The Methodist Episcopal church of Duluth ranks as the largest in number of members of all the Protestant denominations of the city. The church is well organized; it is brimful of enthusiasm; its clergymen are men of ability and training; its many societies are a religious and social stimulus to its members, and its services, eschewing any flavor of sensationalism, are made attractive to all. The stranger entering a Methodist church in Duluth is cordially welcomed at the door, is made to feel that he is an honored guest, and is given a seat of honor. It is little wonder, therefore, that the church occupies the commanding position that it does in the religious life of the city.
The Methodist Episcopal church of Duluth can trace its history back further than any other denomination. It has this year (1910) celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. Fifty years ago it did not have a church nor a resident pastor, but it had a beginning.
Its first services were held in 1856 at Oneota, then a little hamlet with perhaps eight or nine families living in it. Duluth had then no existence, but there were a few families living at what then was called the base of Minnesota Point. The little mission at which preaching was first started in 1856 is now the Merritt 603 Memorial church, one of the influential churches in the city’s life.
Methodist preaching at the head of the lakes had been heard long before that time, however, and at a time when there were so few white people in the country that there was no attempt to form a congregation. Samuel Spates, a missionary among the Indians, who died at Red Wing, Minn., in 1837, is mentioned as one of the first to sow the seed of gospel truth along these rocky shores. In Mr. Spates’ time the only whites in this part of the country were the fur traders.
The first resident pastor of any denomination in Duluth was a Methodist, Rev. II. Webb. At the Minnesota annual conference held at Minneapolis in 1869 the charge of Duluth and Oneota was organized and Mr. Webb was appointed pastor. He arrived here with his wife on the 22d of November, 1869, and held his first service the following Sunday in the schoolhouse. He had a congregation of about thirty persons, which was close to 100 per cent of the population of that time, and after the services organized the First Methodist Episcopal church of Duluth. It is a matter of record in the history of the church that the pastor’s wife, Mrs. Jemima Webb, constituted the only member in full connection, while a Swede, John Sanderholm, was received on probation.
The first quarterly meeting of the charge was held at Oneota December 4 and 5 of 1869. At this conference the following persons were constituted the first board of trustees for the First church: J. H. White, N. S. Ryder, Luther Mendenhall, George C. Stone and Clinton Markell. The first quarterly meeting at Duluth was held in February, 1870, in a building on West Superior street, owned by C. H. Graves.
For some time the services of the church were held in the old Portland schoolhouse. Later in the year they were changed to the Graves’ building, opposite the old Clark house, and in August, 1870, still more comfortable and commodious quarters were found in a storeroom on First street, and the place was fitted up and furnished with benches, chairs and lamps. In the meantime the Western Land Association had donated a piece of land, 100x 140 feet, on the corner of Third avenue west and Second street, and by marvelous push and perseverance, both the new church building on it and the one at Oneota, were well-nigh enclosed by conference time, which occurred in September. Rev. Mr. Webb was returned to Duluth and Oneota for his second year, and the charge was placed within the bounds of the St. Paul district, with the Rev. Chauncey Hobart, a superannuated member of the Minnesota conference living at Red Wing, as presiding elder.
The session of the Minnesota conference held in 1871 retained Mr. Hobart as presiding elder, but sent Henry C. Crist to succeed Mr. Webb as pastor. Mr. Crist was a young man just from the theological school and entering upon his second year in the ministry. During his one year’s pastorate the church encouragingly increased in membership. In 1872 Duluth was placed in the North Pacific district, with Rev. J. F. Chaffee as presiding elder, and Rev. William McKinley was appointed pastor. The experience of that year, which began amid discouragements, but brightened as the weeks and months passed, has been very concisely and interestingly told by Mr. McKinley himself, who wrote: “The reaction which comes after the rapid growth of a new town has set in upon Duluth. Business of every kind dull, money scarce, many people out of employment, with the prospect of a long and severe winter ahead, which was fully realized. We felt that our help was in God, and continued to look to Him alone for aid and direction. Our faith was not disappointed. He put it into the heart of our chief creditor, Brother E. Remington, of Ilion, N. Y., who had given to the church $500 and loaned it $850 (to save it from being sold under a mortgage) which now, with interest, amounted to $933, to change his loan to a donation.
This encouraged our people and led to renewed efforts and sacrifices, so that about $800 more was raised in various other ways, and thus our debt was reduced about $1, 700. With this material prosperity and the increase of faith and zeal which came to the church, there followed new and blessed spiritual victories. A gracious revival was the crowning work of the year, and the number converted and added to the church more than filled the places of those lost by removal.” The “Brother E. Remington, ” whose generosity is recorded by Mr. McKinley, was the the head of the great arms manufactory in New York, and he had taken an early interest in the struggling church. Duluth was successively placed in the St.
