United Methodist Church
Dow City, Iowa
An account of the United Methodist Church in Dow City
In 1986, largely because of the efforts of Rev. James Campbell, the Dow City United Methodist Church was designated by the Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church as a significant historical landmark because it is one of perhaps two Methodist churches in western Iowa whose structure predates the 1880's.
The east and west sanctuary walls of today's church are known to belong to the original church built in 1879. Of course, the Methodist congregation in Dow City existed long before 1879.
The following brief history is condensed from Rev. Campbell's Book, This House - The Spirit's Home, printed in 1986.
The first Methodists in the Dow City area were the S.J. Comfort family from Chenning County, New York, who settled northwest of Dow City in the fall of 1855. In December of 1857, the Rev. William Black came to their home to preach. However, since Rev. Black rode a circuit of 300 miles around, he was not able to return for more services. The next formal worship service would not take place in this area for another six years.
In the summer of 1863, the Rev. D.W Risher of the Deloit-Denison charge came to the Comfort home to preach and to organize the people of the area into what was called the "Paradise Class". In addition to being an adult Sunday School class, these "classes" created a congregation of lay people ministering to each other.
For the first ten years of the Paradise Class meetings, a new preacher came and went annually, according to conference policy at the time. Some of these pastors were Rev. D.W. Risher, Rev. S.R. Latta, Rev. M.D. Collins. Rev. J.W. Snodgrass, and Rev. W.T. Smith. Reverends Cyrus Smith, James Merrow, William Patterson, and Joseph Stephens served as Dow City pastors during the Civil War.
In 1870, Rev. Benjamin Shinn organized the Paradise Class into the Dowville Methodist Church. The nineteen charter members were Martha Whaley (now Bruner); George Rae and Jeanie W. Rae, his wife; Thomas Rae and Jeanie A. Rae, his wife; Margaret Wilson (Grandma); James Bell and Anna Bell, his wife; Laura Duncan; Mary E. Smith; Elizabeth Fortenbury; Cynthia C. Baggat; Jane Huntington; Elizabeth H. Smith; Peter Martin and Caroline Martin, his wife; Aunt Maggie Talcott; and William Wallace and Mary Wallace, his wife.
Not long afterward, the services moved from the Comfort home to a schoolhouse down the road. In 1872, the church moved once again from the schoolhouse on the north side of the river to the schoolhouse in Dowville. This building still exists. Today it is the Richard Robinson home. The congregation continued to meet there until 1878. During this time a pastor was shared with the Denison Methodist Church.
In 1877, with no advance warning, the Denison Methodist Church decided that they needed a full-time pastor and terminated the sharing agreement with Dow City. Very quickly the church had to incorporate, select a board of trustees, and look for a parsonage. At the same time they lost the use of the schoolhouse for services, as it had been sold to the R.L.D.S. Church. Services were then held in the old cheese factory, and when Rev. William Patterson arrived to take over the charge, his family lived in the cheese factory also.
In 1878, the Methodist parsonage was built immediately to the south of the present church location. It was one of the oldest homes in Dow City when it was torn down in 1992. Late in 1878, a meeting was held to gain approval for the construction of a new house of worship. The Dow City Methodist Church was built in 1879. It contained a sanctuary (the east and west walls of which still exist), two front entrances (in the same location as today), and a square wooden tower. The tower would be extended and the bell added in 1885. The league room was also added at a later date.
During this time, additional preaching outposts were added to the Dow City parish. These included one in Willow Township, the Theobald Schoolhouse in Shelby County, the Grand Valley Church (now Manning), the Pleasant Hill Church north of Manilla, a preaching post in Pretty Prairie, and one in Paradise Township.
In 1880, a second pastor was added to the charge. However, in 1881 the Dow City charge was cut in two, dropping some of the above churches and adding Buck Grove and Coldson. The associate pastor was dropped at this time also. Several other changes occurred in the years before 1900 when the Dow City perish included only Dow City, New Willow (Davis Schoolhouse), and Paradise (Kenwood).
The Dow City Methodist Church of this time was known as a wealthy, highly literate church. The town literary society sprang from church membership, and many high school activities, including commencement, were held there.
In 1901, during the pastorate of Rev. D.M. Houghtelin, a major remodeling program was undertaken. The building was extended to the north, and the worship center changed from the east to the north. The stained glass windows were added, as well as new pews.
The last major change in the structure of the church building came in 1915 during the pastorate of Rev. A.B. Adams, who did some of the work himself. Under his guidance, the basement was added. This was accomplished by raising the church three feet and removing 600 loads of earth which was spread over the parsonage yard.
In 1921, the church used a $1,000.00 gift from Aunt Maggie Talcott to help buy a new parsonage. The house that today belongs to Adeline Ettleman was purchased at that time and was used as the parsonage until 1938, At that time the Dow City and Dunlap parishes merged, and a parsonage was no longer needed. The old parsonage was used for more Sunday School classrooms.
The Dow City Methodist Church building has survived two fires and a furnace explosion. In November of 1916, two fires occurred within a week, both originating in the league room. The second was the more serious, causing about $300 worth of damage. On a Sunday morning in 1947, the furnace exploded. Fortunately, there was little damage and no one was hurt.
The Dow City United Methodist Church is proud of its tradition of revivalism and giving to missions. It was home church to the family of Mamie Glassburner, who was a missionary in China. In addition, two men from the Dow City church went into the ministry. They are Dr. Lauren Thomas and Rev. Roland Crandall.
Several interesting artworks and collectibles are contained in the church. A number of Chinese artifacts are displayed in the league room. These were sent to Mildred Wiggins by Mamie Glassburner. Also on display is the original communion service, which was presented to the church by Rev. Crandall and Frances Poitevin.
The three older paintings in the sanctuary today are the work of an itinerant artist, known only as B.I.R. He copied the popular masterpieces (Christ Knocking at the Door, Christ Praying in the Garden, and Christ's Ascension, adding his own touches. Two other paintings by the same artist were discarded from the league room during a cleanup project. The newer painting on the west wall, which depicts a modern interpretation of the Prodigal Son, was commissioned by Rev. James Campbell and painted by a Storm Cake artist.
The Dow City United Methodist Church has been an integral part of the town of Dow City from its beginning. Keeping up al structure of this age takes a lot of dedication on the part of the congregation. However, area Methodists feel that a building this beautiful and this historically significant is worth the cost and effort involved.
Source: 125 Years of Dow City-Arion History 1869-1994
We thank Cindi Simon for submitting this material.