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La Crosse County Historical Society discovers, collects, preserves, and shares the history of La Crosse County, Wisconsin.

Archive Record

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Object Name Print
Catalog Number 2015.fic.364a
Description Christ Episcopal Church print.
Collection La Crosse County Historical Society Collection
Title Christ Episcopal Church
People Nudd, Chris
Search Terms Christ Episcopal Church
Notes Part of a series of 15 prints by Chris Nudd "La Crosse Scenes".

Text with print:

The first authentic record we have of a religious meeting held within La Crosse County was one at which an itinerant Methodist minister, the circuit rider of the early days, officiated. His name was George Chester, and he preached in the little village of La Crosse in July, 1851. But neither of the churches which have been the advance agents along the frontier line, the Catholic nor the Methodist, was the first to organize. That honor belongs to the Baptist and Congregational churches whose organizations date from the same day in 1852.

The early development of La Crosse as a lumber town and a supply center brought a floating, lawless population. Yet, the sturdy, uncompromising piety of some of the early settlers served as sufficient strength to more than counterbalance this element, and the growth of the city's churches has been steady throughout history.

Before the establishment of any of the orthodox sects in La Crosse County (about 1842) there came a company of several hundred Mormons from Illinois. With characteristic thrift they selected some of the most fertile valleys in the county and some of the best lumbering points on the Black River. The events culminating in the death of their leader, Joseph Smith, resulted in the calling together of the Mormon bands, and they subsequently moved on to Utah.

Another sect which exerted a considerable influence in the community was the advent of the spiritualists.

Although La Crosse was for the first decade without religious organizations, it was not without religious sentiment and influence. In a compilation made in 1854 by Rev. Spencer Carr, in which all the heads of families, numbering 300, and all the single men and women above 18, numbering 116, in La Crosse and the immediate vicinity, were included, a large proportion were enrolled in some church organization previous to their immigration to the frontier.

In the community of about 800 persons, 15 denominations were represented. The following gives the principal ones in the respective order of their numerical strength: Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Catholic, Presbyterian, Universalist. Other denominations numbering less than 20 were Episcopalians, Disciples, Christians, Adventists, Freewill Baptists, Dutch Reformed, United Brethren, Friends and Swedenborgians. Many of these have developed into strong congregations occupying imposing edifices of their own.

The Methodists and Baptists of the early days came largely from New York, the Universalists from New England, a group of Presbyterian descendants of a Scotch-Irish colony of Pennsylvania, came west by way of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and were of the type known as "blue." The Methodists and Baptists were also of the sterner mold that frowned upon rollicking amusements of the times. The German immigrants were divided between the Catholic and the Norwegians were Lutheran.

The first Episcopal minister to come to La Crosse was a Dr. Breck, a devoted missionary who had traveled on foot from Nashotah to La Crosse. Dr. Breck wrote "We spent the fourth Sunday after Trinity, 1850 at Prairie La Crosse. It is a hamlet of 15 or 20 houses. We held services and celebrated communion on a bluff, about two miles from the landing." (This bluff is no known as Grandad Bluff. Dr. Breck later refers to it as "Altar Rock.")

After some years of occasional services, a Justus White suggested the formation of a church organization. He was assisted by William R. Sill. Services were held for awhile at Barron's Hall, northwest corner of Front and Main Streets, at the courthouse, and later the Baptist Church, southwest corner of the old courthouse square.

On Jan. 21, 1857, the constitution was adopted, and Fayette Durlin was engaged as the first pastor, at a salary of $500 a year. The vestry was organized by the election of Charles J. Stafford, senior warden; S.W. Albert, junior warden; Charles S. Benton, W.W. Crosby, Joel Marsh, A.A. Stevens, and J.H. Campbell, vestrymen, and J.M. Levy treasurer.

In 1863, Rev. C.P. Dorset was called to La Crosse and the same year two lots on the corner of Main and 9th Streets purchased for the location of a church. Rev. Dorset introduced the first pipe organ and organized the first boy choir in the city. The first Christ Episcopal Church was completed in 1864.

During Dr. J.J. Wilkins pastorate, the present church was built and dedicated Sept.. 10, 1899. The second church was built on the same location.

The altar of the first Episcopal Church in La Crosse is still in use in the chapel of the present church.

The church is an excellent example of the Romanesque architecture with its steep roof, tower and gables. This ornate, picturesque castle-like structure was popular in the 1890s. It is patterned after the famous 13th century-old Cathedral of Slamanco, Spain. The tower is an outstanding piece of architecture and according to records, the only others like it are the towers of famous Trinity Church, Boston.

Cass Gilbert, renowned architect, who later died in an insane asylum, designed the church building and a woman contractor (the only one in the country) constructed it. THe women went into debt during construction and a bonding company finished the job.

The following priests have served Christ Church as Rectors during the church's 112 year history. The Revered Fathers Fayette Durlin 1857-1860; James Young 1860-1861; James Barton 1861-1862; Charles P. Dorset 1863-1867; William W. Rafter 1867-1868; John McNamara 1868-1870; William Pray Ten Broeck 1870-1876; A.M. Lewis 1877-1878; Joseph De Forest 1878-1881; William P.T. Broeck 1881-1893; Henry Kingham 1893-1895; Jeremiah J. Wilkins 1895-1901; Carl N. Moller 1901-1911; William E. Johnson 1912-1921; Robert D. Vinter 1921-1957; Kenneth E. Trueman, 1957-1966; Harris C. Mooney 1966-.

The rectory which was formerly located at 9th and Main streets was moved in 1898 to 1220 King street where it stands today."