History and Photos

History of the First Congregational Church

The large Romanesque style building on the corner of Fourth Street and Oak Street has a long and interesting history. It began many years ago, when ships from England brought those seeking religious freedom to the shores of a new land.
In 1862, the Congressional Society of Manistee was formed by ten citizens. The congregation initially met in an old school house on First Street near the Manistee River. It had been built of cull lumber donated by sawmill owners.
In 1870, when the Society had outgrown the building on First Street, they built the first brick building in Manistee on the southwest corner of Second an Oak Streets. There were more than 200 members at the time.
By 1887, the Congregational Society had outgrown their building on Second and Oak Streets. The minister at that time encouraged for the members to build an edifice with a seating capacity of 1000. He estimated they would need $50,000 for such a project. Since the building was intended to serve the entire community, a subscription paper was circulated, giving others a chance to be a part of this project.
World famous architect William LeBaron Jenney of the Jenney and Otis architectural firm in Chicago, was hired to design the new church building. Mr. Jenney, who was known worldwide as the father of the skyscraper, started on the structural design and, in 1888, construction began.
The original blueprints by Jenney are found in the Architectural Archives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, although no one, including the Archives, knew why. Through the help of Mr. Tom Eshweiler, current curator of the Archives, and grandson of the remodeling architect, copies of the Jenney blueprints are now in the church.
This new building on the corner of Fourth and Oak Streets was completed in 1892 at a total cost of $60,000 which was paid in full prior to the dedication on December 11, 1892, with over 1200 attending.
The church provided theater productions, orchestra performances, choral concerts, dinners, and lectures for the community as well as services for the congregation.
Originally, the windows in the sanctuary were clear glass with delicate etching at the top. One of these windows remains in the stairway to the choir loft in the front balcony.
Over the years, these have been replaced with magnificent stained glass windows given to the church in honor or in memory of a loved one.
Several people from the community along with church members worked hard to have the church placed on the State Historic Building Register and the National Register of Historic Places. They succeeded in their efforts and in 1974 the building was entered on both registers.
This opened the door to preservation grants. The church members and others in the community rolled up their sleeves and went to work, restoring the sanctuary to its original beauty.
The Century Clock made by Nels Johnson was placed in the clock tower in 1905. Century Clocks were named for the time they were expected to be functional and they were known for their accuracy. This one has passed the century mark. The inside walls of the clock room are covered with notes Mr. Johnson left when he was working or repairing the clock. Volunteers still climb the 132 steps up once a week to wind the clock.
There was also a “slave clock” made by Nels Johnson, which was hung in the dinning room and operated by attachment to the tower clock. It has since been converted to electric.
The stately 132-foot clock tower also holds the bell, which was crafted by Meneely Bell Company, of Troy, New York. It was considered to be a beautiful specimen of workmanship. The bell is approximately five and a half feet in diameter and weighs 3200 pounds. This gift was donated and delivered in June of 1905.
The organ pipes were manufactured by Boston Pipe Organ Manufacturing Company and the Kimball pipe organ came from Chicago.
In 1911, the beautiful Kimball Organ replaced the old pump organ that was being used.
The stained-glass memorial windows are the most obvious but not necessarily the most important gift to the church. Each gift had merit and was given in memory or in honor of a loved one or to celebrate an important occasion.

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We share our Church with many who come on tour buses or those who are interested enough to ask. We have tour guides in Victorian style clothes, and the architect, William LeBaron Jenney is said to occasionally be seen conducting tours himself.

This Church has a rich history and many of the names, such as Barnes, Kennedy, Vincent, White, are well known in the community and beyond. There have been tears and joy, singing and praying, weeping and laughing. These walls have held dinners, sheltered the homeless, found a wonderful acoustical venue for concerts, and have serviced the surrounding community.

This building was created to come together to glorify God.

This magnificent building is part of who we are, however it does not define us. It is the people who walk through the massive oak doors, those who welcome all who enter, and those who share their faith through singing, praying, comforting, enjoying life, helping those in need, and joyously praising the God who brings us together.

Full history can be found by reading the History of the First Congregational Church booklet. “…[The] overview look at The First Congregational Church of Manistee, United Church of Christ, and its history. It is a compilation of work that has been done over the years and items that are drawn from old records. There are many other events and people who made this church what it is today. Hopefully, all of this can be preserved and enjoyed for many generations yet to come.” Enjoy!