Red Top Church celebrates 200 faith-filled years
In the early days of Missouri’s statehood, pioneers who poured into the wilderness brought their faith with them. There were no churches then, so as soon as the settlers built homes they set about creating places of worship. Typical of those early churches was the one that served the faithful just west of Hallsville. It started in the homes of its founders, hardy stock mostly from Kentucky. Then in 1820 its members cut logs from the woods to build their first church on land donated by Nathan Roberts.
Two years later the church was chartered as a Christian Church when Elders William L. Roberts and Thomas McBride issued the following statement: We the undersigned subscribers being all to Examine the abilities of the brethren of Rocky Fork Prairie find them in our opinion sound in faith and sufficiently strong in member to constitute a Church of Christ at this place have done so upon the Gospel having no other creed or confession of faith.
That was the start of Red Top Christian Church, which will celebrate its 200th anniversary on Oct. 2. In establishing the church, which has been served by Boone Electric Cooperative since 1938, its founders set roots that over time grew deep into the Boone County soil. Their descendants remain strong in their faith. As the 200th anniversary committee related in the book published for the event, “Through the years Red Top has been a place where those in our community can empty themselves of their burdens while worshipping our God.”
Where once circuit-riding ministers made stops at the church, today’s congregation can watch its services streaming live on YouTube. They retain a link to the past by lovingly maintaining the cemetery, which holds the remains of its founders, including John Hall, namesake for Hallsville. Yet they continue to look to the future by adding to the current church, making it more useful for the active congregation.
“They called it the church in the wilderness because all the area around here got to be farmland, but this stayed a wilderness,” says Tim Reinbott, a church elder and member of the Red Top Church Bicentennial Committee.
When the log church was completed it was christened Liberty Church, a name it would keep until 1868. It was the first church built in Rocky Township and one of the first in Boone County. Any denomination was welcome to use the church. Its builders coated the roof with red keel, a type of clay used for paint.
The log church burned in 1835 and a larger structure with two rooms and a fireplace in the middle was built. Once again it had a red roof.
Bicentennial researchers discovered what became of the second church. “I have access to all these old newspapers now,” says Tim, whose day job is managing Sanborn Field for the University of Missouri. “We found things that people didn’t know about. And reading one of the excerpts from a meeting or celebration they had, it was mentioned that they tore the old second structure down and built a barn out of it.”
By 1867 the congregation had outgrown the second church and a larger sanctuary was needed. This one, costing $3,200, was designed to hold 440 worshippers. It had a sloping floor so that all had a good view of the preacher. Its rafters were made with mortise and tenon joints, with wood pegs holding them together. In keeping with tradition, this church also had a red roof, prompting a name change to Red Top Church.
“The traveling preachers would call it ‘that red top church,’ ” Tim says. “In 1868, a year after they built this one, they changed it from Liberty to Red Top.”
The third church is the same one that houses worshippers today. The original structure had two doors, one for men and one for women. Pews were laid out in three rows: one where single men were seated, a center section for families and a third row for single women.
“For 93 years it didn’t change,” says Tim, pointing to an old photo of the church. “They just put the underpinning on around 1915 but that was it. We feel it looked like that from 1867 to 1960.”
One photo shows the church around the time of its 100th anniversary. In the photo are horses tied to hitching posts, their tops painted red like the church roof. Parked nearby are early automobiles.
“For a brief time we thought we should put these old hitching posts back in,” Tim says. “But my wife is very practical. She said, ‘You’re gonna have to maintain them.’ You know how that goes. It was a great idea when it started.”
With the larger sanctuary Red Top Church became the focal point for worship and religious meetings. Large revivals were held here. In 1867 the Centralia Fireside Guard reported that 2,500 people attended the church’s basket dinner. That tradition was revived in honor of the bicentennial in 2022.
While the church grew for many years, it wasn’t without strife. The Civil War years threatened to tear the area apart, with one local church burned. Decades later, the church itself was torn in two.
That came when the congregation split with one group wanting to add missions and Sunday school and another resisting these changes. It all came to a head in 1914 when leaders of the church boarded up the doors and windows of the church to prevent a meeting of the Boone County Cooperative Society of the Christian Church, a catalyst for the missionary zeal sweeping the area.
The matter was settled when the opposition group offered to sell its interests in the church for $500. In five minutes $625 was raised and the church reorganized with new leaders, who promptly passed a resolution making the church available to any denomination that wanted to use it, including those who had left.
Over time many additions have been made to the church, including a large education wing that is in constant use. The most recent addition added a narthex to the front of the church, providing a place to visit before heading for home.
Those pioneers who founded Red Top Church would be amazed at the technology that was added during the COVID-19 pandemic, but they would no doubt recognize the Christian spirit that has kept the church going for 200 years, along with the bright red roof.