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A Closer Look

First Congregational United Church of Christ

Celebrating 175 Years!

Story by Teresa Nguyen

April, 2020

An older photo of the First Congregational UCC church front. 

Where diversity is honored and welcomed, First Congregational UCC is committed to joining others in caring for the wider community. 

A Historical Landmark

In 1845, Wisconsin was not yet a state and our community of Janesville, along the softly flowing Rock River, was barely a population of 200. A group of fifteen Christians banded together to form one of our oldest congregations in the heart of downtown.

The following is a historical look back at this wonderful congregation and historical landmark, a tall and stately steeple that can be seen from all directions, whether coming around the bend on Court Street from the south or west, descending into downtown from the north, or coming over the ridge and down the steep streets into the Rock River valley from the east.

175 Years of Worship and Service

February 11, 1845 - The First Congregational Church of Janesville was formed at a meeting of 15 members. Mrs. Eleanor Strunk broke the tie with her vote as to whether the church would follow the direction of the Presbyterian or Congregational denomination. She voted Congregational.

For a while, the church met at the Court House, and later at a small, brick school located between Milwaukee and Court Streets in the downtown area.

1848 - The decision was made to build a church. They purchased a lot for $150.  That little red, brick church was only a 50 x 40-foot building 

1850 - First Congregational Church was completed and dedicated and the congregation grew!

1851 - The church was deemed too small, so the building was enlarged to 40 x 75 feet.  

1859 - Parishioner, Mr. William Tallman, brought Abraham Lincoln to this church in October of 1959 to worship with his family. Lincoln was staying as a special guest at the Tallman estate.

The original church building
Photo credit: First Congregational UCC website

1868 - Plans were underway to build a new, more spacious church. The old church was demolished and a new one built in its place.

1869 - The new church was dedicated on October 28, 1869.

1875 - A fire gutted the new church, leaving only the walls. Using the original plans, the interior was rebuilt at the same location. 

1876 - This newest First Congregational Church was dedicated December 19, 1876, close to Christmas, and the congregation continued to worship in this beautiful, downtown landmark.

United in Christ


1957 - An educational building was added for the youth programs. That same year, the church voted to become a member of the United Church of Christ and became First Congregational UCC.

1990 - The church was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

1995 - On the sesquicentennial of the church, a beautiful quilt depicting the church history was made by several parishioner quilters.

2004 - Dr. Brian Knutson became the Director of Music. Brian also directs the church’s Handbell Choir, which performs one Sunday each month from September through May.

First Congregational.jpg

2015 - First Congregational UCC welcomed Tanya Sadagopan to serve as pastor of the church.

2020 - In February, the church celebrated its 175th Anniversary!


First Congregational UCC invites all to worship and is known as a safe place where diversity is honored and welcomed.

Through Christian faith, the church is committed to joining others in caring for the wider community and hosts several charity projects including a free community meal each month, Meals on Wheels, the Parish Care Committee, reaching out to the elderly, homebound, disabled and frail, a monthly grocery bag fill by its members, Free Library boxes with books and toiletries and the Radical Hospitality Grant, which helps to remove barriers to education and employment for immigrant and refugee youth.

Gradient Strip
Gift from First Congregational
Pastor Tanya Sadagopan gives Rev Kathy Monson Lutes a plaque during Trinity Episcopal's 175th Celebration. The plaque depicts neighboring First Congregational Church, which is celebrating its 175th in 2020.
Pastor Tanya livestreams Sunday services
during the global COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020.

The First Congregational United Church of Christ is beautifully committed to donating to a variety of local organizations such as the Crop Walk, GIFTS Men’s Shelter, ECHO, HealthNet and many other community needs. Although all churches are experiencing financial strains at this time, Pastor Tanya leads the congregation in extraordinary efforts to reach out and give to those in greater need during these challenging months of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

To learn more about First Congregational UCC, visit their website:


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