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History of First United Methodist Church

(View a video presentation of the history on YouTube at this link:        )

Methodists in the Kirkland area first met at the Charter Oak School on the corner of Pearl and Cherry Valley Road. In 1866 the Charter Oak Methodist Church was built across the road from the school. Nineteen years later Mrs. Eliza Aurner Ives, commonly known as Granny Ives, spearheaded door-to-door fund raising to build a church in Kirkland. By August 13, 1885 she had $300 to pay William Kirk and Ashael and Mary Byers for Lots 2 and 3 of the 300 block of West South Street. Lot 1 was donated by William Kirk, Ashael Byers and Stephen Rowen. 

Rev. John Maxham of Kirkland, G.R. Vanhorne and A.S. Maxham of Harvard presided over laying the cornerstone for the First Methodist Episcopal Church October 1, 1885. A year later they dedicated the finished 32 by 55-foot church with its 10 by 10-foot vestibule and 70-foot steeple. It had 170 opera chairs complete with book, envelope and a hat rack attachment. Parishioners faced south where Rev. Adrian preached in front of the two small and one large pulpit chairs. Behind the congregation on the north end was a balcony for the choir and underneath a Sunday School classroom with common chairs.  The east and west walls were lined with colored glass windows. At the dedication Treasurer F. C. Griggs reported $1600 was needed to cover what was due on the church. That morning $850 was given and $600 more at the evening dedication service, bringing in $50 more than was required. Thus the church building dedicated March 10, 1886 was paid in full. 

In 1900 Brother Breen built a parsonage next to the church for $1000. Thirty years after it was built the church promised to install water and a bathroom if Rev. McIlnay wouldn’t leave. By the time McIlnay came home from a conference, George Ault had donated bathroom fixtures and all the work had been started. Up to this time pastors used an outhouse, a cistern in the kitchen and an outside well for drinking water.


1903 marked a $3029 church renovation. The balcony was torn down. They raised the building and added a new wing on the east for a classroom and a wing on the west for a chancel. It held the alter, pulpit chairs, lectern and a window reading “Ladies’ Aid Society.” New pews facing the chancel replaced the opera chairs.  In honor of her husband who died in 1901, Granny Ives donated the large stained glass window that still fills the north wall. Unfortunately, a large wind storm right after Easter on April 10, 1944 caused two large sections to blow out. It took a month and a half for National Mirror Works of Rockford to salvage a few valuable pieces and rebuild it. 


In 1906 the basement was excavated for a dining room and kitchen. Men spent many nights and weekends cleaning the coal room that sat below the chancel addition completed three years earlier; they removed the east stone wall so it opened into the newly dug basement forming the current stage area. 


With the addition of a kitchen and dining area, the church could hold their dinners and bazaars here rather than rent halls downtown. Between 2001 and 2009 the stairs leading from the kitchen to the main level were removed to give four feet of extra space to the kitchen. The kitchen was then renovated from white metal cabinets and cramped working space to a more convenient island, double oven, and new cabinets. This $91,663.95 project was co-chaired by Donna Turner and Martha Brooks. 

In 1926 the Methodist church in Clare, Illinois closed and donated the church’s wood to Kirkland’s church. In 1931 it was transported to Kirkland on hayracks and trucks to build the south Sunday School wing. Henry Aves masterminded laying the foundation. Men and boys from all over town pitched in their talents to make the wing go up in two years. These “Knights of Construction” were honored at the second of three dedication services and a Friday potluck. The wing had a large basement Sunday School and furnace room. The main level housed four classrooms and a storage hall which now are offices for the church’s pastor, treasurer and secretary as well as a large meeting room.  

The third floor of the 1930s construction wasn’t rediscovered until 1966 when Everett Poff asked LaVerne “Shorty” Ester to meet him with a flash light and old clothes on a Saturday. They climbed up the bell tower, across the top of the church’s sanctuary to a trap door nailed in the wall. When they pried it off, they found a 16 by 30-foot room illuminated with a round stained glass window. They’d found their new youth room. The church paid for stairs to get there from the main level; the MYF did the rest; they started fundraising to augment funds left to them so they could purchase materials and begin work on flooring, paneling and lighting. Bev and Shorty Ester and after them Elaine and Bob Tutt led the youth in planning many camping and retreat times together in this room they called the Rufym room. “Rufym” spelled backwards stands for Methodist Youth Fellowship Upper Room.  Sunday school still uses this “Upper Room,” complete with its TV, microwave, couches, table and chairs. 

Prior to the 1930s the men sponsored many dinners which led to the famous turkey suppers which started in 1934 with five turkeys from both the Earl Wenzel Turkey Farm and the Banks and Ault Turkey Farm. Tickets were a 60 cents compared to a reasonable $6.50 for the last ticket in 1999 when they had four seatings from 4-6 pm serving 470 people and 178 carry-outs. It took men, women and children to carry off cooking 32 turkeys, baking 118 pies and 63 dozen rolls, mashing 250 pounds of potatoes and opening 4 cases of corn and 12 large cans of cranberries at this last finale. Although not on that scale, the church has hosted many dinners throughout the hears to support causes such as the good neighbor fund, apportionments, charities…. 

Nov. 9, 1967 the church purchased the former Schandelmeier home on the corner of South and Fourth Streets from Owen and Lena Lucas. With pledges and a mortgage on the church property, it became the new parsonage. Rev. John Park and his family moved into it the same day. The church now owned all five lots on the block. The old parsonage was rented out until 1992 when it was demolished. James F. Montgomery used Don Taylor’s excavating machinery while Bernie Robertson hauled the debris to Brennan Cattle Yard. 


In 1974 the Fairdale United Methodist Church merged with the First United Methodist Church of Kirkland since they shared a school district. Fairdale had been a church since 1860. 

Four days of rain in 2017 flooded the basement with over six inches of water. A concerted effort to man a dozen shop vacs for over a week to remove water was the first step. Walls, carpet and tiling had to be torn out and replaced. Eventually a concrete floor was exposed and polished to a beautiful finish. New mold-resistant walls and energy efficient LED lighting was added as well as new emergency and exit lights to bring it up to code. Outside, clay was added to the soil which was regraded, and five large catch basins were installed to collect water from the gutters. 

A building is only a building unless it comes alive with a congregation that reaches out to others. 


An active Women’s Society meets quarterly. The Men’s Group meets the third Saturday of each month at the Kirkland Family Restaurant at 7:00 am for fellowship. They help where they can with the women’s projects. 


One can visit the basement for a July 4 celebration breakfast on Saturday. You can also stop by the “Refresh Your Spirit” canopy in front of the church for free water and conversation throughout the celebration. 

Knitting ministry which was started in 2003 meets the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month. They donate their hats, scarves, lap robes and various other items to different agencies in DeKalb, Boone and Winnebago counties. They attach cards printed with hand written Bible verses on each item.  

Rummage sales fill the record books from the 1920s to present. Currently we hold a fall rummage sale with drop off Monday through Wednesday and sales Thursday through Saturday. 


 October 2022 introduced the first annual “Trunk or Treat” in the back parking lot and garden area. 


Bake sales also have existed since the inception of the church. Currently our Cookie Extravaganza during Kirkland in Christmas sells plates of cookies, fudge, biscotti and other sweet treats. Outside is a life-size nativity for all to enjoy. 


From 1881 to 2023, 50 pastors have served this congregation. In 2023 it remains an important part of the Kirkland community. 

Church history compiled by Connie Worden, 2023

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