St. John's Episcopal Church

Researched and Written by Ruth Ann Montgomery

In the 1860s, Evansville was a rapidly growing community welcoming people of all faiths. Mrs. Emma Evans and Mrs.
Helen Boyer wrote to Rev. A. Spalding, the Rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Madison, indicating that they wanted
services in Evansville. St. John's Episcopal Church was created. Mrs. Boyer offered her house as the first meeting place.
Until 1868, the small group used the public school house twice each month for their services. That fall, the new
organization rented the Congregational church and the two congregations shared that building for a year. Rev. Fayette
Royce, Rector of St. Paul's Church in Beloit, shared the ministry with Rev. Spalding.

Dr. J. M. Evans, William Lovejoy, Samuel Boyer and Adam Boyer were elected trustees of the church in January 1869
and the new board decided to begin a building program for a new church. Within a week they raised $900. Sociables
were held at the homes of various members to raise additional funds.

In search of a suitable site, Mrs. Sophronia Brown's lot on South First Street was chosen.  

Benjamin S. Hoxie, of Cooksville, and was later a prominent Evansville architect-builder, received the contract for the
carpenter work. D. B. Huckins, of Evansville, did the masonry work. The corner stone was laid on October 7, 1869 and
the congregation took possession of the church on December 21 that same year. The building cost $3,000.

St. John's first permanent pastor, Rev. Erastus W. Spalding, gave his first sermon on August 1, 1869. He served the
congregation for seven years. Many prominent Evansville people were members of the church. Isaac Bennett, a local
general store manager and banker, John C. Andrews, a cattle buyer, Dr. Charles M. Smith, as well as the Evans family.
In June 1883, the Episcopalians welcomed a new pastor, Rev. J. B. Finn. In preparation for the new pastor, the
congregation whitewashed and painted the church. S. J. Clark did the outside colors of the church in two shades of olive
green. The ceilings were painted light blue and pine. The new pastor was put to work painting the wainscoting. New
carpets and alter cloth were also included in the improvements.

The church had installed a bell in the tower above the entrance that was used to call people to worship and was also
used to call help for emergencies. When a disastrous fire struck Baker Manufacturing and the nearby Lehman furniture
factory in 1884, those who discovered the fire ran to the Episcopal church to sound the alarm.

The Episcopalians were generous with the community in other ways. The small congregation did not grow as rapidly as
the founders had hoped and the church did not always have a pastor. Often the rectory, which had been built on the
next lot south of the church in 1883 , was rented out for other purposes. In 1897, a fire destroyed a library operated by
the Women's Christian Temperance Union and Isaac Hoxie, the part-time librarian, rented the rectory to serve as a
temporary library. He alerted his patrons that he was open for business by turning on the porch light.

The church was often in need of repair or redecoration. To help fund church activities in 1901, the ladies of St. John's,
prepared an elaborate historical pageant performed in the Magee Theater. Robert Hartley, Kittie Bigelow, Nettie
Copeland and a chorus of forty performed a costumed drama about Pocahontis and the capture of Sir John Smith.
Other fund raisers included bazaars and a food tent at Evansville's Rock County Fair.

The money earned was used in the remodeling of the interior of the church in 1901. A new altar was added,
along with new hardwood pews. The church was photographed decorated for Christmas services that year.

In 1903, Dr. John M. Evans, one of the founders of the church was buried from St. Johns.

The resident pastor, Rev. C. A. Wilson assisted the Episcopal Bishop of Milwaukee in performing the last rites for the
beloved doctor. The death of the members of the congregation, depleted the ranks of the once active church.
Eventually the church became a mission and services were held only sporadically.

May 15, 1924, Evansville Review

However, the formation of a new congregation in Evansville brought new life to the old church. In the 1930s there were
many people interested in forming a Lutheran Congregation in Evansville. Rev. M. H. Hegge, pastor of Stoughton's First
Lutheran Church, also served the congregation of the Cooksville Lutheran Church. Many people from the Evansville
area participated in the services.

Early in 1936, the Cooksville church and Lutherans in Evansville decided to separate from the Stoughton church and
form a new parish. They agreed that a pastor would be called to serve both congregations. The American Lutheran
Conference Home Mission Committee was asked to grant funds to organize a congregation in Evansville. The request
was granted.

A census taken by Reverend Jensen identified people of the Lutheran faith living in the Evansville area and Mrs. Harold
Spersrud was elected temporary Superintendent of the Sunday School in April 1936. The following month a list of
Charter Members was started and a constitution was written. The visiting pastor, Rev. Hegge, conducted services in the
Evansville City Hall.

After 33 years as pastor of the Cooksville Church and 50 years in the ministry, Rev. Hegge resigned from his duties in
June 1936. He died a few weeks later. The legacy of his work was carried on in the newly organized church by Rev.
Theodore Heimarck. He was called to be their first permanent pastor and through his leadership the congregation
anxiously looked forward to having a building of their own. Heimarck and his family rented a home and he continued to
conduct services in the City Hall.

