|1840's||Appleton is just a few shanties along the Fox River.|
|1846||Amos Lawrence, of Massachusetts, offers $10,000 to Wisconsin Methodists to start a college (currently called Lawrence University). Methodists raise $11,000 to qualify for a matching grant.|
|1850 - 1855||Church meets in Johnston Shanty, Lawrence Building, and later in Lawrence Chapel.|
|1855||Over 120 members - First church building - 50' x 60', built for $5,500 on College Avenue next to where the Episcopal Church now stands.|
|1868||Nearly 300 members - 180 in Sunday School. Sold old church and built new building on corner of Lawrence and Morrison Streets for $16,000.|
|1872||Fire destroys church building and most records. New building started, but construction halted by Depression. Basement covered over and used for several years. Completed in 1879.|
|1925||On October 25, current church is consecrated at a cost of $350,000. Austin organ said to be the best this side of Mormon Tabernacle.|
|1964||Completed and consecrated new wing, including Fellowship Hall, Asbury Lounge, Wesley Room, plus class rooms on top two floors.|
|1995||Elevator, with six stops, and new corridor from the sanctuary to the Fellowship Hall was added.|
|2000-2001||Major renovation done on the Austin pipe organ. Membership is approximately 1,300.|
|2009||Carillon Bells installed.|
|2012||Major renovation of the chapel with air-conditioning.|
A MORE DETAILED HISTORY OF FIRST UNITED
METHODIST CHURCH OF APPLETON
IN THE BEGINNING
He arrived in the summer of 1848 by dugout canoe, the small, bearded man who was to preach the first Methodist sermon in what was to become Appleton. His name was Elder William Harkness Sampson, who was born in Vermont in 1808.
Sampson pulled his dugout ashore along the untamed Fox River in what was then Grand Chute, and, following an old Indian trail, climbed to the top of a forested bluff. Here, on 33 acres of land, would be built a university funded in part by Boston merchant Amos Lawrence.
It was no coincidence that a Methodist Episcopal minister, at the time the presiding elder in the Fond du Lac District, should be one of Appleton's earliest settlers.
Amos A. Lawrence, a wealthy Boston textile merchant and philanthropist, had a dream of a college that would one day be as renowned as England's Oxford or Cambridge. It would be a school which would be a moral force for Germans and Native Americans.
In the spring of 1846, Lawrence, who was not Methodist (he was raised Unitarian and converted to the Episcopal faith after he married Sarah Elizabeth Appleton) but respected their work in higher education (and their temperance stance), offered the Methodist Episcopal Church of Wisconsin $10,000 if they would match it to create an institute of higher learning in Wisconsin Territory.
The commitment made, Sampson, Reeder Smith, Hoel S. Wright, and H. L. Blood were chosen to survey and plat the land that would be the site of Lawrence Institute, what today is Lawrence University.
On September 7, 1848, bearing the title of principal of Lawrence Institute, Sampson left his wife and family, including a 6-months-old baby, in Fond du Lac and took the steamer "Manchester" to Neenah.
From Neenah, he paddled the dugout to the Indian trail at the foot of the bluff. Armed with a bush hook, he set about clearing the thick underbrush from the land where the first Lawrence building would stand.
One of the first houses in Appleton, behind what now is Conkey's Book Store, was occupied by pioneer John F. Johnston and his wife, who took in boarders, most of them men who worked on the first Lawrence buildings. It was little more than a shack, with a dirt floor and only part of a roof.
It was here, in what was called "Johnston’s Shanty," that Rev. Sampson preached the first Methodist sermon ever heard in Appleton, on October 8, 1848. Fourteen people, most of them men who had come to town to work on the first building at Lawrence Institute, attended.
Sampson held the position of principal of Lawrence until 1853, at which time he became professor of mathematics. He retired in 1857 and later resumed preaching.
Under the headline, "A Grand Old Man Departs," the Appleton Crescent, reporting on Sampson's death in Tacoma, Washington, in 1892 at the age of 83, observed, "...Appletonians will cherish the memory of his good deeds, of his genial and lovable traits of character and his eminent example and services until memory's work is done."
The editor of the Appleton Crescent ended the story of Sampson's death thus:
"Beautiful twilight at set of sun,
Beautiful goal with race well won,
Beautiful rest with work well done."
