First Presbyterian Church of Marion, Iowa

802 12th St., Marion, Iowa


First Presbyterian Church of Marion

Photo taken by Dave King


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In 1842 Marion was just emerging from being a frontier community. Iowa was still a territory, not yet a state. In 1839 the Iowa Territory was divided into counties, and Marion was designated the Linn County Seat. By 1842 the community had a few industries, such as a flour mill and saw mill, and businesses, including a bank, a hotel, a clothing store, tinsmith, blacksmith, livery stable, and other typical commercial establishments of a town at that time. Most of the area’s people lived and worked on farms.

That was the setting when our church was organized February 5, 1842, with nine members, several of them transferring their membership from the Linn Grove Presbyterian Church southeast of Springville, organized a year earlier. The original name was the Old School Presbyterian Church of Marion. At that time there were two distinct Presbyterian factions, Old School and New School. The Old School was considered the more conservative, but in the turbulent years before the Civil War, it usually was identified as being anti-slavery while the New School favored slavery.

Services at first were held in public buildings, including Linn County’s first courthouse, a wooden building, and soon in a new brick courthouse. Without a minister, the members heard sermons about four times a year by The Rev. Salmon Cowles, a Presbyterian missionary serving the Iowa Territory. Based in Keokuk, he traveled his mission area by horseback, as there were few roads and no railroads. He carried his Bible and belongings in a saddle bag, staying in homes where he stopped. Starting about 1849, the Marion and Linn Grove churches for several years shared the services of The Rev. J.S. Fullerton, who preached at one place Sunday morning and the other in the afternoon, if the weather permitted him to travel.

In 1851, the congregation purchased a lot for $60 on what was then Market Street, now Tenth Street, across from the city square, and began to construct a church building. In those early days much of the economy was based on a barter system. As a result, many of the subscriptions or pledges toward building the church, rather than money, were in the form of labor, lumber, nails, bricks, mortar, plaster, and other materials. With only volunteer labor, it was five years before services could be held in the building. Much of the work was done by Rev. Fullerton. In 1852 the first Sunday School was organized, and within a few years had an enrollment of 50. Classes were held in a brick school building.

National Register information 

Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on July 24, 1992
Reference number
Architectural style
Victorian: Octagon Mode
Area of significance
Level of significance
Evaluation criteria
C - Design/Construction
Property type
Historic function
Religious structure
Current function
Religious structure
Period of significance
Significant year


19th Century (38,039)
Built 1885 (586)
Built during 1880s (6,536)
Church (5,751)
Frank M. Ellis (2)
Iowa (2,528)
Limestone (8,195)
Linn County, Iowa (115)
Marion, Iowa (11)
Octagon Mode (146)
Place of worship (6,119)
Private owner (54,403)
Stone (26,168)
Victorian (19,703)

Update Log 

  • May 12, 2013: Updated by Dave King: Added Description
  • May 12, 2013: New photo from Dave King