Paul district, in that of St. Cloud, and again under the charge of the St. Paul district, the Rev. T. M. Gossard was made presiding elder, and the Rev. Mr. Hilton was returned for the second year 605 as pastor. He realized some prosperity, with many trials, being three times prostrated with sickness during the winter. Those were days of struggle and poverty almost incredible. That the church was able to maintain its feeble light is an astonishing fact.
In 1878 it was put into the Red River district, with Rev. J. B. Starkey as presiding elder. Rev. C. F. Bradley, professor of New Testament Exegesis, Garrett Biblical Institute, Evanston, Ill., was appointed pastor. The stewards at the beginning of the year were L. W. Palmer, J. O. Stevens, M. J. Davis and J. B. Scovell. By the second quarterly conference Mrs. Richard Watson and Mrs. J. B. Scovell were added to the board. The trustees were Luther Mendenhall, L. W. Palmer, M. J. Davis, J. A. Stevens and J. B. Scovell. The Sunday school superintendent was Mrs. J. B. Scovell.
From the twenty-sixth session of the Minnesota conference, held at Minneapolis in 1880, Rev. L. H. Shumate was appointed pastor of the First church, Duluth, and the charge was continued in the St. Paul district, with Dr. Brooks as presiding elder. It is interesting to note the organization of the Ladies’ Aid Society, effected in 1881, and which, during the years, has proved such an important agency in helping forward many of the interests of the church. The first officers were: President, Mrs J. HI. White; first vice-president, Mrs. M. S. Stewart; second vice-president, Mrs. J. S. Taylor; secretary, Miss Addie Wilkinson; treasurer, Mrs. John Green.
From the session of the Minnesota conference held in Fargo, N. D., in 1881, Rev. L. H-. Shumate was returned for the second year, and there was no change of district or presiding elder.
The year proved one of general prosperity for the church, and the pastor’s report to the next annual conference showed a cheering advance along the lines. The membership was increased to eighty-six; $300 had been expended in improving the church property, which was now valued at $10, 450. There were sixtyfive scholars and twelve teachers in the Sunday school, and the total of benevolent contributions reached $92.40. A succession of pastors ministered to the needs of the now more rapidly growing denomination. Rev. J. M. Bull succeeded Mr. Shumate and he in turn gave way to Rev. Levi Gilbert. In 1886 Rev. C. S.
H. Dunn, of Stillwater, Minn., whose unanimous invitation by the church had been acceded to by Bishop Andrews, reached Duluth with his family and received a kind and cordial welcome. So well and faithfully did he meet the demands of the work that when, at the end of five months, he made up the reports for the year, the number of full members had reached 220, and the probationers were thirty. From that time the history of this church has been one of continuous and rapid growth.
Forecasting the need of a new and much more substantial church building, several of the official members in council together, and feeling assured that it would be a safe investment, proceeded to purchase in the name of Mr. A. W. Bradley 100×140 feet of ground immediately above the old church property, on the corner of Third avenue west and Third street, the consideration being $8, 000. This purchase was effected June 14, 1887, and on the 13th of December following, the board of trustees, in the meantime having been duly incorporated, the lots were deeded over to the First Methodist Episcopal church of Duluth. In 1888 Rev. Robert Forbes, D. D., was made presiding elder of the St. Paul district and Dr. Dunn was returned to the First church.
It was during 1889 that the church known as Lester Park was added to the family of Methodist Episcopal churches. Early in the season of 1890 important initial steps were taken toward the building of such a new First Methodist church in Duluth as might for years to come meet the needs of the membership, and congregation and Sunday school, now already grown quite beyond any comfortable accommodation in their old house of worship.
A committee was appointed to study plans and visit the leading churches in our largest cities. Hearing much in praise of the Methodist church, but recently dedicated in Burlington, Iowa, the committee went thither, and was so well satisfied that immediately it resolved after its general outline and plan. While these were being studied and revised subscriptions were being sought and taken, until at the close of the conference year some $35, 000 had been pledged. On the 2d day of September the building committee appointed by the board of trustees was duly organized with A. W. Bradley, chairman; C. E. Shannon, secretary; W. S. Moore, treasurer; H. E. Long, H. M. Bradley, C. M.
Gray, R. H. Harris, R. R. Briggs and Franklin W. Merritt. Near the close of the year the several classes and societies of young people in the church organized themselves into the Epworth League, and on October 1, 1890, received their charter, recognizing them as Chapter 3677 of the Epworth League of the Methodist Episcopal church. The membership of the church at the 607 close of Dr. Dunn’s pastorate was reported as 514 in full connection, with fifty-four on probation. The Sunday school, with R. J. Harris for superintendent, and who had been succeeded by C. E. Shannon, was prosperous, numbering 375 scholars, with thirty officers and teachers.
