In February 1836, Beman Crandall stopped his covered wagon somewhere in Crystal Lake, declared, “It is good. Let us stay here,” and thus became our town’s first settler. Not long after, George Stickney, Christopher Walkup, Uriah Cottle, and A.W. Beardsley came to what is now Nunda Township (the area generally north of the present Crystal Lake Ave., and East of Walkup), pronounced - Nun-day, 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 meeting 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 Church 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 west corner of McHenry Ave. and Virginia St. Other denominations also held worship services there. Later, a Sinclair Service Station occupied this spot. It is now an auto mechanic’s shop.
In 1858, a church was built by James Pierson further West on Virginia at a cost of $1400. It was located across from what is now McCormick Park, the present location of the Mobil Service Station. Most of the Methodists, however, lived in Nunda, so a hall was soon rented there. For a time, Worship Services were held in two locations by Methodists of the area. In 1867 the Nunda Methodists bought the old Congregational Church building in Crystal Lake and moved it to the corner of Grant & Woodstock Streets.
Soon after, the Crystal Lake Methodists sold their building on Virginia St. to the newly arrived German Lutherans and began worshipping with the Nunda group. This newly joined Methodist group began to plan and build a new Church downtown at the corner of Brink & Williams, also in Nunda. They sold their building to Josiah Walkup, who had it reconfigured to a dwelling house which later became the Pingry Hotel.
The villages of Nunda and Crystal Lake joined to become one in 1914. The community, incidentally, also had other names during this period, and various parts of it were known from time to time as Crystalville, Brooklyn, North Crystal Lake, Nunda, and Crystal Lake.
THE DOWNTOWN CHURCH
In 1873, the Methodist Episcopal Church moved into their new building which was built at the West corner of Brink and Williams streets (45 N. Williams St.) at the site of the present Genovese Restaurant in the Brink Street Market area. This church was built at a cost of $2500 and was dedicated November 15, 1874. It became the nucleus of the facilities, which were to serve the Methodist congregation for the next 80 years. 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. A three-story, five-bedroom parsonage was built in 1899 at the south corner of Brink and Williams streets (44 N. Williams St.) and was used until 1958. The late Mrs. Rudy Vera Curtiss lived in this parsonage from 1921 to 1925 when her father was the pastor of the church, and it was in this parsonage that she was married to the late Mr. Earle Curtiss who died on January 13, 1995. In August of 1953, the parsonage was moved to 20 Paddock St. and continued to be used as a parsonage until shortly before the new parsonage was built on Crystal Lake Ave. in 1958. Rev. Weisshaar and his family moved out of the parsonage in August 1953 and lived for a time in the Pingry Hotel.
THE NEW CHURCH IS PLANNED
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. 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 (the church and the parsonage), and $30,000 of advanced gifts pledged by 24 members, it was decided to go full speed ahead.
The church property was sold to Mr. Lester Geiseke. When it came time to demolish the church, early in December 1954, 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, the new boiler, and a few of the pipes from the organ, some of which were used in the organ in the new church. The downtown church had become known as “the little white church surrounded by parking meters.” After the church was torn down, the property was used as a parking lot for the Jewel Food store. The congregation moved into the partially completed new church at the corner of Dole and Crystal Lake Ave.
The reasons for considering a move to a new church were put into a brochure, which said: “A Greater Need – Our Church has served over 78 years, now we must provide more adequate facilities. WE HAVE a fine group of consecrated Church School workers; WE NEED more adequate space and equipment. These youngsters [picture] meet in the kitchen for Sunday school. No other place to meet – SOMETHING MUST BE DONE. Growing through knowing in the Church School. But crowded classes like this [picture], in one room, do not make for the best Christian Education. Our sanctuary is to be larger and more attractive . . . in gratitude to God for blessings received, and with love for our church, we build for greater service to Him. NO MORE – parking problems, street congestion and noise, fire hazard, old building upkeep, commercial atmosphere. THIS IS WHAT WE ARE DOING . . . We need $150,000 for 1) a new sanctuary, and 2) a new Sunday School Unit. The sale of our present property, and a construction loan, would give us about $80,000. WE ALREADY HAVE OUR BUILDING SITE. BUT WE NEED $70,000. THIS CAN BE DONE! By giving prayerful thought to the maximum amount you will be able to invest over the next 36 months. WHAT IS YOUR SHARE? Make your pledge reflect what God would expect.”
An initial pledge goal of $70,000 was set, and 200 members and friends gathered for a ceremonial ground breaking on the new site at the junction of Crystal Lake Ave., Dole Ave., and Pine Ct. in October 1952. Part of the present property (4 ½ acres) was acquired in June 1952, and additional land was purchased in July 1953, making a total of 5 acres. Ground was formally broken April 11, 1953, and the cornerstone was laid in July 1954. The Formal Opening Service of the church as held on February 6, 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 1873 church, which had been incorporated into the new building.
Upon retirement of the original debt, this new church was first dedicated on March 17, 1963.
It was during the years of 1953 to 1968 under the pastoral leadership of Rev. Weisshaar, Rev. Coleman, and Rev. John Figley, that the church continued its rapid forward movement. Memorial pews replaced the original folding chairs; memorial lights replaced the original lighting in the sanctuary, and a pipe organ with chimes added reverence and beauty to the church. A new addition, planned and begun in 1962 for a cost of $70,000, during Rev. Coleman’s tenure as pastor and completed early in the service of Rev. Jack Figley, gave the church school additional space for twelve classrooms, a beautiful memorial chapel, a pastor’s study, a library, and much needed storage space. The memorial chapel (the original Hale Chapel) was located where Room 216 is. It contained two rows of five short pews, an altar, a lectern and an electric organ.
