The Lanark United Methodist Church was started in 1858 in Cherry Grove Township under the ministerial labors of the Rev. J.D. Brown, who continued to preach for the society for some three or four years. The first church services were held in two country school houses, Sherwood’s school house and one other until 1860-1861, when it was decided that a new church must be built.
In October, 1860, the church purchased a lot from John Nycum, which was located on the southeast corner of what is now Lanark cemetery. A Board of Trustees was chosen, a building committee appointed, and work commenced. This was a mammoth undertaking for this church with such a small membership. The building was started by David Wells, master builder, and was completed the next summer by Ed Ritter and William Frazey. It was dedicated in the fall of 1861. The cost was about $1,200.
In as much as the new church was begun before the town of Lanark was started, the church was later felt to have been poorly located. The establishment of the town and the coming of the railroad changed the picture and the church leaders were wise enough to change their plans to meet the challenge of the times.
In the early part of 1862, a contract was made with James Wheat to move the building into town for $90. In a short time, by the help of those interested, the church was placed on the site of the corner of Locust and Rochester streets. The membership of the church at this time was about 45 and the newly organized Sunday School numbered 50 children.
By this removal of the church into town, the land reverted back to Mrs.John Nycum with whom arrangements had been made for it to be deeded to the trustees for a burial ground on the condition that they would sell burial lots enough to pay for the church lot in town, $80.00, and fence in the land. This was done and held by the said trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church until April 1, 1881, when it was conveyed to Lanark, additions made, and arranged for the commendable and beautiful Lanark Cemetery.
We do not have the dimensions of the building but the following is an excerpt from an original Sunday School “Minute Book” of the period when the first building was being used; June 9, 1867.
“Day fine, large attendance. Had an interesting session. House too small. Hope that the Society will be able to build a larger church soon. Seth C. Wiley, Secretary. The attendance for today is 160 scholars and 20 teachers, a total of 180 in that small building.”
The difficulty caused by overcrowded conditions made a larger building imperative and the plans were laid. The first subscription was made by J. W. Garmong, June 15, 1869. A building committee was appointed consisting of the Rev. A. Newton, M. Trescott, and Joseph Yeager. The lots on the north side of Locust Street, between Prince and High Streets were purchased and work begun. The cornerstone was laid about August 20, 1869, S.A. W. Jewell officiating. Bricks for the church were made in the Lanark brick yard.
The new church was dedicated on Sunday, January 8, 1871, by Rev. E.M. Harfield, Chicago, to the worship of the Almighty God.
“This church edifice is among the finest in the State of Illinois, outside of larger cities, and cost the sum of $20,000. The Society now numbers 125 members. There were two large steeples and a row of small ones on the church.”
Just five years after the dedication of the new church building, a storm blew the main spire down. Quote:
“The storm Saturday afternoon, January 1, 1876, did considerable damage around town. The great effort of the storm was the destruction of the large spire on the M.E. Church. It withstood the fury of the gale until about 6:00 o’clock in the evening, when the old bell sounded the alarm. The violent swaying of that huge structure in the gale caused a portion of the brick work to give way and the whole spire went over.”
It was not until October of that year that the repairs were finally completed.
In July, 1880, the wooden pinnacles on the tower were removed and replaced by capping with Milwaukee brick.
In 1888, a new carpet was laid upstairs and new lights installed. The old carpet in the auditorium was laid in the Sunday School rooms and the walls papered. A new furnace was also installed in the church.
The first pipe organ was purchased in 1889 in Chicago. It had been used two years and was purchased for the church for $400, and after installation the church paid $589. The organ was purchased by the Rev. Lee and Emerson Harnish who was the first organist.
Sparks started a fire in the steeple in 1894 but there was small damage to the tower.
The church was remodeled, repaired and redecorated in 1895. Two new smoke stacks were installed; new windows put in the north of the church sanctuary; new carpeting in the auditorium and the lower rooms and halls; seats were raised in the auditorium by elevating the floor. The cost was $800.
Electricity was contracted for in 1897 for two chandeliers with sixteen lights on each one to be hung around the pipe organ. The entire church was wired.
In May, 1901, the Lanark Grain Elevator caught fire and the high wind carried the burning embers into the belfry of the church. So intense was the fire that the firemen directed three streams of water at the blaze but were unable to extinguish it. The fire slowly stole up the belfry, which fell in, carrying the bell with it and soon the stairway leading to the auditorium was a roaring cauldron of flame. The east belfry was also consumed by fire and the church roof badly damaged. The firemen were able to confine the fire to the area within the four brick walls of the towers, preventing its spread to the rest of the building.
