Time Machine: Marion Methodists built a historic church in 1896
This announcement about the dedication of the new First Methodist Episcopal Church in Marion appeared in the Pilot newspaper for June 25, 1896. The church, later the First United Methodist Church, remained at the corner of Eighth Avenue and 12th Street until 2018. (Marion Pilot)
Iowa was six years away from becoming a state when the first Methodist church service was held in Marion.
In 1849, the Reverend John Hodges first held services for eight under a white oak tree that once stood at the end of Meridian Street, now 11th Street.
Worshipers gathered in their log homes until they purchased the old frame courthouse on Sixth Avenue and 10th Street in 1845 and began to build a church there in 1850. Worshipers gathered there. gathered in the basement while the rest of the building was under construction.
Beyond this building – which now houses the Marion Heritage Center & Museum – the church moved into a building on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 13th Street in 1874. The congregation has grown steadily.
Under the direction of Rev. Dr. EL Miller as pastor, from 1888 to 1892, the church purchased land for a new building at the corner of 8th Avenue and 12th Street.
When Reverend John T. Van Ness arrived in 1892, planning for the new church began with the ground mown on August 12, 1895 and the cornerstone laid on September 24.
The Reverend WF Barclay of Mason City, who had led the congregation in 1882, spoke at the dedication of the new church on June 21, 1896.
Barclay said his church in Mason City was almost a twin of the new Marion Church, having been built from the same plan.
Barclay âthanked the Lord that the Methodists were now on ‘Pucker Street’,â something he had wanted while working in Marion.
Pucker Street referred to Eighth Avenue, the name given to the street and its affluent homes by some less affluent residents.
The new church was 110 feet long and 88 feet wide, with a 100-foot tower.
It was built with pressed St. Louis brick, with Ohio stone for the trim and milky white limestone from Anamosa for the foundation.
The shrine held 700 people, including 500 in the Sunday school and meeting rooms. The rolling partitions could be removed so that 1,500 people could be seated, making the church ideal for large celebrations, such as the Marion High School graduation ceremonies.
The northwest corner of the building was the main entrance to the auditorium and gallery. The northeast entrance is also to the auditorium and to the choir gallery behind the pulpit.
The Sunday school entrance was near the center on the west side and it was connected to the gallery and auditorium, with steps leading up to the dining room or festival and the kitchen in the basement.
The interior and seating in all 20 rooms had oak finishes.
The rooms included halls, classrooms, assembly and Sunday school, living room, dining room, reception and choir rooms, pastor’s office, infant rooms and restrooms. .
The building was valued at $ 30,000 when it opened, or $ 1.2 million in today’s dollars.
As the church neared its 75th anniversary in 1915, the congregation made significant improvements to the building.
In 1925, the 85th anniversary of the church was celebrated with the 30th anniversary of the construction of the church,
In 1930, the church had 44 pastors, with the longest service being six years.
The chapel and the rooms of the Sunday school were redecorated in 1937, when part of the church was redone.
An education wing – Wesley Hall – was added in October 1966 after the church purchased adjacent land from chiropractor BJ Stitzel, who had a clinic at 1277 Eighth Ave.
First Methodist said goodbye to two of its pastors in 1980 when the Revs. Glen Lamb and Morrie Steffenson retired less than a week apart. Lamb had served the church for nine years and was chairman of the board of directors of Meth-Wick Manor.
At the time, First Methodist was the ninth largest Methodist congregation in the state.
In 2008, the church basement rooms became sleeping areas for volunteers helping with the clean-up after the monumental flood. Behind the church, a semi-outfit of cleaning products and construction materials. These efforts resulted in the church becoming one of the denomination’s four âteaching churchesâ in Iowa, a designation that highlighted innovative ministries.
In 2011, First United Methodist opened a larger 27-acre church at 505 Rec Dr. in northeast Marion, just west of Route 13.
The last Christmas Eve service was held in the 1896 building in 2017, and the new church opened in the summer of 2018.
The old church was put up for sale for $ 1.3 million. The 125-year-old church, now owned by Pentecostals, was damaged in the August 10, 2020 derecho.
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The congregation sings “Silent Night” while holding candles during a Christmas Eve service in 2017 at the Marion First United Methodist Church. It was the last Christmas service at the church, which opened in 1896. (Archives Gazette)
Reverend Mike Morgan speaks at the 2017 Christmas Eve service at the First United Methodist Church in Marion, the last Christmas service held at the church before members move to a new church and the building of 1896 be sold. (Gazette archives)