Following services in the Appleton Methodist Church, Sampson was laid to rest in Riverside Cemetery.
THE FIRST CHURCH
Methodist services continued in Johnston's Shanty through the winter of 1848 and then were moved to private homes, the new Lawrence Institute, and then to the new Lawrence Chapel.
In February of 1849, the first Methodist class was attended by 11 of the 14 people who were witness to Rev. Sampson’s first sermon the previous October 8. By now, there was an appointed minister for the small flock, the Rev. Asa B. Randall. By then, there were some 30 families in Appleton.
Considered Appleton's first preacher, Randall was appointed by the newly organized Wisconsin Methodist Conference to head the Winnebago Mission, later called the Oshkosh Mission. Appleton was part of that mission until 1850, when the Appleton Mission was formed.
In March of 1848, Randall opened a Sabbath School, which was formally organized the following September. Enrollment totaled 25 youngsters.
Rev. Randall presided at the first funeral in what would become Appleton. On October 15, 1849, after preaching at the funeral of a child of H. N. Day, Randall assisted in burying the child.
The Appleton Crescent reported on December 17, 1853, "The Methodists have held meetings almost every evening in the Chapel of the University during December. Their denomination is by far the largest in the village, having a membership of about 120. The sum of $2,000 has already been subscribed toward a church building."
The first official church board meeting was held on October 11, 1853, at which a committee was named to procure a parsonage. The first parsonage was at the corner of Alton and Lawe Streets.
The cornerstone for Appleton's first Methodist church, at the present site of All Saints Episcopal Church, in the 400 block of East College Avenue, was laid in May of 1854, with Dr. Edward Cooke, president of Lawrence, officiating.
The congregation met in the basement of the new church until the building was finished in the summer of 1855. The two-story, wood structure, measuring 50 by 60 feet, cost $5,500. There was seating for about 600. The pastor was Rev. Elmore Yokum.
Few church records exist for the period 1855 to 1872. There was a long succession of Methodist pastors who served brief terms. One, Rev. Samuel Fallows, served just five months when he left to serve with the Army in the Civil War as a lieutenant colonel.
The Methodist Church was the site of many temperance meetings. A passage in "The History of Outagamie County" states, "In February, 1856, a large meeting was held at the Methodist Church in Appleton to consider the practicability and expediency of enforcing the liquor law in this village. Joseph Stowe was chosen chairman and Daniel Huntley secretary. The meeting passed strong resolutions against the liquor traffic, one of which was as follows: ‘that we appoint a vigilance committee of five to act for the temperance interests, whose duty it shall be to notify the proper authorities of all violations of the liquor laws coming within their knowledge.’"
There are these further interesting passages from "The History of Outagamie County:"
"In 1858, a wave of spiritual manifestation swept over the country, reached Appleton and occasioned much interest and even excitement. Several spiritual seances were organized and persons were converted to that belief."
"The Baptist, the Second ward Congregational and the Third ward Methodist Sunday Schools of Appleton held a union picnic on the bluff above Grand Chute late in August, 1858. The day was beautiful and the little children enjoyed themselves immensely. Ferris' band supplied the music."
"Late in June (1860), the Methodist Society held a strawberry festival in Appleton and realized about $60. The ladies surpassed themselves in furnishing a splendid repast for a comparatively small price."
"The Methodists also held a festival and the church was filled until standing room was at a premium. Two large Christmas trees reached to the ceiling and were loaded with presents for the members (1861)."
"April 5 (1862), The Crescent said that as a result of the union revival in progress during the last six or seven weeks, the Methodist Church secured additional members to the number of 86."
"About the middle of October (1862), at a missionary collection taken in the Methodist Church at Appleton, $88.50 was contributed. This was an unusually large amount considering the hard times."
DISASTER! AND OUT OF THE ASHES
"On Sunday morning last the alarm of fire was sounded at half past eight o'clock caused by the breaking out of flames in the Methodist Church," The Appleton Post reported on March 14, 1872.
Appleton's first Methodist church was in ashes. It seems the caretaker had built a big fire in the stove in preparation for the morning service. The fire got out of control and ignited the walls and the floors. Firemen could do little but watch as the building was destroyed. The loss was estimated at $6,000, of which $3,000 was covered by insurance. Most church records went up in flames.
