Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, August 3, 1998

Presbyterian church building up for sale


Inside the church, the air is musty. Pews, covered with dust wait for the Presbyterians to return.

But that isn't going to happen. The church's governing body, the Presbytery, has put the First Presbyterian Church on the sale block.

Things from the church, the bible, the curtain that hung behind the alter (dossal curtain), the communion table and other items have been given to the McLeod County Historical Society.

The Presbytery took the Celtic brass cross and candle stands. The cross that hung on the outside of the church was returned to the family that donated it in memory of Dale Gilmer.

The hymnals went to the Presbyterian church in Waverly.

In a small room in the back of the church there is a black board. Mattie Emery would like to find a home for it.

Of the twelve members that remained when the church was closed in October of 1996, Mattie had been with the church the longest.

She said she started attending the Presbyterian church shortly after 1948. The exact year Mattie is unsure of.

"We came to Winsted right after the war. We had been living in Lester Prairie and went to the UCC (United Church of Christ) down there," she said. When the Emerys move to Winsted, they joined the Presbyterian church. It was around this time, Mattie thinks, the church had its most members.

For Mattie, there are memories in this church. "We always had a nice Christmas program. People would come from all over, and we used to have Christmas Eve service. Easter was always special.

"Our women's association would meet once a month and take care of the church and bought things we needed. We bought the organ, the piano and two dossal curtains.

"Our girls used to enjoy Sunday school and Mrs. Moore played the organ for many years. But she's gone just like everybody else," Mattie said.

Others gone are the ministers. In 1978 the church was served by Rev. George Tjaden and Rev. Robert Elkin.

Tjaden enjoyed woodworking and made several things for the church, including the altar.

Mattie has a folder full of the history of the church.

It came about during her effort to have the church placed on the National Register of Historic Places, but the her bid was declined.

"They didn't want it because it had been stuccoed. I guess they wanted it ramshackle. That would have been terrible," she said.

The history of the Presbyterian church goes back to the founders of Winsted: Eli Lewis, his wife Elenor and brother Isaac.

In 1857, Eli purchased land from Baptiste Campbell and his wife, Margaret.

Campbell, who was on fourth Santee Sioux was given a parcel of land as part of a treaty agreement. Campbell had legal title to the land that is now downtown Winsted.

The Lewises held church services in their log home and later in the school, when it was built.

In 1877 or 1878 an organized church was formed. The present building was completed in 1881.

The building was remodeled in 1906, 1924, and again 1951, which Mattie remembers.

The last time it was remodeled the church was given a simple black and white interior, meant to emulate the Old North Church in Boston.

Over time, the membership of First Presbyterian Church dwindled, leading to its closing.

After almost two years, Mattie still feels the Presbytery could have made more of an effort to prevent the closing and recruit parishioners.

"They didn't do much evangelism," she said.

The only thing Mattie wants for the church is its reopening, but she knows that won't happen.

"One of my daughters said it would make a nice wedding chapel," she said.

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