In 1964 Rev. Figley spoke with Judy Stockman, a member of our congregation, about using the Church building for more than just Sunday Worship. A week-day pre-school was suggested, and after a year of planning, FUMC began its first class of Pre-School in the Fall of 1965 with one teacher and 11 students. This Pre-School is now one of McHenry County’s longest running facilities with 10 Teachers and 93 Students.
On May 29, 1966, an Americana carillon of 75 bells was dedicated. The miniature bells of bronze bell metal were struck by metal hammers then amplified to reproduce the sound of a large cast bell. The bells were played from their own keyboard attached to the organ console and could also be set to play automatically at a panel adjacent to the sanctuary.
Member Fred Lindsay designed a new parsonage, and ground was broken for the building at 303 W. Crystal Lake Ave. on August 31, 1958. Rev. Lloyd Coleman first occupied this parsonage on January 28, 1959. A second parsonage was acquired at 38 Lincoln Pkwy. for our first associate pastor, Wilbur Hopkins, who occupied the parsonage from 1969 to 1971. On November 4, 1974, the 38 Lincoln Parkway property was sold for $43.000 and the 11 Dole Ave. parsonage was purchased for $75,000. Associate Pastor Bob Baker and his wife Jeanne occupied this parsonage at the time of the move.
On May 3, 1970, our church was free of debt from the addition of the Education Wing, and was dedicated. Bishop Pryor delivered the sermon for the two morning worship services, and presided over the 2:30 p.m. dedication ceremony. The then-current pastor, Rev. Jim Paulson, took part as well as former pastors Rev. Gilbert Weisshaar and Rev. Jack Figley. A mortgage still existed on the church’s second parsonage at 38 Lincoln Pkwy. On March 28, 1971, the parsonage at 303 West Crystal Lake Ave. was paid in full.
“Worship in the Woods” in the grove beside the church began around 1971 under the direction of Rev. Jim Paulson. Worship was informal with the congregation bringing their own lawn chairs or blankets. There was no speaker system and the music was provided by members of the congregation. The bench seating was installed a few years later. This area was used a great deal by the youth, with bonfires in the outdoor fireplace. In 1975 the fireplace was vandalized, and it was torn down. The current stone altar was built where the fireplace stood.
In 1979, the sanctuary balcony was remodeled for the installation of a new $100,000 Casavant, two manual, seventeen stop, twenty-one rank Tracker Organ. A dedication recital was held on Sunday afternoon, September 16, 1979. This organ was moved to our new sanctuary and is our current organ.
The Methodist Episcopal name prevailed from the church’s inception on December 24, 1784, until the Christmas 1939 conference in Baltimore, Maryland, when it became The Methodist Church. In 1968, the merger of the Evangelical United Brethren and The Methodist Church resulted in the name of First United Methodist Church. The “United” stone was added to the name on the front of our church in 1975.
In 1976 a car ran into our outside sign prompting construction of a new Bulletin Case with brick enclosure. A cement cap was installed instead of the familiar peaked rooftop. The old church bell was added at that time.
On September 7, 1991, a third worship service was added on Saturdays at 6:00 p.m. for those who could not worship on Sundays. A new choir was created for the service, called “The Psalm Singers.” An education hour was also added.
ANOTHER NEW SANCTUARY
Also in 1991, our congregation recognized that we had outgrown our 300-seat sanctuary, and began to investigate the building of a new sanctuary. After many all-church meetings, and much disagreement, Edward Coonrad stood up and said, “It’s time for us to move on. Let’s build the new sanctuary!” With the tide turned, committees were set up, and a $2.8 million expansion of the church facility was initiated. Ground was broken on October 11, 1992. The new addition consisted of a 500-seat sanctuary, a larger narthex and coat closet, an usher’s room, a kitchenette, a maintenance room, and the Community Room (120) on the lower level, and classrooms, a music room, and a balcony area on the upper level. The first worship service was held on Mother’s Day of 1994. This new facility was consecrated on September 11, 1994. After we moved to our new sanctuary, our former sanctuary was redesigned and renamed Hale Chapel.
On September 7, 1997, a new contemporary worship service was begun in our main sanctuary, called CrossRoads. Because of a need for a more intimate space for worship for this new service, CrossRoads moved to Hale Chapel. As this service continued to grow in numbers, it was moved back to the Sanctuary in September 2000.
Stained glass windows replaced the original plain windows at the front of our new sanctuary. These windows were given as a memorial and dedicated to the Glory of God. They were designed by David Wixon and dedicated on June 23, 2002.
On March 1, 2003, the debt on the entire facility was paid in full. A celebration worship service was held and the mortgage was burned by members of the Trustees and Finance Committees. Also in 2003, a new ministry called Community Dinner - serving a free dinner to anybody an with a need every Sunday afternoon - was begun.
In 2006 a Columbarium was built toward the back of our Chapel in the Woods. Niches are sold to individuals in our congregation for their inurnment. The Chapel in the Woods was completely renovated over the years as a memorial gift.
In 2009, UMM partners with UMCORE to build homes in Moss Point, MS for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Two more homes were built in 2010 and 2011. Stirred2Serve, an all church mission event, began in 2012 packing meals for Haiti. This event was renamed Summoned2Serve.
Stephen Ministry began again in 2013 with a training session for 24 new Stephen Ministers. We began our year-long celebration of 175 years in Crystal Lake.
In 2014 the brand ‘First Church (A United Methodist Congregation)’ is adopted and we continue to celebrate 175 years in Crystal Lake. The boiler which was initially installed in our downtown church in 1920 was replaced.
This history was compiled by Don Rosborough from sources in our church archives, Crystal Lake Historical documents, Historical documents of other churches, and from interviews with members of the congregation under the guidance of the FUMC Historical Society.