SHULLSBURG – The Shullsburg Centenary United Methodist Church is celebrating their Sesquicentennial (150 years) Sunday, July 2 at 10:30 a.m.
The Methodist church was introduced into Shullsburg by circuit riders or preachers who rode horse back from village to village preaching the good word, in 1842. The earliest circuit rider in Shullsburg was Rev. William Simpson in 1842. In 1852, the Shullsburg circuit was organized, which consisted of churches in White Oak Springs, Monticello, Kingsley and Pleasant Valley.
The Methodist Church has been at its current location since 1852 when a small frame building was built. It was soon outgrown and in 1866 construction started on the present rock church. After working in the mines, congregation members used their own picks, shovels and axes to excavate down to solid rock. The Burbach Bros. of Dodgeville laid up the walls of local stone and local carpenters worked on the wooden interior.
On July 4, 1867 the cornerstone was laid. At this time, Shullsburg was the capitol of Lafayette County and a place of rapid growth. The village contained a brick courthouse, four or five churches, fifteen stores, five hotels, and five mineral warehouses. The cost of the church building was $12,000 – now valued at $1,000,000.
Soon after the building was completed, the first lending library in Shullsburg was established at the church. The first church bell was purchased from the Cincinnati Steel Composition Bell Co. in 1881 at a cost of $182.70. The bell was 40 inches in diameter and weighed 1,000 pounds.
When lightning struck the Community Building (formerly the Congregational Church) in 1941, the Methodists offered $75 and the old bell, which had a deeper tone, in exchange for the Congregational bell. The offer was accepted and the new bell was installed. The bell then hung outside and was used as a fire bell for many years. In the summer of 1974 it was placed on a pedestal outside the fire station where it still sits today.
In 1896-1898, the adult and children’s Sunday school classes and other groups raised money to purchase 13 stained glass windows. The Epworth League, Ladies Aid Society, Junior League, the Louis Copeland and Hal Murley’s Sunday School Classes, and the G.A.R. each paid for a window. The M.E.S.S. (Methodist Episcopal Sunday School) paid for several windows. In 1966, storm windows were installed to protect them. In 1991, the windows were removed, trucked to Oconomowoc and completely re-leaded and cleaned at a cost of over $30,000.
In 1860 a two-story parsonage was built. It was replaced by a modern ranch style home in 1960.
All through the years, a strong Sunday school has continued; it began even before the frame church was built. Records show that in 1845 classes were being held – probably in homes. To purchase chairs for the first Sunday school, each of the children earned money and bought a chair. In early years, an enrollment of 290 members tells of its strength. When the stained glass windows were installed, the Sunday school children each gave 25 cents, which he or she had earned. Most classes met in the downstairs room or at the parsonage; the adult classes met upstairs. Imagine the noise when all those classes were reciting!
In the period from 1923-1928, the church was reroofed, repaired, refurnished and redecorated. A $6,000 pipe organ was purchased and installed. It was dedicated in ceremonies held on Sunday, Nov. 20, 1927. The first organist was Mrs. Carl F. Lehnkering.
In 1967, the Centenary Methodist Church celebrated the 100th anniversary of the building of the church. Over $4,000 was spent to sand blast the rock walls and tuck-point them. The belfry and steeple were painted and repaired. Two centennial services were held – one to commemorate the laying of the cornerstone and another for a homecoming and rededication service. Over 400 people attended those events and a booklet was published with pictures of the members and much historical material.
Prior to the building of the new parsonage, it became apparent that additional Sunday school and kitchen space was needed. Through the years, several bequests had been made - some specifically for an educational wing. In 1970 after years of indecision, the congregation decided to move ahead with the planning of an addition to the church.
Work was begun in 1971 with the removal of the old parsonage and the south frame entryway. A good match for the original stone was found. Many volunteers helped with the finishing work, spending hundreds of hours and saving thousands of dollars. Air conditioning of the entire church building was included. Pledges were made to buy one yard or more of the carpet, which was finally laid only days before the dedication. On July 4 and July 16, 1972 dedication services were held. Thus the original edifice was practically doubled in size, at a cost of approximately $100,000.
A double garage was erected in 1984-85 and landscaping improved the grounds. The parsonage was sided and the church was reinsulated and redecorated. In 1990, the trim and steeple were painted and in 1992 the sanctuary and fellowship hall were repainted.
In September 2006, the rock around the sign along Church Street was redone, making it a beautiful sign announcing worship services. This work was a memorial to Mavis King by her husband, Jim King.
In 2012-2013 the Sanctuary was remodeled. The red shag carpet was replaced, the pink walls were repainted and the pews were refurbished in an updated while still traditional style. The lighted cross was refurbished and moved from the front center ceiling of the Sanctuary to above the doorway at the north end.
In 2014 with the help of a few generous donors major repairs and preservation work were made to the exterior of the building. The stonework was tuck-pointed, the steeple, soffits, trim and front entrance painted, sidewalks replaced and the integrity of the entire exterior was tightened.
In 2016 with a generous donation of Wayne Gehrt and family in memory of Nancy Gehrt, a Lift Chair was installed to improve access from the Sanctuary to the Fellowship Hall.
In 2017, through donations from the Estate of LeRoy Geyer and the family of Harlo Webster, the Fellowship Hall was updated. The floor and ceiling have been replaced. New lighting has been installed. The walls have been painted and wainscoted. A permanent buffet line with storage cabinets now makes the room more useful and attractive. Many volunteers and the trustees are to thank for their work!
But the church is much, much more than just a building. Under its shelter many souls have worshipped, received Christian education, been comforted in grief, shared joy in baptism, confirmation, and marriage, and shared food and fellowship with one another. Many hearts have been healed and lives brought to Christ under its roof. Committed men women have devoted immeasurable hours to serving Christ.
The Sunday service will be led by Wisconsin Conference Bishop Hee-Soo Jung and will feature special music during the service. A complimentary pasty and fried chicken lunch will follow the service. The CUMC time capsule will be opened after lunch. The church re-dedication ceremony will start at 2 p.m. outdoors by the Church Street entrance. Be sure to visit www.shullsburgumc.com for updates.