Blog post by Randi Richardson
Joseph Tarkington, an early settler in Monroe County, wrote that the first known Methodist meetings in what is now Monroe County were held in 1816. According to a church history published in 1999 in conjunction with the laying of the cornerstone of the Wesley Wing, the first formal church organization in Bloomington took place in 1818 when meetings were held in the log cabin of Nelson Moore at what is now College Avenue and Seventh Street.
The first Methodist church house was built at Fourth and Madison streets in 1822. Rev. James Armstrong had intended to build it of logs thinking that it was the best that could be done. The building was already well under way when Bro. Joshua O. Howe deemed that Methodism deserved a more respectable edifice. He had the logs removed and a frame church was built in its place, Bro. Howe bearing nearly the entire expense. That church was heated with a fireplace for several years until a member went to Louisville and saw a stove for the first time. He purchased one for the church at his own expense and had it installed.
Twenty-one years after the construction of the first church, a second church was constructed in 1843 at southeast corner of Sixth and Morton. Once again Bro. Howe provided generous financial support. John Wright, a brick mason and the father of Gov. J. A. Wright, provided some of the labor to complete the two-story, brick structure. The first floor of the new church was used for a church school and the second floor as a sanctuary. Members entered the sanctuary from an exterior flight of stairs with separate doors for men and women who were seated separately during church services.
In 1879, church trustees declared the building unsafe for public use. Lots were subsequently purchased for a new church at the corner of College Avenue and Third Street. The cornerstone was laid in August 1879. The much needed building with a seating capacity of more than 600 in the sanctuary was dedicated in August of 1880. It was an imposing structure with gothic windows and doors. A steeple tower extended 60 feet above the roof.
As membership continued to grow, so did the need for an even larger structure. In 1904 plans were underway for a new Methodist church at the corner of Third and College where the Bloomington Convention Center is now located. This church served the congregation until 1910. Later it was sold to the Bloomington Armory Association and the sanctuary was converted into a basketball gymnasium. Some of the stained glass windows were, however, preserved and used in the present church. The bell went to the Clear Creek Christian Church.
The congregation broke ground for yet a larger church in the spring of 1909 at the corner of Fourth and Washington. It was dedicated the following year. At the time it was built, it was considered one of the finest and best-appointed churches in the city, the largest and most thoroughly-equipped Methodist Church. It contained many modern amenities including electronic devices and a state-of-the-art pipe organ. The cost of the facility was $101,000. Most of the money was raised through the subscription of members. W. N. Showers, B. F. Adams and W. H. Adams subscribed $5,000 each. Stone for the church was furnished by the Monroe County Oolitic Stone Company.
In 1937, a few days after Easter, this building was gutted by fire. When the flames died down, only the exterior limestone walls of the church remained. Even the dome which rose to a height of 116 feet and was supported by a massive steel frame weighing 250 tons could not be saved. But the spirit of the congregation could not be dampened.
Plans were made immediately to rebuild the church in the same location. Construction began in October 1937 and the building dedicated in October 1938. The tower above the church was increased in height to accommodate a bell, and the lighted cross that adorned the church destroyed by fire was once against placed atop the tower.
From that day to this, the Methodist Church at Fourth and Washington has served the community. Of course, through the years it has been remodeled several times to accommodate an ever-growing membership. The Wesley Wing, a church addition containing classrooms and office space was dedicated in 1999.
- Bloomington (IN) Republican, February 18, 1885, p. 2.
- Bloomington (IN) World, December 7, 1893, p. 10.
- Bloomington (IN) World, July 4, 1896.
- Bloomington (IN) Herald Times, May 13, 2009, pp. 6-7.
- A History of the Buildings Housing the Congregation and Ministries of the First United Methodist Church in Bloomington, Indiana, prepared for the occasion of the Laying of the Cornerstone for the Wesley Wing, November 7, 1999.
- Smithville News, December 11, 1908.