History of the Merrimac Methodist Church
In 1852, three years before the town of Merrimac was organized and thirteen years before the Village of Merrimac was laid out and named, six Methodists joined together and formed a Methodist Class. They were Esek Green and his wife Ann Gibbs, John Cornish and his wife, Mrs. Swet and her son William. Four years later in 1856 another class – the Chapel class - was formed about four miles west of Merrimac with six members – Polly Bailey, Louise Farnum, Mr. and Mrs. Matthews, and Mr. and Mrs. Richmond. These twelve may be reckoned as the first members of organized Methodism in this community.
The oldest descendant of the founders that is still living in the community today is George Palmer, the 4th great-grandson of Esek Green and Ann Gibbs. George’s father, Horace, was chair of the building committee in 1964, and his grandfather, Howard, was church superintendent in 1952.
In 1860, a chapel, twenty by twenty-four feet, was built to serve as a Methodist Meeting House for the 12 Methodists across the road east from the Chapel Hill School on Highway 113, four miles northwest of the Village of Merrimac.
First Church Building
The people of Merrimac decided to build a church in 1876, under the pastorate of Nathaniel Leach, who began soliciting subscriptions, quarrying stone, digging a basement, and hauling the stone with a wlll. The building was planned to be about 32 by 50 feet with a stone foundation, and framed with brick veneer above. The contract was left to a Madison contractor to furnish all material and all work, except the excavating for basement, delivering the stone on-site and hauling the brick from Portage. The basement was to be finished at a later date. In March 1876, the first snow of the season came and a “bee” was called. The whole community started for Portage for loads of brick, and that night all of the brick was on location ready for the church. At this time, a Ladies Aid Society was started, with Mrs. William Slade as the first President. This society, and its successor since 1941, the Women’s Society of Christian Service, has given strength and support to the church ever since.
In 1896, under the pastorate of J.F. Grier, a parsonage was built for $650 and many hours of volunteer work.
In 1900, a belfry was added to the church building and a bell mounted. The basement was rebuilt, new windows were installed, and new pews were provided This was accomplished under the leadership of Rev. R.J. Peoples. A pie-shaped beautiful stained-glass window was made to honor Rev. Peoples and is still part of the church building today.
Church destroyed by fire
On October 13, 1960, at about 2:30 am, a bolt of lightning apparently struck the chimney in the back of the church. The cooking stove which stood at the base of the chimney in the basement was blown apart. By the time the blaze was discovered, the attic was afire. Despite efforts of the Merrimac fire department, the fire could not be stopped. The only item that was salvaged from the chancel was the lectern, which has a small scorched spot on it. Earlier the same morning, a nearby home of Walter Peetz was struck by lightning and blown apart.
Insurance coverage was $12,000 for the church building valued at $25,000. Some children, including George Palmer, were allowed to haul away scorched bricks to help pave roads over creeks on their farms. Those brick paths still exist today, as George recently donated one of the bricks to the church as a historical artifact.
With the Methodist spirit, worship service was held the next Sunday in the Merrimac school auditorium. Later services were held in the Lutheran church for a while. Other villagers, Evangaline Davenport and Grace Johnson offered the use of their homes or shops.
The ground was broken for the new building on August 12, 1962, with Harvey Larson of Pardeeville as the architect and Schultz and Wiess from Baraboo as general contractors. Horace Palmer was chair of the building committee. The congregation borrowed $20,000 at 3% interest from the Baraboo National Bank. On February 17, 1963, the first service was held in the sanctuary. By July 1, 1974, the debt was completely paid off.
In 2000, a new parsonage was constructed at Lu Foster Lane in Merrimac. Much of the cost was financed by large gifts and bequests, plus many volunteer hours.
In 2019, a building committee was formed to investigate the option for expansion and remodeling. Major goals were the creation of a handicapped-accessible restroom on the main floor, a private office for the pastor, additional storage on both levels, a larger narthex/gathering area on the main level, an expanded/unfinished basement area for future use, and a new/more accessible entrance on the main level. Significant funds had already been raised over the years in anticipation of this expansion. After a successful pledge drive, a groundbreaking ceremony was held on July 28, 2019. McKee Construction soon began their work and with the help of many volunteers, it is anticipated that the project will be completed in spring, 2020.