In the 1800s, Henry Ward Beecher traveled across the United States preaching his Christian values and advocating for the cause of abolition. Although not a native Hoosier, the famous preacher began his ministry career in Indiana, serving as a pastor in the state for 8 years.
Most of Beecher’s time in Indiana was spent at the Second Presbyterian Church of Indianapolis. The church was founded in 1838 by 15 disgruntled members of the First Presbyterian Church of Indianapolis.
Trustees of the new church, Samuel Merrill, Daniel Yandes, and Edwin Peck, were entrusted with the purchase of a lot for the construction of a new church. It just happened that space was available on the circle. Two lots had been left vacant near the governor’s mansion for use as stables and gardens. When the governor’s family chose not to take up residence in the home, the lots were put up for sale.
Lot 7 was acquired for a fee of $1,000. Construction began immediately on a simple framed church. Meanwhile, the Second Presbyterian Church began holding services at the Marion County Seminary. Soon, the church had more than doubled its membership to 32.
It was in the fall of 1839 that the trustees decided to hire an engaging young minister by the name of Henry Ward Beecher as its pastor. Beecher was born on June 24, 1813, in Litchfield, Connecticut. His father, Lyman Beecher, gained fame as one of the most prominent evangelists in America. Following in his father’s footsteps, Beecher decided to become a minister, graduating from Lane Theological Seminary in 1837. The young man took his first position at a church in Lawrenceburg, Indiana.
Beecher’s move to Indianapolis marked a big step in his career. In Indianapolis, Beecher attracted attention for his inspiring sermons that emphasized God’s all-encompassing love. For 8 years, Beecher served as pastor at the church. In 1847, he resigned and took his family back east, where he had been offered a position as the first pastor of the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, New York.
Beecher went on to acquire great fame on the lecture circuit, traveling across the country to deliver his sermons. He also became prominent in social reform, most notably the abolition movement. Beecher later became involved in the temperance movement and women’s suffrage.
The church itself, completed in October of 1840, was a little white framed structure with a large auditorium upstairs. A small belfry left no question as to the building’s purpose. It cost $8,800 to build.
The Second Presbyterian Church remained on the circle for over 25 years, until 1867. In that year, the congregation moved to a larger structure at the corner of Pennsylvania and Vermont streets.