From the thirty-sixth session of the Minnesota conference, held in 1890, Rev. C. H. Stocking, D. D., was transferred from Burlington, Iowa, at the unanimous request of the official board, was appointed pastor of the First church, Duluth. In 1891 the Junior League was organized as auxiliary to the Epworth League, and on February 16 following received its charter recognizing it as the John Wesley Junior League of Duluth.
The contract for erecting and completing the new church building was awarded to D. Myers at the sum of $75, 243. On September 21 the services of laying the cornerstone were held.
Rev. F. O. Holman, D. D., delivered an address in the old church, and then, with the congregation, repaired to the main tower corner of the church, where the stone was formally and impressively laid.
At the thirty-seventh session of the Minnesota conference, held in Red Wing, Minn., in 1891, the Duluth district was organized, and the Rev. W. A. Shannon was placed upon it as presiding elder. Dr. C. H. Stocking was returned as pastor of the First church. During 1892, after Mr. Stocking was returned for the third year as pastor of the First church, Duluth, a sore affliction and bereavement came to the pastor’s home, and three of his children were stricken down with diphtheria and all were laid in their graves in less than three weeks.
It was originally intended that the dedication of the new church should occur November 27, but an unforeseen delay in the building of the organ and a disappointment in the pews compelled a postponement. February 5, 1893, was finally fixed upon.
The entire cost of the church was $120, 000. Of this amount $55, 000 had been raised by subscription and collected before the finishing of the church. Twenty-five had been borrowed on a mortgage with the old church property counted as equal and available assets, leaving a balance of $40, 000 to be raised on dedication day. The first public services in the new building were held in the lecture room on Christmas day, 1892, and the pastor preached upon the theme of “Christ’s Welcome to the Temple.” Bishop C. H. Fowler, who had been invited to preach the dedication sermon, arrived in time to meet the official board on Saturday night, but the Rev. C. N. Sims, chancellor of the Syracuse University, who was to conduct the money raising, was delayed by late trains and did not reach the city until Sunday morning.
At 10 o’clock Sunday morning the first notes of the great organ in public worship were sounded at the touch of the church organist, Sidney Brown, and the chorus choir of forty voices under the leadership of Professor S. S. Myers filed to their places; the whole congregation of more than 2, 300 people rose to their feet and sang the doxology and the pastor invoked a blessing.
Following the sermon Chancellor Sims proceeded to call for subscriptions to meet the $40, 000 indebtedness and over $35, 000 was pledged. At the evening service the remainder of this sum was raised. The board of trustees, with the building committee and the builder, came about the chancel and formally presented the church for dedication. Bishop Fowler then dedicated the church to the worship and service of Almighty God.
Thus, after a little more than twenty-three years from the organization of the first Methodist Episcopal church in Duluth, this substantial, conveniently appointed and beautiful church was erected. It is today one of the finest church edifices in the city, despite the fact that many beautiful churches have been erected since. The church has prospered until it now has a membership of over 1, 000.
Dr. C. H. Stocking was succeeded in the pastorate by Rev. E. D. Huntley, D. D., who supplied the church for six months until the appointment of Rev. J. M. Thoburn, D. D., who continued as pastor for the years 1894 and 1895. He was succeeded by Rev. G. H. Humason, Ph. D., D. D., who served as pastor for three years and was succeeded by Rev. Samuel P. Long, who filled the pulpit until 1904, when he was succeeded by the present pastor, the Rev. Mertyn S. Rice, under whose ministration the church has greatly advanced in influence and membership.
The Methodist Episcopal church in Duluth has kept pace with the growth of the city, until now there are twelve other churches of the denomination, all prosperous, and all, with one exception, free from debt. All these twelve churches are offshoots of the parent church, whose history is given above at some length. The other Methodist Episcopal churches and their pastors are as follows: Asbury, Rev. W. G. Boyle; Bethany Nor- 609 wegian-Danish, Rev. C. ‘W. Schevenius; Clemens Memorial Mission, Rev. James A. Roberts; Endion, Rev. John W. Powell; First German, Rev. Charles Schoenheide; First Norwegian-Danish, Rev. Mr. Ericsson; First Swedish, Rev. Edward Stromberg; Grace, Rev. M. 0. Stockland; Lester Park, Rev. Charles R. Oaten; Merritt Memorial, Rev. E. F. Stidd; Second Swedish, Rev. J. A. Anderson, and Proctor, Rev. Charles W. Ramshaw. The membership of these various churche s is close to 2, 500, which would indicate a strength of from iu, 000 to 12, 000 in the Methodist population of the city. The Duluth district is now in charge of Bishop Robert McIntyre, and the district superintendent, who was formerly called the presiding elder, is the Rev. E. K. Copper.
