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If these walls could talk: 109 N. Main St.

July 14, 2012

Culver’s Methodist Church is nicely visible in what was likely a Memorial Day parade in downtown Culver., circa early 1950s. Note the Methodist parsonage across Washington St., visible to the right in the photo.

109 N. Main Street, the subject of this week's "virtual" (and historical) journey through downtown Culver, doesn't actually exist.

Not any more, at least.

Generations of past Culverites wouldn't recognize the southwest corner of Main and Washington Streets as it appears today, which is to say -- as discussed in our last "Walls" installment -- the annex to the Culver-Union Twp. Public Library's 1915 Carnegie building at 107 N. Main.

As it happens, 109 N. Main hasn't existed for more than 50 years. 109 was the address of Culver's Methodist (or for much of its life, Methodist Episcopal) church, but circa 1956, the address at that site changed to 105 Washington. More on that later.

The downtown Methodist church was certainly one of Culver's grandest and most iconic buildings. It came into being after several years of local Methodists (being, along with Baptists, the predominant Christian group in Culver at the time) worshipping in the local schoolhouse, among other places.

After the purchase of the lot at Main and Washington for $50, construction was completed on the wood frame church building there in 1868. Painted white exteriorly, the church was built, it was said, from poplar lumber sawn at the mill at the Maxinkuckee Village, on today's 18B Road, and then rafted across the lake to the town known then as Marmont.

The frame church served its congregation for 30 years, until at the cost of $5,000 it was remodeled and enlarged, with a brick edifice added and the building rotated on its base, the main entrance facing Main Street at a slight angle. The expansion was to the east and west, and a basement was added, as was a beautiful clock and bell tower. The clock is clearly visible in early photos, but by the mid-1930s (and likely earlier), it was absent from the building. It's striking that Culver appears to be poised, in 2012, to erect its first public "town clock" in the downtown area since the Methodist church's tower clock went away nearly 100 years ago!

As alluded to in our recent column on the library, the Methodist church apparently had no restroom facilities (not entirely shocking since it was dedicated in 1898), so for many years the library left its restroom unlocked for use by worshippers on Sunday mornings.
A blurb in the Culver Citizen in Nov., 1909 noted that the wooden sidewalk outside the church, even then referred to as a "relic of prehistoric times," had been replaced with a cement one.

It's interesting to note that the seating configuration ran lengthwise to the pulpit and altar, and an "amen corner" was thus fashioned in the west end of the sanctuary, according to early descriptions.

The church pasonage -- whose location we'll discuss in the next column -- sat across Washington Street to the north, where the BP gas station sits today.

An era ended in 1955 when the old church fell to the wrecking ball after nearly 100 years' occupancy, and the Wesley United Methodist Church opened at its present site at 511 N. School Street.

A year later, a new structure, also surrounded by brick, was opened, this time facing Washington Street (the aforementioned 105 W. Washington) and occupied by Culver's NIPSCO office. In the basement of the one-story structure, dentist Dr. John Oldham opened a practice in the spring of 1958, practicing there for around the next 12 years.

By 1983, the State Exchange Insurance Company was occupying the building, though soon the bank made the transition to the Norcen Bank (and insurance company). In 1999, Bremen's Miller Insurance acquired Norcen, giving birth to today's Miller-Norcen Insurance company. Two years later, that business moved across the street to its present location at 116 N. Main Street, paving the way for demolition of its previous home, in order to make room for the Culver Public Library's great expansion.

So today, if you're attending a meeting in the library's large, lower-level room or spending time it its computer lab, you're occupying space where a thousand hymns were once sung and a thousand energy-related or insurance transactions took place (though not likely at the same time!).

*THIS SERIES, "CULVER HISTORY CORNER," IS SPONSORED MONTHLY BY THE ANTIQUARIAN AND HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF CULVER, http://culverahs.com*

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