(Published on November 19,1989)
Over 150 years ago the first settlers came to Crystal Lake and found it to be a good place to live. Not long after December, 1835, when George Stickney came to what is now Nunda Township, Christopher Walkup, Uriah Cottle, and A.W. Beardsley arrived and became instrumental in establishing the community’s first church which was known as the Virginia Church. This was a nondenominational body formed to serve the religious needs of the area and named after the area from which many of the early settlers came. The organizational meetings for the Virginia Church was held in the home of Uriah Cottle, a Methodist, and the community’s first religious service was held in the home of Christopher Walkup.
In 1839, the Methodist Episcopal Society in Crystal Lake was organized and served as the center of the Crystal Lake Circuit of the Des Plaines Conference. By the following year the membership was 51. In 1841 Methodist Camp Meetings were held in a wooded area near what is now the Community of Woodstock. By 1846, services were being held in a log cabin at the Northwest corner of McHenry Avenue and Virginia Streets.
In 1858, a church was built at a cost of $1,400 on Virginia Street across from what is now McCormick Park. However, most of the members lived in Nunda so a hall was soon rented there, and for a time services were held in two locations by Methodists of the area. The union of those two congregations came at about the same time that the villages of Nunda and Crystal Lake joined to become one. The community, incidentally, also had other names during this period; and various parts of it, from time to time, were known as Crystalville, Brooklyn, North Crystal Lake, Nunda, and Crystal Lake.
In 1867, the Old Congregational Church building was purchased, and it was later sold to the German Lutheran Congregation for $400. In 1870, this church building was sold to Josiah Walkup who had it moved to the present site of the Pingry Hotel and had it remodeled into a residential dwelling.
In 1873, a new church was built at the Northwest corner of Brink and Williams Streets at the site of the present Brink Street Market. This church was built at a cost of $2500 and was dedicated on November 15, 1874. It became the nucleus of the facilities which were to serve the Methodist congregation for the next eighty years.
A three-story, five-bedroom parsonage was built in 1899 at the Southwest corner of Brink and Williams Streets and was used until 1954. The late Ruby Vera Curtiss lived in this parsonage from 1921 to 1925 when here father was pastor of the church, and it was in this parsonage that she was married to Mr. Earle Curtiss whose name is still active on the rolls for the First United Methodist Church of Crystal Lake. In the mid-1950’s, the parsonage was moved to 20 Paddock Street and continued to be used as a parsonage until shortly before the new parsonage was built.
The 1873 church was extensively remodeled in 1898 and again in 1920. In the latter remodeling, a new pipe organ was dedicated. The church then boasted a membership of about 200, and the familiar spire of this church could be seen from almost any approach to Crystal Lake as it extended above the surrounding trees and buildings. It had become a landmark of Crystal Lake.
When it became apparent that new facilities were needed to serve the growing congregation and the growing community, the church property was sold to Mr. Lester Geiseke. When it came time to demolish the church, the building was “put up for grabs” - free to the party who would haul it away from its site in the heart of Crystal Lake’s expanding business district. Saved from the demolishers were some of the stained glass windows, the bell, and a few of the pipes from the organ, some of which were used in the organ in the new church. The downtown church became known as “the little white church surrounded by parking meters.”
In 1945, Rev. Gilbert Weisshaar assumed the ministry of the church immediately after completing seminary and served until 1958. In 1948, the membership was listed at 365, with 25% of the increase having been in the previous four years, and by 1952, it was apparent that expanded church facilities were needed. A $200,000 church was designed by architects Stade and Cooley. With income from the sale of the downtown properties and $30,000 of advance gifts pledged by 24 members, it was decided to go full speed ahead.
An initial pledge goal of $70,000 was set, and 200 members and friends gathered at the new site at the junction of Crystal Lake Avenue, Dole Avenue, and Pine Court in October of 1952, Formal Ground Breaking was broken April 11, 1953 (Palm Sunday), and the cornerstone was laid in July, 1954. The first formal services in the new church were held on February 5, 1955. As members and visitors entered the narthex of the new church, they were greeted by the beloved and familiar Good Shepherd window from the downtown church which had been incorporated into the new building.
A new parsonage was designed by member Fred Lindsay, and ground was broken for the building at 303 W. Crystal Lake Avenue on August 31, 1958. This parsonage was first occupied by Reverend Lloyd Coleman in January, 1959.
It was during the years of 1953 to 1968 under the pastoral leadership of Reverend Weisshaar, Reverend Coleman and Reverend John Figley that the church continued its rapid forward movement. Memorial pews replaced the original chairs, memorial lights replaced the original lighting in the sanctuary, and a pipe organ with chimes and a memorial carillion added reverence and beauty to the church. In addition to the original four and a half acres, three more lots were purchased to give the church a large area for parking and recreational purposes. A new addition gave the church school additional space for twelve classrooms, a beautiful memorial chapel, a pastor’s study, a library, and much needed storage space.
In these past two decades under the leadership of Reverend James Paulson, Reverend Eugene Wykle, Reverend Ray Rhoads, and current pastor Reverend Ray Miller, First Church has continued to be a place where God is working mightily. The church was newly carpeted, pews were cushioned, grounds were landscaped, a new organ and sound system were installed, and the loft was remodeled to accommodate the choir and to provide additional seating for an expanding congregation. Plans are currently underway as the church enters the dace of the 90’s for an expanded and even more beautiful outdoor chapel.
Thus, as we celebrate our Sesquicentennial on November 19, 1989, we offer thanks to God for what has been, what is, and what is yet to be in the First United Methodist Church of Crystal Lake which has stood firmly on the promises for the last 150 years.