The Sabbath doctrine was first proclaimed inside Illinois’ borders in 1850 by Samuel W. Rhodes, 32 years after Illinois was accepted into the Union as a state. The state’s population had reached approximately 55,000 by that time. Two years later Joseph Bates preached in the northwestern corner of Illinois, near the town of Galena, an area formerly the home of the Sac and Fox Indians, now settled mostly by farmers. As Bates visited this area at various times between 1852 and 1854, he met with much opposition from the “age to come” and “no law” people of the area. Bates toured northern Illinois again from Jan. 17 to Mar. 29, 1854, preaching in schoolhouses and halls, distributing books, and acting as subscription agent for the Review and Herald and Youth’s Instructor. The Review carried this note: “The interest of the last message of mercy is deepening and widening all around. Souls are embracing the Sabbath of the Lord our God, saying it is truth” (5:4, Feb. 14, 1854).
During this time Bates spent some time at Round Grove in Whiteside County, where the westward surge of the Advent movement began to focus in this northwest corner. It was fertile farmland, but also the “iron horse” (the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad) stopped there on its way to Morrison. Most of the well-known pioneers helped open the work here. Two lay farmers must be singled out, for they spent minimum time planting and maximum time sowing the seeds of truth. Elon Everts was from New Hampshire and came west to Round Grove in 1855 with his wife and daughter after witnessing the ordination of J. N. Andrews and others in his home in 1853. This family was the focus of several of Ellen White’s visions while she was in Round Grove. He tried hard to pull free from worldly wealth and drew strength from his friend, Josiah Hart, who came from Northfield, Vermont, in the early spring of 1856. These two formed a tireless evangelistic duo.
Josiah Hart witnessed to Ivory Colcord, the teacher of the first school in the Genesee Grove area, in the home of William Wick. Ivory’s son, G. W. Colcord, and his wife were baptized by James White there in 1858. G. W. Colcord became an educator, founding Milton Academy in Oregon, the forerunner of Walla Walla College and later opened the first school in the south at Graysville, Tennessee, the parent of Southern College. In January of 1858 Hart held meetings in Freeport, convincing two German families of the Sabbath truth. These conversions laid the groundwork for John Matheson in 1871 to open the foreign work in Illinois and Wisconsin.
Both Hart and Everts worked themselves into early graves. Hart passed away Aug. 17, 1858. Joseph Bates conducted the funeral and wrote in the Review, “We have just returned from the silent grave, leaving him beside Brother Everts” (12:16, Sept. 2, 1858).
J. N. Loughborough first came to Illinois in June 1853 after getting on a steamer at Grand Haven, Michigan, thinking it was headed for Wisconsin. By 1856 he had dropped out of the work and moved to Waukon, Iowa, where he was later revived by James and Ellen White’s trip from Round Grove in the snow and across the frozen Mississippi. The horses and sleigh were driven by Josiah Hart and Elon Everts. Loughborough returned with them and began a series of meetings the next night in the Hittleson schoolhouse three miles (five kilometers) north of Round Grove.
In March 1857 at a meeting in Round Grove it was voted to purchase a tent for evangelism. Hart and Everts were on the committee, and Loughborough was the first to preach in it. On Aug. 14 it was pitched in Lyndon for 30 lectures. Earlier in the year Loughborough began the first Sabbath school and Bible class for new believers in Round Grove. Other evangelists, such as Isaac Sanborn and W. S. Ingraham, braved opposition and persecution. Both later became president of the conference, then Illinois-Wisconsin Conference.
Between 1856 and 1861 Round Grove was often the home of the Whites, who made at least six trips there to foster the work. Their Western tour brought them to Round Grove on Nov. 21, 1856. James had just published his wife’s testimony to the church, No. 5, “Testimony to the Laodicean Church.” On the twenty-fourth he preached on the “Seven Churches.” The cry was “Be zealous and repent.” It was just the needed boost to revive the work in Illinois. Several weeks later, in the midst of snowstorms, a conference was held at the Hittleston School with the Whites leading out. It was attended by John Byington, a former Methodist minister from Buck’s Bridge, New York. Later he became the first General Conference president. By 1862 the railroad had moved on, as did the pioneers. (Today there are but a few buildings and gently rolling farmland silently witnessing the history-making efforts of many people.) Late in September 1868 the second camp meeting ever held by Seventh-day Adventists was convened at Clyde, Illinois.
