BRIEF HISTORY OF METHODISM IN THE UPPER PENINSULA
The beginning of Methodism in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan west of Sault Ste. Marie is credited to the missionary trail blazers who came to Kewawenon, now known as Keweenaw Bay. The first, in 1832 with John Sunday a converted Canadian Indian.
In 1833 Rev. John Clark continued the mission work started by Sunday. He was followed by Rev. Damiel Chandler in 1834 who remained here for two years. Rev. Clark was appointed Superintendent of Lake Superior Missions in 1834 and was instrumental in having a mission house and church school house erected during Rev. Chandler’s mission stay. Houses for the local natives were also erected along the lake shore in the vicinity of the present Whirl-I-Gig Road.
These early missionaries led a rugged life and their methods of travel was by canoe, foot or snowshoes. Slow steamers and sailboats plied the lakes later and by the late 1870’s meager train service was available.
Other missionaries up to 1870’s were: W.H. Brockway, George Brown, Peter Marksman, George King, John Kahbeege, John H. Pitezel, Joseph Holt, Peter O. Johnston, N. Barnum and Rufus Crane.
With hard times in Europe and the opening of mines in the Copper Country and lumbering in Northern Michigan in the 1850’s, thousands of immigrants from England, Germany, the Scandinavian countries, Finland and even Canada came to the Copper Country to make their homes. The groups contributing the most to the growth of Methodism were the Cornish miners from England. They were mostly Methodists in membership or in preference, a heritage from the strong influence of John Wesley during the great Methodist revival in England.
When the mines curtailed their work due to the low copper price, hundreds from the Copper Country sought to live in the L’Anse area where there was a call for laborers in building the railroad, docks, working in the sandstone and slate quarries, graphite mines, brickyards, logging and sawmills. L’Anse was predicted at that time, the early 1870’s, to become a center of manufacturing and shipping. L’Anse was plotted in late 1871 and los were sold from $200 to $1,000 in the business area. The boom was on in 1872 and within 70 days, 60 buildings had been built here or moved from the Copper Country on scows.
Records show that Rev. C. W. Austin of Hancock conducted services in L’Anse and also at the Indian Mission, through an interpreter, in late 1871. He continued to serve the area until September 1872 when the Rev. J Van Every was assigned to the newly organized the Methodist Episcopal Church of L’Anse.
Since the establishment of the Methodist Church of L’Anse in 1872, the congregation has worshipped in two locations.
The first, the Pioneer Church, erected on the top of North Main Street Hill in 1874, was in use until 1951. The pine wood structure was located on a lot presented by Mr. and Mrs. S.L. Smith and recorded on December 16, 1873. The sandstone for the foundation was obtained from the stone quarry near L’Anse. The slate for the roof, the first in L’Anse, came from the Huron Bay slate quarry. Dedication of the new house of worship; was held on Sunday, August 16, 1874 with the Rev. J Frazer of Houghton officiating. Thirty three years later, in 1907, the interior was remodeled and refurnished as well as beautiful new stained glass windows were dedicated. This first church was used until 1951 when lack of parking and ease of access forced the congregation to consider a new church location.
The second and present church structure has an interesting history of its own. The structure was first built by Charles Hebard, owner of the Pequaming Mill, in 1879, to serve as the Pequaming Community Church when that village was laid out and until the mill was closed. Two lots, across the street and on top of the hill from the first Methodist Church in L’Anse were donated by Mr. & Mrs. Ellis R. Menge and the dismantling and moving charges for the Pequaming church were paid by Dr. and Mrs. H. J. Winkler. The beautiful stained glass windows had to be carefully removed, transported to L’Anse and restored into the new L’Anse Methodist Church. The congregation added an extension to the church structure and faced the building with beautiful washed sandstone. In 1961an education wing was added to the building by the Winklers as a memorial to their son, William. And in 2009 construction began on the new fellowship hall and handicap access facilities and all now stand as the facility that you see today.