Church services went on as scheduled that Sunday morning, but on campus in the main hall of Lawrence, where they would be held for the next two years while a new church was constructed.
The editor of the Appleton Crescent clearly did not want the Methodists to build just any old replacement church.
He wrote in the March 16, 1872, edition, under the headline, "Build a Credible Edifice." "Now that the Pioneer Methodist Church has succumbed to the fire fiend, every citizen is interested to have it replaced by an edifice which shall be a credit to Appleton, ‘the Queen of the River Valley.’"
"An edifice that will cost less than twenty-five or thirty thousand dollars may meet present needs, but we respectfully submit that while a plain, sombre, unattractive edifice can be erected for half the money that will accommodate the congregation now worshiping or likely to worship with that denomination for the next three or four years, the business importance and manufacturing prospects of this young and vigorous city demand something better."
It seems that the congregation was considering building a new, larger church even before the fire.
Less than a month after the fire, on April 10, 1872, there was a meeting at the parsonage, occupied by Rev. O. B. Thayer, at which the church council recommended building a new structure, at the corner of Lawrence and Morrison streets (across from the present Appleton YMCA), on property the congregation already had purchased. This meant that the new parsonage, the George Robinson house, had to be moved to the adjoining lot.
The cornerstone for the new church was set October 8, 1872, exactly 24 years after Rev. Sampson gave the first Methodist sermon in Appleton at Johnston’s Shanty. Bishop Gilbert Haven officiated at the ceremony.
Then came The Depression. "Work was pushed rapidly along until the disastrous Summer of 1873 stopped the wheels of business and caused many a strong man to go down," the Appleton Post reported.
But the basement had been completed and a crude roof was placed over it. Undaunted, the Methodists brought their own chairs and tables to the basement, and services were held there for five years, as parishioners held bazaars, dinners, teas, and other events to raise money to finish construction of the stone church.
The new church, the second for the Appleton Methodists, was dedicated November 30, 1879, by Dr. R. M. Hatfield who proclaimed, "I was glad when they said unto me: ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord.’"
The new church was the pride of Appleton. "In architecture and finish, this church has few rivals in the United States," the Appleton Post reported. "Its beautiful auditorium has been pronounced by many strangers as unsurpassed in perfection of finish and frescoing by anything seen by them in the large cities, East or West."
"The property is valued at $40,000. The organ, one of the finest in the Northwest, was presented to the society by W. G. Whorton, Esq., and the money for the purchase of the bell was bequeathed to the church by the late David Smith."
The nearby parsonage was valued at $4,000.
It was a wonderful new era for the Appleton Methodist Church, whose membership in 1881 numbered 317, with 17 "probationers." Average Sunday attendance was 500. Average Sunday School attendance was 200.
BETWEEN THE SECOND AND THIRD CHURCHES
This was, in large part, a quiet time. Some of the highlights of this period:
February, 1888: A fire in the parsonage caused $500 damage.
1892: Appleton had 12 churches and 60 saloons.
March, 1894: An organ was purchased from Ada Myers for $15, to be used in the Sunday School.
1894: The pastor's salary was $1,600 per year. The choir director's monthly salary was $30 and that of the organist was $23. The janitor received $23 a month.
June, 1896: The parsonage, the second owned by the Methodist Church, was sold for $250 and construction began on a new parsonage, next to the church.
January, 1898: The religious census of Appleton counted 234 Methodist English and 33 Methodist German.
1899: New dishes and silver were bought and paid for by the Social Union, and it was voted that they be used only for meetings of the church societies and not loaned out to the college or other groups that might ask for them. New locks were put on the cupboard doors to insure safety.
1909: The Methodist Mission, a small building at Lawe and Hancock streets, is offered for sale for $1,600.
1915: A piano was purchased for $225 for the church parlor, and the board voted to prohibit Saturday night suppers in the church because too much of a mess was left for Sunday mornings.
Nov. 1, 1915: Church board minutes reflect that a resolution was passed to curb the flagrant violation of liquor laws prevailing in the city.
March, 1916: At a meeting held at Mrs. Brokaw's, the hostess proudly exhibited her very new granddaughter.
1919: A typewriter was purchased for the pastor's assistant.
TODAY'S CHURCH IS BORN
Church attendance grew tremendously during and right after World War 1, the late Ruth Wolfe recalled in a taped interview in 1984. "The Lawrence Street church was overflowing," she recalled. In 1921, folks began talking about the need for a new and larger church, with more space for parking and for education. Besides, the existing church, while treasured for its architecture, was a half century old. The roof leaked. The furnace chugged.
Committees were appointed to look first into plans for a new church, then to look for a site. April of 1923 was a busy month. The Quarterly Conference authorized trustees to sell the Lawrence Street church property to the Knights of Pythias.
It is worthy to note that Appleton Lodge No. 113 of the Knights of Pythias, removed the steeple and front steps from the building, renamed it Castle Hall, and dedicated it in February of 1926. After the service group abandoned it as a lodge, the building was purchased for $55, 000 in 1974 by Arne May and David Weborg. It became a popular mini-mall known as The Castle, taking its name from the tower-like entrance and the battlement facade.
The building, at 205 East Lawrence Street, was vacated in 1989. The Appleton YMCA purchased the property for $136,000 in August of 1990, and demolition began the following October, 118 years to the day after the Methodists had laid the cornerstone there for their second Appleton church.
Later in April of 1923, the church building committee recommended that the property at the Corner of Drew and Franklin Streets, consisting of five lots and four houses, be purchased for construction of the new (third) church.
Ground was broken on July 6, 1924, and the Wisconsin Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons, officiated at the cornerstone laying the following October 18, which was attended by a crowd of 500. Dedication of the new Tudor Gothic style church took place October 25, 1925, with Bishop Charles Edward Locke giving the sermon.
Cost of the building, Ruth Wolfe recalled in the 1984 videotaped interview, was $350,000, with an indebtedness of $150,000. "It was supposed to be the ultimate in church buildings. It just had everything, or so we thought," she said.
The pastor when the new church was dedicated was Dr. Jay Archibald Holmes, who had the longest tenure of any pastor at First United of Appleton. He arrived in the fall of 1921 and remained as leader of the church until 1935, when he moved to South Bend, Indiana.
Dedication of First Methodist Episcopal Church of Appleton was a milestone event in Appleton's religious as well as social community. There were three services, and at each, the new church was filled to capacity.
Lawrence University Professor O. P. Fairfield said of the new church in his dedication address:
"Beautiful for eye and ear cannot make one worship, but it can be a very great aid.
Too much has our most precious and best been wrapped up in dry intellectual formulae. Too little has our religion been interested in a normal expansion of the soul under the stimulus of the beautiful.
"So long as we live in the body, the spiritual must be intimately connected with its finer satisfactions and higher joys, and no healthy religious growth is possible without that connection.
"The comfortable seats of this church, its mellow light and vibrant color, the soaring lines, the reposeful proportions, its glorious harmony of organ and voice will open the soul wide to fertilization by the truth that is here proclaimed; and in and out of its doors each Sunday shall pass a throng more dutiful, more reverent, happier, not only from the spoken words of life, but from the inspiration of the contact with the work of those who here wrought out a vision in timber and stone."
Then there was the "magnificent organ"..."probably the largest in the State of Wisconsin."
The $30,000 organ, played by Prof. Arthur H. Arneke for a church dedication recital on October 25, 1925, was built by the Austin Organ Company of Hartford, Connecticut, which also has to its credit the great organ in the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City.
"There are literally hundreds of miles of wire used in construction of this organ," the dedication booklet stated, "and the universal wind chest, which contains the action, is a marvel of expert workmanship."
A TIME OF GROWTH
These are some of the memorable moments in the "new" First United Methodist Church, which remains one of Appleton's truly majestic houses of worship in this, the 150th year of Methodist presence in The City by the Fox:
The parsonage at Oak and Lawrence streets was sold to Al Bosser for $5,500 in 1935.
In 1937, under the leadership of Mr. and Mrs. C. C. Bailey, and with the cooperation of the pastor, Dr. Gilbert Cox, a new group without age limit was formed. The Merrie Married Methodists (it came to be affectionately known for decades as M.M.M.) became one of the major social/religious magnets of First United Methodist Church. "We used to have some real parties," the late Earl Miller recalled in a videotaped interview.