At the request of the General Conference, Daniel Thompson went to Chicago in February 1883 and began the work of distributing literature in the rapidly growing metropolis. In that same year, as recommended by the General Conference, a mission was opened on Madison Street. It provided food and shelter for the needy and served as a training school in city mission work for young people from the college in Battle Creek, Michigan, and for others who desired experience in this type of work. Ten years later the Life Boat Mission was launched.
In 1895 Dr. J. H. Kellogg established the American Medical Missionary College on South Wabash Avenue. Fifteen years later the college was merged with the University of Illinois, but while it was under SDA auspices, about 200 physicians received their medical training. This college was a forerunner of the College of Medical Evangelists (see Loma Linda University). In 1904 Drs. David and Mary Paulson organized the Hinsdale Sanitarium and Benevolent Association, and opened a sanitarium at Hinsdale, near Chicago, the next year. The Hinsdale church was accepted into the Northern Illinois Conference on Feb. 6, 1908.
On Sept. 27, 1862, at a meeting held at Avon, Wisconsin, the Illinois and Wisconsin State Conference was formed. In a division of territory in 1870 the Illinois Conference was formed (Review and Herald 36:31, July 12, 1870), which became a part of the Lake Union Conference in 1901, when the union was organized. In 1902 the state was divided between the Northern Illinois Conference, with offices in Chicago, and the Southern Illinois Conference, with offices first in Stewardson and later in Springfield. Late in 1918 there was another reorganization, and the Illinois Conference was reestablished, including the whole state except the counties of Cook, Du Page, Will, Lake, McHenry, Kane, Kendall, Grundy, and Kankakee; these were assigned to a new Chicago Conference (which included also Lake County, Indiana). However, in 1931 the entire state was reunited into one conference (in November, Lake County, Indiana, was returned to the Indiana Conference). Offices for the reorganized Illinois Conference were first on Wacker Drive in Chicago, then after May 1932 in a building in Brookfield owned by the Pacific Press, then in March 1954 into a new office building in Brookfield. In March, 1998 the office moved to its current location in Willowbrook.
One of the earliest Seventh-day Adventist churches in Illinois was at Aledo, in the western part of the state. Robert F. Andrews, at that time president of the Illinois Conference, held meetings there in the early part of 1871, and in the same year organized a church of 30 members. A church building was erected at a cost of $1,365 and was dedicated on Oct. 12, 1884. The first church school teacher, Elizabeth Longacre, had an enrollment of five pupils in 1896.
In the southern part of the state, in the summer of 1878, G. H. Colcord and C. H. Bliss held tent meetings in Du Quoin, and 20 persons began keeping the Sabbath. On June 14, 1879, the Du Quoin church was organized.
Several institutions operated in the area of the conference for a time. The Tri-City Sanitarium in Moline, which opened in March of 1902, won fame for pioneering the treatment of such illnesses as poliomyelitis and rheumatism. It served the area until about 1924, when it was felt that the health program could be carried on adequately at the Hinsdale Sanitarium. The Moline church was organized on Feb. 27, 1904.
In 1900 the Sheridan Industrial Academy, later known as the Fox River Academy, was established, and in 1926 the Chicago Conference Academy. For a time academies were also operated at Hinsdale and at Du Quoin. The Fox River and Chicago academies were closed in 1933 and consolidated with the school at Broadview, which at that time was an academy and junior college. In 1934 the Broadview school became an academy only, and has been the academy for Illinois since that time. The school was moved in 1958 to Lafox. Broadview College and Theological Seminary, originally the Broadview Swedish Seminary, was the forerunner of Broadview Academy. A branch of the Pacific Press Publishing Association operated at Brookfield for many years.
A work for foreign-speaking peoples in Chicago was begun early. Beginning in 1863, a young Danish Baptist preacher, John G. Matteson, who had accepted the SDA doctrines, spent some time in Illinois, preaching to Scandinavian Americans. In 1871 he organized a church among a group of Norwegian people, who built, on Erie Street, the first Seventh-day Adventist church building in Chicago. In 1890 J. M. Erickson, A. J. Stone, and Carl Norlin conducted meetings for Swedish-speaking people, and in 1892 a Swedish SDA church was organized. Work was also conducted among the Chinese. J. N. Loughborough reported at the Plano camp meeting on Aug. 23, 1894: “The Chinese work in Chicago, although conducted under difficulties, is not without interesting results. Though we are not able to point to souls who have fully identified themselves with the truth, yet there are scores who are interested in the study of the Bible and are being drawn toward the Lord and His people” (Illinois Recorder, Oct. 22, 1894).
