History of Big Springs United Methodist Church

An abbreviated version of a full history of the Big Springs United Methodist Church written by member Mary Saville:

Rising from the prairie grass of the Oregon Trail and the politics of the Free State Party, Big Springs, Kan., became the home to a church that celebrates its 150th anniversary on Oct. 15, 2006.

Big Springs is an unincorporated community located halfway between Topeka and Lawrence. It is one of the oldest communities in Douglas County. The clear, flowing waters of the springs that gave the community its name provided nourishment to exhausted Shawnee hunters and welcomed tired pioneers suffering from “prairie sea sickness” on the Oregon Trail. Whether you call it the California Road, Victory Highway or Highway 40, this well traveled road has seen the passage of Native Americans moving westward against their will, settlers seeking their new homes, the politics of anti-slavery and prohibition, the blood of civil war and the Church of Jesus Christ.

The community of Big Springs was founded in 1854 and immediately became a lightning rod of political issues. There were four cabins and a trading post in 1855. A call had gone out for ministers to go to Kansas to serve the territory. Rev. William A. Cardwell arrived in a covered wagon with his family after a long journey. They arrived virtually penniless; they had no home and made their home in an abandoned shack.

Rev. Cardwell served as a circuit rider in Big Springs, Richland and other communities. On June 10, 1855, he preached his first sermon in Big Springs in Ephraim Banning’s log cabin. Rev. Cardwell led the movement for the building of a permanent church in Big Springs, “for he had preached in a brush shanty, with rain dripping through the roof forcing him to close his Bible to preserve it.”

The cornerstone for the new church was laid on Oct. 3, 1856. The Big Springs United Brethren Church was the first UB church in Kansas. Some of the founding members of the church were Benjamin Moore, William Harper, John Chamberlain and Ephraim Banning. The church was built of native stone and served the congregation for worship and the community as a school until 1892 when it burned.

Worship services were held in the Greenwood Valley schoolhouse for six years after the church burned. In 1898, an abandoned church in Whiting, Kan., was moved to Big Springs and reassembled across the road from the old stone church. The new church was dedicated on Sept. 26, 1898.

The church began a building fund to create a new church and parsonage. In 1932, a new brick church was dedicated, and a year later a brick parsonage was completed. For a small farming community to have built a church and parsonage with no debt in the midst of the Great Depression was an amazing achievement which speaks to the commitment and faithfulness of the people and the power of God’s support. This achievement was accomplished under the leadership of the Rev. Arthur Ward.

In 1946, the United Brethren Church merged with the Evangelical Church and became the Evangelical United Brethren Church. In 1968, the EUB church merged with the Methodist Church and became the United Methodist Church. For 150 years this modest church has been a significant anchor for the people in this community.

The tiny community of Big Springs, Kan., has survived political strife, prohibition, civil war and significant economic reversals because they believe in each other and in their God. Standing beside the road is a brick church that is a testament to endurance and to faithfulness – the people’s faithfulness to their community, to each other, to their God, and God’s faithfulness to all generations.