First Methodist Episcopal Church
1820 5th Avenue
Rock Island's 100 Most Significant Unprotected Structures, 2009
Significance StatementImpressive use of stone, and important ties to the religious history of Rock Island.
1889-90; 1915 Addition
Architect / Builder
Schureman, D.S.; Cervin, Olof Z.
Early History of the Church
The First Methodist Episcopal congregation held services in pioneer John Spencer's home as early as the 1830s. Their first church was built in 1843 at 2nd Avenue and 19th Street. The Methodists were urged to sell their church to the city for what eventually became known as Spencer Square. They agreed, and beautiful Spencer Grove, on the corner of 19th Street and 5th Avenue became the site for their second brick church.
New Stone Church
In 1889-90 a new stone church, designed by architect D.S. Schureman, was built on the same 5th Avenue site. Mr. Schureman had recently moved to Rock Island from Cincinnati. His original plans called for the church to be built of a “purplish gray stone composed of siliceous iron and mica,” which would be mined from a new quarry by Black Hawk’s Watch Tower. According to the late geologist Dr. Richard Anderson, this probably referred to a band of stone in the Searstown bluff, just south of what is now the South Wind Motel. Perhaps not enough stone was easily accessible for this huge church, because ultimately the walls were made of Colona sandstone, with “tracings and trimmings” of Berea (Kentucky) stone and a basement of blue Bedford stone. One account says that stone came from seven quarries in five states.
Construction and Alterations
The cornerstone for the church was laid in September of 1889 and its dedication was October 26, 1890. Alterations and additions have been ongoing since the earliest days. In 1896, the installation of a pipe organ, a gift from Captain Robinson, who was married to Julia Spencer, required interior changes, especially to the balcony and the pastor’s study. Descendants of the Spencer family had already donated three stained glass memorial windows honoring their pioneer forbears.
Later additions have been made to the south and the west. The large south annex, designed by local architect Olof Cervin and completed in 1915, contains many classrooms and a kitchen, as well as a large auditorium. Beginning in 1958, several years of construction were undertaken to rearrange the interior spaces, changing the sanctuary from a curved Akron style to a rectangular one with center and side aisles leading to the altar at the south end. A new rose window was installed above the altar, and three interior stained glass windows were donated by local families as memorial gifts. In 1967 a new accessible entrance on the west side completed the construction. The church also undertook an unplanned construction in 1975 after the steeple was struck by lightning and destroyed. The damaged timbers were first removed down to the level of the stone tower. Then a new steeple top was built on the ground and lifted with a crane, carefully coming to rest on the waiting tower. It is indistinguishable from the original, with only the addition of a lighted cross. The church bell, which has hung in the various Methodist churches since 1896, was cast by the Holbrook Bell Foundry of East Medway, Massachusetts.