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Home / Time Machine: Marion Methodists built historic church in 1896
Iowa was six years away from becoming a state when the first Methodist church service was held in Marion.
In 1849, the Rev. John Hodges first held services for eight people under a white oak tree that once stood at the end of Meridian Street, now 11th Street.
The faithful met in their log cabin homes until they bought the old frame courthouse at Sixth Avenue and 10th Street in 1845 and began building a church there in 1850. The congregants met in the basement while the rest of the building was under construction.
Outgrowing that building — now home to the Marion Heritage Center & Museum — the church moved into a building at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 13th Street in 1874. The congregation experienced steady growth.
Under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. E.L. Miller as pastor, from 1888 to 1892, the church bought land for a new building at the corner of Eighth Avenue and 12th Street.
When the Rev. John T. Van Ness arrived in 1892, planning began for the new church, with ground broken Aug. 12, 1895, and the cornerstone laid Sept. 24.
The Rev. W.F. Barclay of Mason City, who had led the congregation in 1882, spoke at the new church’s dedication 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 “thanked the Lord the Methodists were now on ‘Pucker Street,’ ” something he’d wanted when he worked in Marion.
Pucker Street referred to Eighth Avenue, the name given the street and its affluent homes by some less well-off residents.
The new church was 110 feet long and 88 feet wide, with a 100-foot tower.
It was built with St. Louis hard-pressed brick, with Ohio stone for trim and Anamosa milk-white limestone for the foundation.
The sanctuary held 700 people, with room for 500 in the Sunday school and assembly rooms. Partitions on rollers could be removed, so 1,500 could be seated, making the church ideal for big celebrations, like the graduation ceremonies for Marion High School.
The building’s northwest corner was the main entrance to the auditorium and the gallery. The northeast entrance also to the auditorium and the choir loft behind the pulpit.
The Sunday school entrance was near the center of the west side, and it connected to the gallery and auditorium, with steps leading down to the dining or festival room and kitchen in the basement.
The interior and seats in all 20 rooms had oak finishes.
The rooms included vestibules, class, assembly and Sunday school rooms, parlor, dining, reception and choir rooms, a pastor’s study, rooms for infants and toilets.
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 church’s 85th anniversary was celebrated along with the 30th anniversary of the church building,
By 1930, the church had had 44 pastors, the longest term of service being six years.
The chapel and Sunday school rooms were redecorated in 1937, when part of the church was re-roofed.
An education wing — Wesley Hall — was added in October 1966 after the church bought adjacent land from chiropractor B.J. 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 within a week of each other. Lamb had served the church for nine years and was president of the Meth-Wick Manor board of trustees.
At the time, First Methodist was the ninth largest Methodist congregation in the state.
In 2008, the church’s basement rooms became sleeping areas for volunteers helping clean up after the monumental flood. Behind the church, a semi held cleaning supplies and construction materials. Those efforts led to the church becoming one of the denomination’s four “teaching churches” in Iowa, a designation that highlighted innovative ministries.
In 2011, First United Methodist broke ground for a larger church on 27 acres at 505 Rec Dr. in northeast Marion, just west of Highway 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 listed for sale at $1.3 million. The 125-year-old church, now owned by the Pentecostals, was damaged in the Aug. 10, 2020, derecho.