Marshfield, December 1901: Fire devastates the Methodist Episcopal Church
By Kris Leonhardt
The Methodist Episcopal Church is often credited as the first Methodist denomination to form in the United States of America. Under the leadership of founders John and Charles Wesley, it grew to become one of the largest Protestant denominations in the country.
In 1881 Reverend Orrin A. Britton began a Methodist “class” in the young community of Marshfield. As the group of worshipers grew, services were held in Marshfield’s first public schoolhouse.
One year later the congregation built its first church on the corner of South Central Avenue and Sixth Street with land donated by the Fox Rover Company.
The church later purchased land on the corner of South Maple Avenue and East Third Street and moved the church building to that location. The following year fire swept through Marshfield, claiming much of the town and nearly the entire business district, but the small church was spared.
In December 1901 the Methodist Episcopal Church had just completed an entire rebuild on the Maple Avenue facility. An elaborate dedication had been planned for the following Sunday to showcase the work that had been done.
At 3 a.m. on the Thursday morning before Christmas, church members stoked the fire in the furnace and a small stove that had been placed in the lecture room to dry the freshly completed plaster.
Having completed the task, the church was left empty until the next trip to sustain the fire.
At around 6 a.m. on the cold December morning, smoke was seen coming from the building, and the fire alarm was immediately sounded.
The community descended upon the small church, and in a short time the blaze was extinguished. However, between the floors and inside walls ashes lay smoldering and unreachable to those that had come to rescue the church.
Workers began to chop into the floors and walls to administer to the remnants that threatened to reignite the flames.
When the fire was finally under control, all that was left of the building were the outside walls and its roof. The interior had been completely destroyed.
The fire was later attributed to the stove in the lecture room. Fully covered by insurance, the church building was restored. It later underwent multiple renovations before being replaced by a new structure.
The Methodist Episcopal congregation later became the Wesley United Methodist Church.