The Appleton Post-Crescent reported on April 30, 1932, under the headline, "Methodism in Appleton old as city itself," that First Methodist Church had 1,060 active members, "with departments and organizations for persons of all ages, from the cradle roll to aged shut-ins."
A Bond Retirement Crusade was launched in the early 1940s, culminating in a debtburning ceremony on October 25, 1945, the 20th anniversary of the dedication of the new (and present) church.
Here is what was written of the ceremony in one historical account:
"Vern S. Ames, chairman of the Bond Retirement Campaign, presented the mortgage to Corwin Van Housen, chairman of the Board of Trustees... thus clearing the present church edifice of all indebtedness ($81,800). Dr. (J. Raymond) Chadwick then ignited the mortgage as the congregation watched it burn, at the conclusion of which the congregation joined heartily in singing the doxology. Dr. Holmes and Dr. (Harry) Culver had both returned for the occasion, which was a never-to-be-forgotten one."
Long-time church member Maloa Dutcher remembers everyone saying, "Now there's real Holy Smoke."
A parsonage at the southeast corner of Drew and Franklin streets was purchased for the senior pastor in 1947.
The church centennial was observed the week of October 3-10, 1948. The program for the observance stated, in part; "We, the ministers, members and friends of the First Methodist Church of Appleton, Wisconsin, in the year 1948, pause reverently and gratefully on this occasion when we observe the one hundredth anniversary of the organization of our church."
"A hundred years have brought many changes in the physical comforts of life, including our beautiful church edifice and yet we, like our forefathers, worship the same God, ‘our help in ages past, our hope for the years to come.’"
Following a centennial dinner on October 6, 1948, there was a historical sketch, "One Hundred Years of the First Methodist Church of Appleton," compiled by Irene Bidwell and read in four sections by the men of the church.
More than 100 people attended a discussion on "racial problems" in January of 1949.
Dr. Ralph Taylor Alton, an Ohio native and most recently a pastor in that state, was appointed senior pastor in January of 1950, succeeding Dr. Chadwick, who was named president of Iowa Wesleyan College.
Dr. Alton left an indelible mark on First United Methodist Church. Some remember his stay as "the golden years." Consider the recollections of a few of the longtime parishioners who were at First United during Rev. Alton’s tenure:
Maloa Dutcher: "The years with Dr. Rev. Alton seemed to be a golden age for the church. The church grew so rapidly we had to add services. We had to teach in every nook and cranny of the church."
Winifred Gallaher: "He started broadcasting the sermons as well as having copies written out for people. He had such big crowds for both services. So many people went to their own church and then went to his service, too."
Earl Wooden: "He didn't preach, he visited."
The first father-son banquet was held in February of 1951.
The church budget for 1960 was $78,971.
Dr. Alton was elected Bishop and appointed to serve the Wisconsin Conference of the Wisconsin Methodist Church in July of 1960, a position he held until 1972. He was succeeded as senior pastor by Rev. Marvin Schilling.
First United Methodist Church founded a new Methodist mission church at the corner of Oneida Street and Capitol Drive in 1963. It's known today as St. James United Methodist Church.
THE EDUCATIONAL WING
From the date of the dedication service at the existing church, membership had grown to nearly 2,000 and the Sunday school enrollment stood at 750 as the 1950s drew to a close. It was the largest church school in Appleton. A study showed church school enrollment would be 1,000 by 1970. The need to expand was urgent.
In a 1959 report to First United church members, Lay Leader Leigh Wolfe said, "It seems to me that a church without an adequate church school and youth program has no means of survival."
Property had been purchased on East Washington Street, just south of the church. This would be the site of the new educational building, which would be connected to the church proper. Cost of the addition would be $200,000, parishioners were told. The money would be raised in three years. The pledge period began April 1, 1959.
Bishop Alton returned to consecrate the new educational wing on September 27, 1964. The building included 15 new classrooms furnished with modern teaching equipment, a crib room and nursery, a reception lounge, the Wesley Room, a fellowship hall with seating for 400 people, and a modern kitchen.
"The attractive, highly functional and well-equipped addition for Christian education and fellowship will serve our congregation and community for years to come," said Rev. Schilling.
Some 10 years later, largely in response to heavy use of the educational wing, several houses were razed and the First United Methodist Church parking area was expanded.