A History of Our Church

The 1838 Log SchoolIn 1832 Pierce Downer established the settlement soon known as Downers Grove. By 1836 the settlers decided that the 7 mile trip to Cass Church was too far to travel, especially in winter. Reverend Stephen Beggs agreed to add Downers Grove to his circuit and the first Methodist Church was formed, becoming the first organized church in Downers Grove. In 1838, a log school was built on Maple Street near Carpenter and served as the church on Sunday mornings – or whenever Reverend Beggs could get there.

By the 1850’s the village had grown and so had the Methodist congregation. Log cabins were being replaced by clapboard cottages. In 1852 Henry Carpenter donated land and $20 to build a Methodist church. Samuel and Mary Curtiss were each paid $20 for adjacent land. Although there is no picture of the first church, a written description stating “men dragged logs to the carpenter shop from which to cut lumber” is evidence that it was a frame building. A photo of the succeeding church shows the rubble of this first building. In 1864, the year the railroad came to Downers Grove, the church was still on the circuit of Downers Grove, Barber’s Corners, Lyonsville and Cass. The Downers Grove Church paid the pastor $59 per quarter.

The 1879 ChurchIn 1879 the first church burned down and a new church was constructed. The cost to build was $5,000. Pledges ranged from $5 to 2 day’s work with a team, or ½ cord of stone. The dedication program describes the 1880 church as “…on that same charming knoll, now beautiful with evergreens. It is larger than the old church, has a fine spire, stained glass, elegantly frescoed, furnished by the ladies in good style and no embarrassing debt.” The spire of this church was the first in Downers Grove. When in 1894 a new church was built, this building was bought by James Batterham and moved to what is now 5321 Lane Place.

During the 1890’s the village population grew to almost 1,000. The church also continued to grow. The Ladies’ Aid was organized and the Epworth League youth group was chartered. Once again a larger church was needed. Four years of planning and fund raising culminated in the dedication of a new church which became known as the “Welcome Church” because of the lighted sign in the front of the church. The Welcome Church

When the fund raising began, there was $60.94 in the church treasury. By dedication day, the entire cost of $10,000 was subscribed. The description in the 1896 directory states “60 x 80 feet, unique in design, very pretty in appearance, situated on a hill, its colonnade, massive oak doors and beautiful windows making it very attractive. 

The interior finish is of cypress, pews and pulpit of oak and the frescoing harmonized beautifully with the windows and carpeting.” The 1895 high school graduation ceremonies for the 4 graduates were held in this church. Because of its large “auditorium” it became the center for many community events, as well as for worship. Annual Washington Banquets, designed to bring the community together, started in 1899 and continued until 1987. In 1905 Mr. and Mrs. George B. Heartt donated a fine bell which was later transferred to the present church and continues to welcome worshippers every Sunday.

Welcome Church Bell

During World War I the Sunday School aided the war effort by shipping barrels of clothing for European war sufferers and making a monthly contribution of a crate of eggs to Wesley hospital. The five churches in Downers Grove alternated Sunday services to save fuel.

As surrounding towns grew, the Downers Grove congregation assisted other communities to form their own church. Westmont church began in 1926, Hinsdale and Lisle in 1952, Woodridge in 1962 and Bolingbrook in 1974. By 1927 church membership had grown to 620 and the beloved Welcome Church could no longer serve the needs of the congregation. The new church was to use all the land occupied by the Welcome Church and it had to come down, but some of the oak pews and the bell could be moved to the new church. The cornerstone for the present building was laid on October 2, 1927.

The 1928 ChurchBy March 1, 1928 the $190,000 cost for the new church was met by donations and pledges extending over a 5 year period. Sixteen members, seven of them women, signed a promissory note guaranteeing payment of the $90,000 mortgage. The new church, the present building, was dedicated April 8-15, 1928. The window above the altar, a gift of Mrs. George B. (Elizabeth) Heartt, was dedicated at the evening service on Easter Sunday.

In 1929 the stock market crashed. All four local banks failed. As members, including the guarantors, lost savings and jobs, the church continued to fall behind on mortgage payments, Rev. Steaurt White and 48 new guarantors joined the original 16 to decrease the obligations to a reasonable amount. Mortgage Burning Service, 1946As the pastor and finance committee continued negotiations with the Great American Insurance Company, the guarantors began making payments, sometimes $5 per month. Rev. White kept reminding members who were struggling to pay at least part of their pledge, “It’s harder to foreclose on a church than a grocery store.” After years of negotiations and many creative solutions the debt was paid, and the 65 guarantors released from their obligations. The mortgage was paid on October 27, 1946. Active members 803, Sunday School enrollment 559.

Through the following 30 years the children and the youth programs expanded. Classes were held in every nook and cranny. The Nursery Department served children from birth to 3 years in one room. The 1963 construction of the new education wing in two stages began just as the Family Life Day Nursery School started. The second stage of the education wing project was completed and the Heartt Chapel dedicated on April 20, 1969. Membership, 2284: Average Sunday School attendance 630.

First United Methodist Church todayIn the following years the programs and services to serve the congregation’s spiritual, social and recreational needs have continued to grow and change as society has changed. Bell choir, band and orchestral music, and the voices of our seven choirs are an integral part of our worship. The Chapel (high school) Choir not only sings at the 9:30 Sunday services but tours every spring.

The nursery school continues to be the fun place to learn basic skills in a Christian setting. School age Pathfinders fill the classrooms every Sunday. High School mission trips give the youth a perspective of how others live. Junior High youth prepare for confirmation with food, fun, music and worship designed for their age.

United Methodist Women and other groups provide fellowship, service and worship opportunities. The adult education program covers everything from small group study to Friday Night at the Movies to Young at Heart for the senior members. Membership and Church and Society work areas encourage participation and generous financial support for community and service needs. In 2010, the First United Methodist Church is a very busy place and membership has grown to over 2000.

Though the name has changed many times from The Methodists in 1836 to First United Methodist Church of Downers Grove in 2010, the essential church remains the same. As in the past, our church remains a community of Christian faith united by prayer, worship and service to others.

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