Religious pilgrims journeyed to the current location of St. John in 1875 and broke away from the Mormans to form the first Church of Jesus Christ.
This is the promised land. It’s St. John now but for a group of travelers from long ago, this place was originally Zion Valley, the promised land.
A plaque in front of a church at Main and 5th Avenue tells how a band of religious travelers from Pennsylvania and West Virginia journeyed to Kansas and eventually settled on this place on the prairie and called it Zion Valley, said Stafford County Historical and Genealogical Society executive director Michael Hathaway.
Led by William Bickerton, a group of Mormons broke away from the Mormon church because of a controversy in the church over fundamental beliefs. This group did not believe in polygamy and was being forced to accept the church’s beliefs, so the decision was made to break away from the Mormon Church and find a new place to start a new church, the Church of Christ, Hathaway said.
Bickerton, who was living in Pennsylvania, traveled to Kansas and found the place were St. John sits now. The historical legend says when they reached this place, they bowed and blessed the land. The legend further says that as long as the faithful gather here for worship, no cyclone would ever destroy the town, Hathaway said.
With Bickerton, who was the president of the Church of Christ, leading the way, a group of from 20 to 35, depending on the historical document, traveled by ox drawn wagon from Pennsylvania and West Virginia to Kansas where they met up with a group of “saints” from Wilson County. This group reached their destination in 1875 and established their church on the site where the monument exists and established the first Church of Jesus Christ.
The place was known as Zion Valley from 1875 to 1879, when the name was changed to St. John. Hathaway said the town was named St. John to gain favor with the governor, John P. St. John, to help the town get its charter.
One of those members was Charles Augustus Brown who lived from 1861 to 1936. He was a well established land owner and was well liked in the community. He served as mayor for more years than anyone else and was president of the St. John Bank.
His family donated the Brown Memorial Bank to the city of St. John and it is still used today. He was the son of an original member Charles Augustus Brown, Sr.
The church is still in use today with Alexander Robinson in charge along with his son David Robinson.
Bickerton was born in 1815 in Northumberland, England. He died Feb. 17,1905 in the home of Allen Wright at over 90 years of age. A story of his death in the County Capital newspaper on Feb. 23, 1905 said he had a bad scare when the bed he was sleeping in caught fire and he never recovered from the scare.
More about this band of religious pilgrims is available at the Stafford County Historical and Genealogical Society Museum. For their story and more about the history of Stafford County, visit the museum at 100 North Main in Stafford. Contact 620-234-5664 for hours of operation. Also visit staffordcounty.org/museum for more information.