History of the Town Clock Church
1830: Arrival of James Brooks
James Brooks, who had been converted through a revival led by Rev. Ashbel Wells, joined the Presbyterian Church on September 19.
1837: Presbyterian Schism
The Presbyterian Church suffered a schism in which followers were divided into two separate groups. First Presbyterian Church went with Old School and Second Presbyterian Church went with New School with the former not supporting Christian revivals, and the latter wholly embracing them. The New School was more progressive in its social orientation and consistently supported the abolishment of slavery.
Rev. Samuel K. Sneed was also called away from the First Presbyterian Church to serve in the newly formed Second Presbyterian Church as pastor from 1837 to 1843. He was a significant force in establishing “Mt. Tabor,” an area north of town where revivals were held and while during his time as pastor heavily spoke out against slavery.
James Brooks became an ordained ruling elder of the Second Presbyterian Church during this time, and Isaac P. Smith with his wife Abby H. Campbell moved to New Albany.
It is important to note that African Americans were members of the Second Presbyterian Church since it’s formation.
1846: John Bishop Joins Second Presbyterian Church
John Bishop, formerly a pastor in Plymouth, Indiana, was installed at Second Presbyterian on November 1, 1846. He remained in New Albany until October 21, 1850, when the American Home Missionary Society assigned him to the Indiana counties of Lawrence, Jackson, Crawford, Dubois, and Monroe.
1847: James Brooks and The New Albany-Salem Railroad
On July 1, the New Albany-Salem Railroad is formed with James Brooks acting as president and holding that position until his resignation in October 1, 1858. The railroad line was a verified escape route of slaves who traveled both in the cars and followed the rails on foot as they headed north. In all of his capacities, it was likely he gave passes to ride the rails legitimately.
1848: Second Presbyterian Church Reaches Out
On May 17, John Bishop baptized an African American woman on her deathbed. Presbyterian ministers were also known to have performed marriage ceremonies for African Americans as well.
1849: Second Presbyterian Church Construction Begins
Construction of the original Second Presbyterian Church began, located near the banks of the Ohio River at the southeast corner of Third and Main streets, and would reach completion in 1852. The architect of the Second Presbyterian Church was church member Isaac P. Smith, who lived across the street and two blocks east of the church with his wife Abby H. Campbell, who was known for her deeds of kindness and charity among the poor and needy in New Albany.
1851: John Guest Atterbury Joins Second Presbyterian Church
John Guest Atterbury, from Detroit, Michigan, was installed as pastor of Second Presbyterian Church, the same day as the dedication of the new edifice. He served from August of 1851 to July, 1866. Shortly after his installment, a religious revival took place at Second Presbyterian. At the invitation of Atterbury, the guest preacher during this week-long meeting was the Rev. Henry Little. Little was a very strong anti-slavery man, who spoke out openly against slavery, and his presence for the week-long revival is indicative of the anti-slavery, if not abolitionist, attitudes present at Second Presbyterian.
1861: New Albany Mission Begins
As the American Civil War began, Second Presbyterian established a mission church in New Albany. It was located on State Street between Green and Clay in the area of West Union, where the majority of African Americans lived.
1862: Mission Growth, Ministering to Soldiers, Riot
On February 3, E. Mann was appointed as superintendent of a new mission to help families excluded from all evangelical influences of the New Albany churches, and so poor children in New Albany were provided with clothing and shoes as the women of the church began sewing garments.
After the Battle of Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862), New Albany became a hospital center for wounded and sick soldiers. Rev. Atterbury met the steamboats at the wharf and ministered to these men. At its peek, there were upwards of 2,000 wounded soldiers staying at the temporary hospitals in town.
In July, racial tension turns into a three day riot in New Albany where Whites roamed the streets searching for African Americans and eventually several people were killed.
On November 27, Rev. John Guest Atterbury delivered both a powerful sermon publicly and later published it. It can be summarized near the end: “Right does not depend on color. God is no respector of persons or races. He has made all of one blood, and he seeks the good of all and we must seek the good of all within our province.”
1863: Emancipation Proclamation and Levi Coffin’s Cause
In the month of January, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation into order. Sometime after, Levi Coffin, the Quaker often nicknamed “The President of the Underground Railroad” for the amount of slaves that passed through his care came to New Albany in hopes of raising money for assisting the newly freed slaves and approached Second Presbyterian Church as well as others from the area. The sum of $237 was collected for the cause.
1865: Death of Lincoln and Former Slaves Come To New Albany
President Lincoln was assassinated and although the Civil War officially ended on April 9, slavery continued in Kentucky until end of December. For the next few years, former slaves flood New Albany as well as other towns along the Ohio River in search of employment and a new life.
1889: Birth of The Second Baptist Church
On December 10, an African American congregation, now the Colored Baptist Church (established 1867), purchased the building from the Second Presbyterian Church, and was named the Second Baptist Church afterwards. It is thought that members of the African American community had already established a strong emotional and physical tie to the building, and therefore there was hardly any surprise when it was purchased.
1915: Original Steeple Destroyed
The original steeple of the Second Baptist Church was struck by lightning several times since erected but on June 28, 1915, a lightning strike split the steeple in two. It was removed two weeks later and the unfazed clock tower was capped.
1937: The Flood
Although not the only flood New Albany ever suffered, the 1937 flood caused significant damage to the church. The lower level and the undercroft of the church were submerged, leaving behind a layer of mud and river silt once the water receded.
2013: Friends of The Town Clock Church
The Friends of the Town Clock Church was established as a charitable organization committed to the ongoing maintenance, beautification, fundraising and long-term planning for the historical building. More information can be found here.