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Rev. Comfort Babcock Waller

In Washington County, the first confirmed Freewill Baptist minister was Reverend Alonzo P. Curtis, born in Ohio in 1815. Reverend Curtis came to the town of Farmington, where he purchased 80 acres in Section 31 on October 14, 1845.

Rev. Waller (photo courtesy Jack Copet)
Less than a year and a half later, Reverend Curtis was joined by an old friend and colleague from Lykens, Crawford County, Ohio named Reverend Comfort Babcock Waller. Reverend Waller was born on July 24, 1813 in Washington County, New York. In early 1832, shortly after converting to and becoming a Freewill Baptist minister, he, his new bride Nancy (Batchelder) and his mother and step-father moved from New York to Ohio where he helped establish a permanent Freewill Church on his land. Reverend Waller wished to continue on and looked up Reverend Curtis when he moved to the town of Trenton in 1847.

Once the two ministers were together again, they sought a location to erect some sort of place for worship for the Freewills in Washington County. Reverend Waller purchased land in Section 6 of the town of Trenton, which bordered on a lake that was referred to as Waller’s Lake. It was here that the two men would often baptize people by the only true means in a Freewill’s mind: immersion. Just like Jesus was baptized by his cousin John the Baptist, so too were the locals that joined the Free Will faith in Washington County in Waller’s Lake (now Wallace Lake).

Nancy and Comfort B. Waller, circa 1863 (photo courtesy Jack Copet)
Land was donated by one of the “parishioners” to erect a church: the Barber family. On this land was erected a bi-purpose fieldstone building where services were held, as well as it being a school for the children. The Reverend Curtis was pastor of the church for the first few years, before Reverend Waller finally had his first chance at being a pastor.

It is not known what happened to Reverend Curtis, but one would guess that he moved on to other communities to continue spreading the Freewill agenda. Meanwhile, Reverend Waller became a focal point for the Freewills in Trenton and the surrounding communities. Each Freewill Church belonged to a “Quarterly Meeting”, which was essentially a collection of local churches that worked together. In 1851, Trenton/Farmington joined the Fond du Lac Quarterly Meeting. However, as many Freewill churches did, the Trenton church left the Fond du Lac “QM” and joined the Marquette QM, which would later be called the Waupun QM in 1858.

The local church/school on the Barber property began to be referred to as “Waller School” and the church “Waller’s Baptist Church”. By early 1860, the Freewill community was fully dedicated to the support of Reverend Waller. In February of that year at a fund raiser, several of the parishioners suddenly grew sick and began vomiting. It was discovered by a doctor that two chickens used for the pot pies served at the fund raiser had ingested mandrake root, giving the people food poisoning. Fortunately, no one died from the event, but there is little doubt that Reverend Waller felt somewhat responsible that the people supporting him would get so ill.

At any rate, Reverend Waller saw the Freewill community continue to grow in Washington and neighboring Sheboygan County. It was at this time, that he decided to start the Freewill Baptist church in the town of Scott in Sheboygan County. He then alternated services between Trenton and Scott on Sundays.

However, by 1863, the Trenton Freewill Baptist Church was considered to “have disappeared” by the Freewill denomination. The post Civil War era, after several of the parishioners had their sons fight for the Union (the Reverend Waller lost his son David (right, author’s collection) at the infamous Andersonville Prison in 1864), the demand for Freewill services began to taper off. Probably due to the loss of his son, the Reverend Waller looked for some change and moved with his family to Fond du Lac County in 1868. He did fill in at other churches in communities like Waupun and Fond du Lac and served again as a pastor at Oakfield.

The church/school stayed open for other events and was often the place for picnics and other events in the 1860s and into the early 1870s. The weakened church which saw the deaths of many of its parishioners and with the departure of Reverend Waller. It resurrected on February 22, 1872 when a new Freewill church was erected in Boltonville in the town of Farmington. The new parish comprised of 20 members, with other people visiting the church for services.

The Trenton and Scott churches merged into the Boltonville Freewill Baptist Church collectively. It was here that the Reverend Waller gave his final sermon in the fall of 1890, shortly before his death February 23, 1891 at his daughter’s home in Lake Mills.

Eventually, the Waller School was utilized as a public school for the growing number of Germans settling in the town of Trenton. It was called Gomber School, District Number 3. The school was consolidated with districts 1 and 9 and the building was sold to John Labott for $85.00 He razed the building, brick by brick, and built a home on River Road. The land was then sold back to the Barber family for $5.00. It was settled in as a private residence, as it stands today.

The Boltonville Freewill Baptist church faded away as well. In 1911, there was a meeting between the Baptists and Freewill Baptists of the North and East portions of America. It was called the Northern American Baptist Convention. At this historic meeting, the Baptists agreed that the notion of predestination was cast aside over the years, and the two denominations became one again.

Now the Freewill church is long gone, with the area being constantly redeveloped for new homes. The cemetery still stands proudly on the southeast corner of Wallace Lake and Trenton Roads. It is maintained by the local 4H group.