A Chinese school was conducted each Sunday evening, with some 26 students who learned to read and write English; the more advanced studied the Bible. Having 17 teachers, the pupils received a high degree of individual attention. The German work was established in 1909 as a result of meetings held by Henry Schulz. Rosario Calderone opened the work among the Italians of Chicago in 1912. One of the first two converts was Anthony Catalano, who later became the pastor of the Italian church and worked with his people for 50 years.
At present the Chicago area has numerous foreign-language churches. The first Hungarian congregation in the Greater Chicago area was organized in the fall of 1918 to proclaim the everlasting gospel and the three angels’ messages to the Hungarian population. First Korean Congregation was established in early 1970s, and has grown to two congregations. In 1983 the Hinsdale Filipino-American church was formed, and their new sanctuary was dedicated in 1991. For the past 10 years the Hispanic work has grown to where the Hispanic population is now 17 percent of the total Illinois Conference membership.
Work continues among the Polish people, and the Romanian church, as well, is growing significantly. The work among Yugoslavians has grown, and they dedicated their new facility in 1991.
The first African-American SDA church in the Chicago area was opened in 1910 with the help of a special offering given by the churches of the Lake Union Conference. In 1944 the Black constituency of the Lake Union organized its own conference, the Lake Region Conference, which began to function Jan. 1, 1945.
The now worldwide group organizations of local Dorcas societies began in Illinois, with the Dorcas Federation idea being initiated and developed by Mrs. Herman Kleist, with the cooperation of E. R. Potter and C. S. Joyce, conference and union home missionary secretaries. The first Dorcas Federation was organized officially at a meeting in the Chicago South Side church, and the first regular meeting was held in April 1934 in the Hinsdale church. In June 1935 the federation was accepted as part of the conference program.
Camp Akita, in central Illinois, was purchased in 2000 and, since then, has been subsequently developed for junior camps, teenage camps, senior camps, and family camps. Prior to that, from 1958 to 1986 Little Grassy Lake Camp, in southern Illinois, near Carbondale, provided a delightful and rugged atmosphere for the same purpose. Prior to that, from 1931 junior camps were held at various rented areas, then at Camp Reynoldswood, at Dixon, for several years.
Illinois and Wisconsin Conference: W. S. Ingraham, 1862–1863; Isaac Sanborn, 1863–1867; R. F. Andrews, 1867–1870.
Illinois Conference: R. F. Andrews, 1870–1875, 1879–1885; R. M. Kilgore, 1885–1891; J. N. Loughborough, 1891–1895; S. H. Lane, 1895–1899; N. W. Kauble, 1899–1901; Allen Moon, 1901–1902.
Northern Illinois Conference: Allen Moon, 1902–1904?; N. W. Kauble, 1904?-1905; L. H. Christian, 1905–1906; William Covert, 1906–1912; G. E. Langdon, 1912–1916; W. A. Westworth, 1916–1917; J. H. Schilling, 1917–1919.
Southern Illinois Conference: S. H. Lane, 1902–1903; J. M. Rees, 1903–1906; W. D. Parkhurst, 1906–1908; S. E. Wight, 1908–1910; E. A. Bristol, 1910–1914; A. J. Clark, 1914–1917; E. F. Petersen, 1917–1919.
Chicago Conference: A. J. Clark, 1919–1923; J. W. Christian, 1923–1930; R. E. Harter, 1930.
Illinois Conference: W. H. Holden, 1919–1923; W. A. Westworth, 1923–1927; S. N. Rittenhouse, 1927–1931.
Illinois Conference (reunited): R. E. Harter, 1931–1934; M. A. Hollister, 1934–1937; M. V. Campbell, 1937–1942; L. E. Lenheim, 1942–1947; Theodore Carcich, 1947–1951; J. L. McConaughey, 1951–1955; Wayne B. Hill, 1955–1960; W. A. Nelson, 1960–1971; John L. Hayward, 1971–1980; Everett Cumbo, 1980–1988; Bjarne Christensen, 1988–1993; James L. Brauer, 1993–1995; Wayne Coulter, 1995-2002; Ken Denslow, 2002-2011; Ray Pichette, 2011-2017; Ron Aguilera 2017- 2022
(Adopted from an article in Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, and edited by the Conference Secretariat)