A time capsule first put into a cornerstone at then-Central Park Presbyterian Church saw the light of day for the first time in 116 years on Saturday.
Inside the capsule were several newspapers including advertising the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, a series of portraits of former church members, an alphabetical list of the church’s original charter members, photographs of downtown businessman William Waterhouse — a key player in expanding the Cedar Rapids downtown during the 1800s — and a photo of the original structure of the church.
“It looks like we have some things in here that will fill the gaps in local history,” Cedar Rapids Historian Mark Stoffer Hunter.
“That’s exciting because you can look up newspaper archives and certain publications, but I know some of these publications here have never been seen before. It’s a very quick way to understand more about the community in Cedar Rapids, beyond just the church itself.”
The Cedar Rapids City Council in June designated the church, at 1700 B Ave. N.E., as local historic landmark, marking the end of a nearly two-year process for Stoffer Hunter and members of the Friends of Cedar Rapids Preservation to have the church recognized.
The designation offers added safeguards from demolition and unlocks grant funding to do upkeep and maintenance, Stoffer Hunter said.
About a dozen people, all masked due the coronavirus pandemic, met to open the capsule on Saturday. That coincided with July 25, 1904, when cornerstone was laid on the new brick and stone Central Park Presbyterian Church building.
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According to a Cedar Rapids Gazette report of the initial time capsule ceremony, hundreds of people attended the initial ceremony.
The church’s Central Park namesake hearkens back to when area was fairgrounds — the Iowa State Fair was held there four times, between 1871 and 1879.
In 1880, William Waterhouse started a small Presbyterian Sunday school mission program, which was moved to the church’s current location at 1700 B Ave. N.E. in 1889 and called the Hope Mission Union. Mission of Hope Cedar Rapids Executive Director Kim Reem said when her organization first moved into the former Central Park Presbyterian Church building in 2002, she didn’t know the names would share such an uncanny similarity.
The B Avenue NE Historic District, of which the church is a part, was listed in 2013 on the National Register of Historic Places, the first new historic district in Cedar Rapids in years.
Stoffer Hunter said he hopes further investigation of what was in the time capsule finds more information on Grant Wood, the Iowa artist who grew up in and spent much of his time in Cedar Rapids. Wood was 13 when the new church opened in December 1904, and he’s recorded to have been baptized at the church, Stoffer Hunter said.
Stories passed through word-of-mouth claim Wood was known to leave services early at times — saying he had to leave to tend the Lord’s cows. The Lords — according to local folklore — were Wood’s employers.
“Like a lot of people who become famous later in life, there’s not always a lot about their life before that ... To get a little more detail on his social life, what he did here at church just opens up an international interest story,” Hunter Stoffer said.
Stoffer Hunter said now that they’ve opened the capsule, they’ll scan the documents, photograph them and make them available for viewing — though it hasn’t yet been decided how exactly how the documents would be made available.
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Stoffer Hunter said there likely are hundreds more time capsules in and around the Cedar Rapids area. If there’s a cornerstone on a building with a date on it, a capsule is likely there.
One of the reasons the documents from the Presbyterian Church’s time capsule were in pristine condition was that the capsule was laid in the cornerstone — not buried in the ground, which Stoffer Hunter said often is found to contain a soggy ball of paper instead of carefully preserved historic documents.
Charles Potter, of Muscatine, attended the time capsule opening after not having set foot in the building since 2008.
Potter played organ for the Central Park Presbyterian Church for 30 years. He noted a photograph of the 1889 church as particularly special.
“This is really a homecoming for me, especially on the day of opening this time capsule,” he said.
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