Visit many large cities, or even rural communities, and there are monuments — some to fallen war heroes, others to government leaders. But where Highway M and State Highway 48 meet just west of King City, Mo., stands a testament to faith.
Nestled between the fields of harvested corn and soybeans is a replica of the Empire Prairie Presbyterian Church.
Immigrants from Scotland and England settled in the area in 1856. “These pioneers were spirited, hardworking, God-fearing, talented, and family and community-oriented people,” says Darlene Peterson, whose family settled in the area. She, along with Gerry Herbster, is a keeper of Empire Prairie history.
As early as 1861, the families formed their own Presbyterian congregation; however, they did not have a church building. That came along in 1873.
The church and its congregation remained active in the farming community. As more settlers came and families expanded, there was a need for modern upgrades to the old church.
In 1982, the congregation began renovations. Then on a cold winter day, Jan. 3, 1983, a fire started in the early morning hours. “No one knows the exact cause,” says Herbster. Congregation members rushed to the building. One parishioner, James Gibson, ran to into the church and saved the escutcheon, or coat of arms plate, with the hand-carved numbers “1873.” He retreated to the parking lot. There, he was joined by others watching as the old church burned completely to the ground.
It was the 1980s, and the farm crisis was in full swing. Faced with a struggling ag economy and declining rural population, the church could not raise the funds to rebuild. Still, the Empire Prairie Presbyterian Church was a large part of the history of the area. So, the congregation pulled together $4,000 to build a replica of the church. In May 1993, they dedicated the church site right in the middle of the Andrew County prairie.
Today, it stands as a tribute to the settlers, who sustained this part of Missouri through farming and faith.