14, 1969. In the fall of 1970 approval of continuing as a united body was given by the combined congregations. The separate funds of the two bodies were combined including all outreach monies and those of a local nature. The women’s groups operated under separate names, Circle I, II, and III of a United Christian-Presbyterian Church.
Ministers [More information & photos are needed]
September 22, 1872 – J. M. Scott preached the first sermon
1884 – Dr. Bonde
1891 – G. T. Thomson
1895 – Evander McNair
1898 – H. M. Kerr
1907 – J. B. Carpenter
1945- February 1953 – John N. Digiacomo
1953-1956 – Jonathan Holyman & Joe Niccum (ministerial students)
June 1956 – Vernon Bowman (first to occupy the new manse)
January 1959 – December 1961 – John VanLandingham
April 1962 – mid 1965 – Harry V. McCullough (supply minister)
mid 1965 – Fred Horner
April 1967 – December 1968 – Gary Myers
1967 Alfred O’Shield (supply minister)