From Dwight Woodbridge and John Pardee’s History of Duluth and St. Louis County Past and Present Vols. 1 – 2. C. F. Cooper & Company, Chicago: 1910.
The Methodist Church in Duluth (Early History)
Methodist Episcopal Church.-Regarding the endeavors of the Rev. James Peet, at Superior and on the North Shore, in the late fifties and early sixties, much has been written into Chapters VI, VII, and VIII. And the result of his mission work is seen in the Merritt Memorial Church of today, at Oneota, or West Duluth.
The Methodist Episcopal Society of Duluth can come into line with the Episcopalian and Presbyterian societies in claiming unique place in Duluth church history; for the Methodists, it is claimed that it was the first society “of any denomination in Duluth” to have a “resident pastor.” In case such a claim is disputed regarding the Rev. H. Webb, who took up the charge at Duluth, on November 22, 1869, the Methodists are entitled to the honor, on the record of Rev. James Peet, who gave his time exclusively to Duluth, i.e., Oneota, Portland, and Duluth, from 1858 to 1860.
As to the resident pastors of the 1869-73 period, Mr. Cooper, an Episcopalian clergyman who came to Duluth in August, 1869, was not even a temporary resident-pastor, holding services on only one day in Duluth; and the first Episcopalian rector, Rev. Mason Gallagher, did not accept the call until November 20, 1869, being then in Paterson, New Jersey. Rev. George Sluter, the first resident Presbyterian minister, did not arrive until late in 1869, it appears, whereas the first Methodist pastor, Rev. H. Webb, arrived with his wife on November 22, 1869, and held his first Duluth service on the Sunday following, in the schoolhouse, preaching to thirty persons. After 208that service, he organized the “First Methodist Episcopal Church of Duluth.” “It is a matter of record in the history of the church that the pastor’s wife, Mrs. Jemima Webb, constituted the only member in full connection, while a Swede, John Sanderholm, was received on probation.” The first quarterly meeting of the charge was held at Oneota, on 4th and 5th December, 1869, and then the first board of trustees of the new church was organized, the men chosen being J. H. White, N. S. Ryder, Luther Mendenhall, George C. Stone and Clinton Markell.
The first quarterly meeting at Duluth was held in February, 1870, “in a building on West Superior Street, owned by C. H. Graves.” The Graves building, opposite the Clark House, was used for a while for religious services, after it was not possible to longer hold them in the Portland schoolhouse. In August, 1870, however, the Methodists gathered for worship “in a storeroom on First Street,” the room having been suitably “furnished with benches, chairs, and lamps.” Meanwhile, the Western Land Association “had donated a piece of land 100×140 feet,” on the corner of Third Avenue West and Second Street.” In a remarkably short space of time a church building was raised on that site, and another at Oneota, both, it appears, being “well-nigh enclosed by conference time, which occurred in September,” 1870.
According to Judge Carey, the Methodist Church was the largest of the 1870 Duluth places of worship, and from the records it appears that the Methodist trustees also had to guide the church through a period of financial embarrassment. Henry C. Crist succeeded Mr. Webb, as pastor, in 1871, the Rev. William McKinley coming in 1872. He was in Duluth at the time of the money panic in 1873, and wrote as follows regarding general conditions, and particularly of a critical period in the history of the Duluth church: The reaction, which comes after the rapid growth of a new town has set in upon Duluth. Business of every kind dull, money scarce, many people out of employment, with the prospect of a long and severe winter ahead, which was fully realized. We felt that our help was in God, and continued to look to him alone for aid and direction. Our faith was not disappointed.
He put it into the heart of our chief creditor, Brother E. Remington (of Remington Arms Company) of Ilion, New York, who had given to the church $500 and loaned it $850 (to save it from being sold under a mortgage) which now, with interest, amounted to $933, to change his loan to a donation.
This encouraged our people and led to renewed efforts and sacrifices, so that about $800 more was raised in various other ways, and thus our debt was reduced about $1,700. With this material prosperity and the increase of faith and zeal which came to the church, there followed new and blessed spiritual victories. A gracious revival was the crowning work of the year, and the number converted and added to the church more than filled the places of those lost by removal.
From Walter Van Brunt’s Duluth and St. Louis County, Minnesota Vols. 1 – 3. The American Historical Society. Chicago: 1922.