Our History

Our History

From its beginning in the fall of 1848 with 14 in attendance, the church membership has been nearly 14000. In the 150 plus years since Reverend William H. Sampson preached the first sermon in Johnston’s Shanty (a combination private home and small rooming house), there have been two other church buildings. One building, in 1854, was built on College Avenue and another in 1879 was built on Lawrence Street. The Tudor Gothic style edifice which we currently meet in was dedicated in the fall of 1925. Elder Sampson, principal of Lawrence Institute (currently Lawrence University) until 1853 and later professor of mathematics until his retirement in 1857, symbolizes just one of the ties that existed between Lawrence and the Methodists for many years.


A Brief Time Line of First Church

The history of Appleton, Lawrence University and the First United Methodist Church are interrelated. Appleton streets named after United Methodist and Lawrence early leaders are Johnston, Bateman, Randall, Douglas, Bennett, Mason, and Lawrence.


1840s 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. Methodists raise $11,000 to qualify

for a matching grant.


1847 Lawrence (Institute) chartered Samuel Appleton, son-in-law of

Amos Lawrence, gives $10,000 to begin school library and city

gets a name: Appleton.


1848 Rev. Sampson conducts first Methodist Class Meeting in Johnston shanty on Johnston Street. First sermon preached to 14 people. Rev. Asa Randall appointed first pastor of the church.


1850 To about 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. Parsonage adjacent purchased.


1872 Fire destroys church building and most records. New building started, but construction halted by Depression. Basement covered over and used for several years.


1879 New building completed for $40,000.


1920 Congregation outgrew building, roof leaks, furnace needs extensive repair. Present lot much too small for future needs. Long Range Planning Committee recommends building new building elsewhere.


1921 Dr. J. Archibald Holmes appointed pastor. Building plans laid shortly.


1925 On October 25, new church consecrated at a cost of $350,000. Austin Organ said to be best this side of Mormon Tabernacle.


1932 German Methodist Conference merges with Wisconsin Conference.

Building is now Unitarian Church.


1945 Burned mortgage on October 25, 1945-20th anniversary of consecration.


1947 Purchased parsonage on southeast corner of Drew and Franklin Streets for senior pastor.


1950 Dr. Ralph T. Alton, from Ohio, appointed senior pastor. In 1960 he was elected Bishop and served Wisconsin Conference until 1972.


1963 First Church founded new Methodist mission church at corner of Oneida and Capitol, which is currently St. James United Methodist Church.


1964 Completed and consecrated new wing, including Fellowship Hall, Reception Lounge and Wesley Room, plus classrooms on top two floors.


1988 Rev. Sharon Brown Christopher (associate pastor 1969-1972) elected Bishop.


1995 Elevator and new corridor from the sanctuary to Fellowship Hall was added. The elevator stops at six levels.


1998 First United Methodist Church celebrated its 150th anniversary, October 8, 1848-1998.


1999 New windows installed in the original part of the building.


2000 Major renovation done on the Austin organ in the sanctuary.


2009 Carillon Bells installed.


2012 Major renovation and renaming of the Gladys Huhn Memorial Chapel. Air conditioning added to the chapel.


2015 Renovation in the hallway by Fellowship Hall including the addition of the Welcome Desk.

Celebration of 90 year anniversary of being located in this neighborhood.


2016 Security system and keyless entry installed. Main Church Kitchen remodeled. Capital Campaign Steering Committee formed and the consulting firm of “The James Company” chosen to guide the Capital Campaign fund drive.


2017 Calmes Construction Project Leader chosen to lead Capital Campaign Projects. Parking lot repaved, window wells repaired, new computer server installed, LED lighting installed throughout the facility. Boiler room floor and drains replaced.


2018 New windows installed in 1964 School Wing Building to include, Fellowship Hall, and Wesley Room, Asbury Lounge, Kitchen and all other lower level windows. New windows in the second and third floor classrooms. Restrooms below Narthex and Youth Lounge renovated. Main electrical panel replaced. Air-conditioning installed in Fellowship Hall, Welcome Area and Second and Third Floor Classrooms.

Congolese Living Water Congregation, a United Methodist church new start, begins worshiping on Sunday afternoon’s at First Church.

First Annual Women’s Retreat; paid for and build a Habitat House with Habitat for Humanity


2019 Began relationship with Columbus Elementary, Wilson Middle, and West High Schools


2020 Began livestreaming worship.

Completion of the Capital Campaign.