The Lemont United Methodist Church had its beginning in 1853 during the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal when a Congregationalist minister, Rev. Sinclair began preaching in the new stone railroad station house. After about six months, his pulpit was vacated and no services were held until 1857. Rev. Miller, a Methodist-Episcopal minister organized a Sunday School which continued until 1860. Rev. B. Vincent was sent from Garrett Biblical Institute to be in charge of the new Methodist-Episcopal church which was officially organized on December 22, 1860 with 13 members, one probationer and 31 students for the "Sabbath School".
In July of 1861, the trustees met and decided to build a building of stone, 35 by 60 feet, without a basement. On September 14, 1861, the cornerstone was laid and it was estimated to cost about $2,000. At that time, there were 27 members, 24 probationers and 110 "Sabbath Scholars". The stone for the church was donated by Mr. Brown and came from his quarry, which was located where Totura's store now stands. The stone was mostly tailings left from the block quarrying operation, and men donated their time to load the stone, bring it up to the site, and put it in place for the walls. The Brown family was very helpful to the church and also to the Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church, donating a lot to them to build a new church . On November 21, 1861, the building was enclosed and the first service was held with Dr. Eddy and Prof. Bugbee conducting the service. $540 was collected, and this paid in full the money needed for construction.
By then, the nation was at war and the church was used as a recruiting depot for the Northern Illinois Army. It is said that General Ulysses S. Grant personally opened the recruiting headquarters here. The embossed steel ceiling is the second one installed and came from the Friedley - Voshardt company. The Friedley family manufactured this type of ceiling, which was also used in many other buildings in Lemont and throughout the world. The beautiful stained glass windows were imported from Italy in 1892 during the Rev. John Robinson's pastorate here and displayed the names of prominent members of the church.
In 1894, the Sanitary and Ship Canal was being built from Chicago and going through Lemont. Nearly 10,000 men were working on the canal project and quarrying. This had great effects on the community and churches.
Reverend Clancy and "Smokey Row"
During the construction of the Sanitary and Ship canal, a "sin strip" grew along the north side of town to entertain the workers and this created a wild west town similar to Dodge City, except without the cowboys. This strip of establishments grew to almost 100 saloons, gambling halls and other "businesses". There were 2 or 3 murders a week and many people carried guns. After the quarry worker's strike and riot in 1893, the police were wary of getting very involved.
Other people in Lemont were farmers and shopkeepers or worked on the canal or quarries and had families. Reverend J. Franklin Clancy arrived in 1894 and was shocked at the deplorable conditions. He decided it was time to clean up this town and he was very concerned about the youth who did not attend the Sunday school or services. Gambling and drinking were destroying families and making them poor. He began by holding a series of temperance meetings every Sunday outside the Tedens building on Stephens Street and handing out small Bibles, which were usually grabbed up. At one of these meetings, a Civic Federation was formed, with members from all the churches in town. Methodist members S. W. Norton and J. Derby helped organize the group and provided a bodyguard for Rev. Clancy, who had several threats on his life. Imagine a minister greeting his parishioners with a man standing next to him carrying a double-barreled shotgun!
All did not go well. Some of his congregation got upset and told him to keep out of town "politics". He tried to get the village to at least shut down the establishments on Sunday, which was the law. Publicity spread until the Chicago Tribune picked up the cause and as a conservative republican paper, offered to help. On Friday, September 6, 1894, 40 private detectives armed with arrest warrants boarded a special train bound for Lemont. By 6 p.m. most of the people arrested had been rounded up, including Mayor McCarthy, Police Chief, and school board president Talty (who owned some of the buildings), and were loaded into the train - cursing and protesting. Subsequent legal actions against property owners proved to be very embarrassing for some - even in Clancy's own congregation.
So, by December 1895, only 25 establishments were operating. But instead of honors, Rev. Clancy was transferred to another parish in LaGrange. Controversy can be costly. But, "Jericho", as he called it, came down and Lemont was "taken for God". At his parting on Sunday September 8, 1895, the 33 year old Clancy told his congregation:
"We have met many serious difficulties, but our real work is still before us". Then he quoted Joshua 1: 6-9; "Be strong and of good courage".
He went on with radical youth programs in Chicago at the Halsted Street Church with the backing of the Swift meat packer family. Clancy must have had amazing gifts of persuasion because Mr. Swift was known for his thrift.
The liberal Methodist Episcopal Church South and the strict Methodist Protestant church united in 1939 and the Lemont church became the Lemont Methodist Church. In 1968, the Methodist Church merged with the Evangelical United Brethren denomination to become the United Methodist Church. During the late 1960's with the church occupying the old stone church, the parsonage at the corner of Cass Street and Lemont Street, and Wesley Hall (the Dillman House on Lemont Street), space was needed, especially for parking. A group of concerned citizens heard that the old church was available, so they began to organize a historical society to try and preserve the building and make it into a historical museum. A deal was arranged with the church to allow the historical society to take over (for $10, with the building reverting to the church, should the society dissolve) the care and expenses for the old stone church. Thomas F. Ludwig was elected the first president of the Lemont Area Historical Society in April 1970. Other members of the church who served on the Board of Directors were Ronald Hamelin, Madeline Hamelin, Regis Mathy, Gloria Egermaier and Walter Tedens.
The new church at 25 West Custer was built with beautifully paneled high ceilings and cedar shingled exterior with brick wings on the ground level for school rooms. There was space allotted for a new preschool class, later named "Happy Hands". The initial cost was about $200,000 and it was dedicated on September 13, 1970 with the Rev. Don C. Leo officiating. Glen McAdam donated the landscaping. At that time it had a membership of about 400 with 189 in the Sunday School.
The Methodist men's club hosted a community annual event at the church, called the Washington's Day banquet for over 63 years. That event brought together men to enjoy a home-cooked meal by the women's society, and hear a motivational speech. Other local community organizations that have used the church are the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, TOPS, Lemont Professional Nurses' Association, Alcoholics Anonymous, Homemakers and Panic Disorder (STOP).
The Open Pantry was established in 1975 by "Bobbie" Legan and Bethany Lutheran Church to assist people in the Lemont community who needed help in their financial matters. It has been supported by many community groups like Community Chest of Lemont, Inc., Lemont Lions, Lemont Park District, Chipain's, Totura's, Lemont Clergy Association, UnoVen, the grade schools, High School, local nursing homes, the Post Office, the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago, as well as the church itself. Since 1988, over 1400 visits have been made with over $48,000 given out to the needy. There is also a monthly ministry of serving meals at the Daybreak Shelter in Joliet.
Happy Hands preschool is one of our most important ministries in the community, with 140-150 preschoolers each year. This is a huge undertaking for a church our size.
The Lemont United Methodist Church through it's mission programs has helped to build a sister church in Rhodesia, before its revolution. That church was built during the time our new Methodist Church was being built in Lemont and giving exceeded the expectations.
One very special characteristic of this church is it's ministry of healing. Prayer life in the church is strong and very supportive. Another important aspect of the church is the music ministries, headed by Bob and Sue Gergescz. There is an adult choir and a children's choir.
During the Lenten season, the church presents a drama called the Last Supper, based upon the painting of Leonardo daVinci. It is an ecumenical program open to the community and is held on Palm Sunday. There is also a joint service with Bethany Lutheran Church on Good Friday and Thanksgiving Eve.
by Richard H. Lee
Recent pastors and their years of service in Lemont are: