MENDOTA – Scaffolding is in place and work has started on restoration of the stained glass windows at Mendota First Presbyterian Church. But to fund the costly project, as well as repairs to the building’s chimney, the church had to ask for help. Thanks to support from church members, businesses and the community, they received enough donations to fund both projects.
First Presbyterian Pastor Susan Presley said she was overwhelmed with the response they received to their request. She explained that one large donor had given them $30,000 for the projects and asked the church to match that amount. Hoping to meet that challenge, the church sent out one letter asking for donations.
“Between the church, the community and businesses that pitched in, we exceeded our goal and raised $60,000 in two months,” Presley said. “The response has been phenomenal. But this is a beautiful, historic church – it might be the oldest church building in continuous use in Mendota – and I think it is important to the community.”
The unique stone church was completed in December 1898, a year after the congregation’s previous wooden structure had burned to the ground in October 1897. One of the early religious groups living in Mendota, First Presbyterian Church organized in 1855 soon after the founding of the town. The following year, they built a house of worship at the corner of Fifth Street and 10th Avenue – the same location as the current church – on lots donated by T.B. Blackstone. The steeple of the original frame building is said to have cost about $3,500 and there was seating for about 350 people.
As the town grew, in 1857 the Second Presbyterian Church was organized and they built a small church on the East Side of town. But less than a decade later, they disbanded and sold their building to the Universalist Society. The congregation, which had 19 members, then joined the First Presbyterian Church.
Soon after First Presbyterian lost their church in 1897, the congregation began planning for a new structure made of stone, most likely hoping to avoid another tragic fire. Fire was an ongoing threat in the early days of most communities. In 1870, a fire in Mendota had wiped out most of the businesses on the south side of Washington Street, which prompted the formation of a fire company. Fire extinguishers were purchased and the city bought a hand-operated pump set on a truck. Water mains were laid and deep wells drilled but despite the efforts, they were not able to prevent a second huge fire the next year. The 1871 blaze began in a furniture store on Washington Street and within an hour, eight buildings were gone. Much early history was erased by uncontrollable fires including Mendota’s Union Depot in 1885 and then the Presbyterian Church a decade later.
With the stained glass windows at First Presbyterian now well over 100 years old, Presley said it was important to have them restored and protected for the future. Over the years some of the leading had cracked and some of the windows had gotten bowed. In addition, the protective plexiglass coverings on the windows needed to be replaced. Presley noted that the largest window, which is 20 feet high, was originally installed in memory of a young woman who died in 1886.
Once funding was in place, the church turned to Willet Hauser of Minnesota to do the restoration work, which is expected to take about two weeks to complete. Presley explained that Willet Hauser is the main company that does restoration on large stained glass windows and the company had previously done some work at First Presbyterian in the 1960s.
The chimney repairs will be done by a local business, Mauch Carpentry, which had the lowest bid.
Presley expressed her appreciation to all of the church members, community members and businesses who helped with donations. “Even if the donation was a small amount, they all helped us to reach our goal,” she said. “This is a historic building and we look forward to having the church around for generations to come.”