When the repairs were being made, the church began to take on a somewhat different appearance. A complete new roof was put on, two new towers built, but with a new style.
The church bell was broken in the fall from the tower during the fire and a new bell was ordered. In October the new bell arrived. It was fifty-two inches in diameter and weighed 1700 pounds, exclusive of the hangings. It cost $310.
In 1912 there was extensive remodeling and redecorating done in the church, both inside and outside. Some items of the program were: pebble dash on the exterior; new carpet on the floor; new steam boiler; two new class rooms on the ground floor; new light fixtures; oak rail from the John Wolf farm; Fluatt Communion memorial; outside double steps were replaced by a single tier of steps. The cost of the program was $3,300.
The sanctuary was redecorated and new lights and fixtures were installed in 1928.
The 75th anniversary of the founding of the church was held in 1933.
The organ was rebuilt in 1955 at the cost of $2,150, which was mostly paid for by subscriptions. A plaque with the names of the members and friends who helped pay for the organ rebuilding is hanging in the choir loft.
In 1956, under the leadership of Rev. Irving Bruhn, plans were started for the remodeling and improvement of the Lanark Methodist Church which would coincide with its Centennial celebration. In July of 1957, Rev. William G. Johnson became pastor of the church. Work progressed rather slowly until May of 1958 when the final building fund campaign started moving. The Century Counselors of Chicago, Illinois, were employed to conduct the campaign. On June 5, 148 people of the Church attended a Fellowship Dinner in the Lanark High School. Home solicitation started on Saturday, June 7. By Tuesday, June 17, $54, 826.50 in pledges and cash had been received. The remodeling plans included such items as: new chancel furniture and pews; redecoration of the sanctuary; new lights and carpet; new floor in the church parlors; classrooms with folding doors in the parlors; new outside steps and sidewalk; a passenger elevator; and a church office in the church parlors.
The work of construction started on August 1. Church services were conducted in the Lanark Masonic Temple until Sunday, December 7, when everyone was happy to return to the new sanctuary, awaiting the day of Consecration.
Consecration Services were held January 4, 1959. The Dedication Services were held October 13, 1963.
By 1965 more church school rooms were needed. The Brenneman home at 410 E. Franklin was purchased and remodeled for the parsonage. At this time the previous parsonage became the annex and was used for classrooms.
In 1972 a new ceiling and beams were installed in the sanctuary and the entire church was redecorated.
Several projects have been completed at the parsonage: the front porch was removed, the house was insulated and painted and the bathroom was redecorated. The church towers were painted and carpet laid in the pastor’s study. Six hearing aid ear phones were installed in the sanctuary. The junior high youth group sponsored the project to pad the pews.
In 1978 the Board of Trustees realized how serious the deterioration was at the annex. Warren Waltrip was asked to draw plans for an education wing.
A special Charge Conference and all congregational meeting was called July 23, 1978. The trustees were authorized to proceed with final plans and to organize a fund raising drive. All charge conference members present voted in favor.
Ground breaking ceremony was held Sept 3, 1978. The basement walls and deck were poured before cold weather. The basement fireplace was built in the winter. Above ground construction began in the fall of 1979. The men worked hard to get the building under roof by winter. The upstairs fireplace was built during the winter of 1979-1980 by John Dollinger.
In the spring of 1980 the men picked up their hammers again and began to finish the interior. The women came with paint brushes. Many long hot days were spent bringing a dream to reality. The project required more work and money than imagined but with great cooperation and sacrifice the building was ready for use and consecrated to God’s glory on October 12, 1980.
Dean Lower donated storage cupboards and made a cross for above the fireplace. Several lockers were installed in the storage room, a gift from Gene Byington. Shelves were also placed in the choir room.
On the last Sunday of 1982 contributions to the Building Fund reached the level where we could completely pay the loan.
The total cost to build the educational wing was $203,156. This fund was started with memorial money from Harold and Mary Schneider, Otho Greenwalt, Sara Katherine Bornback estates and late in 1982 a gift from the George Wales estate making a total of $15,615. The Lanark United Methodist Women contributed $22,000, the remaining cost was covered by pledges.
The Rev. Orville Cole guided the congregation through the building project from the first laid plans to its completion. Not only was he there to see the physical completion of the building, but also to see over $200,000 in pledges and gifts come in to totally pay off the mortgage.
Lanark United Methodist Church continues to improve on facilities, while growing in faith and camaraderie.