The Episcopal congregation had dwindled so that they could no longer support a resident pastor. The archdeacon of
the Milwaukee diocese conducted monthly services at the church so that the few members could regularly receive
communion. Without an active congregation, the church had not been decorated or repaired adequately in many years.
It was a blessing in disguise when the new Lutheran congregation began looking for a home. The Episcopalians willingly
rented their building and shared it with the newly formed Lutheran's who eventually hoped to purchase the building.
Plans moved along quickly and in September 1936, a committee was selected to secure building funds. Mrs. Harry
Hamilton served as chairman of the Building Fund Committee and Martin Anderson, Leo Brunsell, Edward Johnson, Ole
Norby, Harold Spersrud, Mrs. Carroll Bly, Mrs. Ray Rosen, Mrs. Salmer Jordahl, and Mrs. Thomas Johnson also served
on the committee.

The congregation adopted their first Constitution and elected twelve councilmen. They left the charter membership list
open until January 1937 and the following November, the church officially incorporated as St. John's Lutheran Church.
Fund raising efforts continued through the Christmas holidays of 1937 and the Lutherans purchased the Episcopal
church and the rectory, south of the church, on March 1, 1938. Although they continued to need funds from the Home
Mission Board for a number of years, eventually the Evansville Lutherans became self-sufficient.

Like the Episcopal women before them, the women of St. John's Lutheran Church held many fund raisers to support
their new organization. The first social function held in the new parish house, the former Episcopal rectory, was a supper
prepared by the Ladies Aid Society. Adults paid 40 cents and children paid 20 cents for a meal that included ham loaf,
escallop potatoes, vegetable, salad, rolls, pie and coffee. Mrs. Otto Sell was the chief cook.

The funds were used to furnish the parish house. The lower floor was used as a social center for meetings and other
entertainments and the upper floor was used for church offices.

Pastor Heimarck resigned in February 1943 and a new pastor arrived in May. Reverend Arvid M. Romstad from Black
River Falls took charge of St. John's Lutheran Church. The church purchased a residence on Grove Street for a

Under the leadership of Romstad, the church continued to grow and in January 1950 the members decided they needed
to expand their building. As this was a major project, fund raising took several years.

By 1952, the congregation numbered 500, far more the 300 seats available in the little church. Various plans were
considered for expanding the church. At first members thought of razing the parish house next door and making an
addition to the existing building.

At a meeting held on September 16, 1956 the fate of the old church was sealed. The congregation decided to build a
church with a contemporary style of architecture. Later the Lutherans decided that they would purchase five acres of
ground at the corner of Lincoln and Third streets. Their congregation now numbered more than 600 people.
The ground breaking service was delayed until August 1957. The service began at the old church on South First Street.
Then the entire congregation walked to the new site. An outline of the church had been staked out so that the size and
shape of the new building was visible. When they arrived at the construction area, people took their places around the
outline of the building. Members had been asked to bring shovels so they could participate in the ceremonies. All were
invited to dig a shovel of earth to symbolically begin the building process.

The plans new structure would seat 600, double the size of the old Episcopal church. Several months later, in June
1958, the Lutherans laid the corner stone of the their new building and moved their services to the new site. Everyone
wondered what would happen to the old church.

Ironically, that same month, the post office announced that it was selling land diagonally across from the city hall on
South Madison Street and a new post office was planned for the city. Because federal funds were not available for new
construction of post offices, the postal department was selling off unused land and seeking private property that could
be rented.

The site of the 1869 church on South First Street was purchased by H. F. Brunsell who offered the post office an option
to use the land. A contractor from Stoughton, Edwin Nelson, purchased the property from Brunsell and the old church
was razed by the North Central Wrecking Co. of Evansville. Several of the stained glass windows, a sanctuary light, the
cross, candelabra and other light fixtures were saved. Six inches beneath the corner stone of the old church was a tin
box containing a record of the early Episcopal Church in Evansville.

M. E. Dake, a native of Evansville, had moved to Iowa and was a member of St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Perry. That
congregation was in the midst of a major building program. When he discovered that the church building in Evansville
was to be destroyed, he made arrangements to obtain some of the pieces to use for the altar of St. Martin's new
building. In November 1959, the salvaged art from St. John's Episcopal Church, were newly dedicated in the Iowa church.

The members of St. John's Episcopal and Lutheran Church have only memories and pictures to remind them of the
quaint little church. The new post office, a modern cement block and brick structure, leaves no clues as to the land's
former use.
Ground Breaking Ceremony For St. John's Episcopal Church, Evansville, Wisconsin
St. John's Episcopal Church and Parish House ca 1910
Pocahontas and the capture of Sir John Smith