by Derryl Dumermuth
Tulare Historical Museum
Last month we told the story of the early years of the first church in Tulare - the Congregational. Today we will examine the early history of the second church in Tulare - the Methodist. After uniting in 1968 with the United Brethren, the worldwide movement became known officially as the United Methodist Church.
Sometime before 1880, a small group of Methodists began meeting in a room adjoining the bar of D.W. Madden's Lake House, a downtown hotel located on the northwest corner of Tulare Avenue and K Street, the current site of County Bank. Given the Methodist's early leadership in the cause of temperance and prohibition, it is indeed ironic that those first meetings should take place so close to the lair of "demon rum".
In 1882 the local Methodists, assisted by a $250 loan from the Church Extension Committee, built a sanctuary for the "First Methodist Episcopal Church" at the corner of Kern and G. The building was a small single-story wood-frame structure, painted white, and facing south on Kern Avenue. A small narthex was located just inside the front door, a Sunday school room on the north behind the chancel, and a raised choir loft in the northwest corner. February 12, 1883 became the official birthday of the church when the State of California issued Articles of Incorporation on that date. The trustees who signed that document were Madden, Thomas Turner, Isaac Nantz, L.A. Pratt, and L.J. Morrow.
In 1886 a 1050-pound bell was purchased and installed on a five-foot wooden platform just east of the sanctuary, and then in1903 the platform was replaced by a 30-foot steel tower. The bell was rung every Sunday to announce that the church was open for learning and worship; the bell was tolled for funerals. After the new church was built in 1913 the bell was sold.
In 1963 Dr. Robert Young, longtime Tulare dentist, remembered that early building: "You could walk along the sidewalk on G Street and stand there and look in the windows, listen to the sermon, or disturb the sermon if you wanted to. Heating facilities were limited to a large iron stove situated by the front door. Most of the congregation sat around that stove in the winter, leaving plenty of front seats. Ventilation in the summer time was aided by opening the windows - no air conditioning or anything of that sort".
By 1910 the 28-year-old church building was in sorry condition, and discussion was underway concerning the construction of a new church. Phoebe Poe, speaking at the 50th anniversary of the incorporation recalled that during winter months "members brought old newspapers to spread over gaping holes in the floor to keep out the cold". The replacement, a massive brick structure, was soon completed on the same site and dedicated on June 29, 1913.
A legend concerning the construction of the roof persists to this day. It seems that the builders had finished with the walls, and were puzzled about how to complete the roof. According to the story, a man passing through town on the train, noted the activity at the corner of Kern & G, and walked down to investigate. He provided the solution to the problem, stayed a few weeks until the roof was finished, and then left town on the next train. Some insisted that he must have been an angel - an angel with a degree in engineering.
Two of the most impressive features of the historic building are the 17-rank pipe organ installed through the generosity of Mr. & Mrs. George Swall in 1921; the 20 stained-glass windows dating from 1913, and the modern one dedicated in 1983 - the Centennial Window.
The church auditorium was the largest in Tulare and for many years served as the site for community and school affairs. For example, the 1915 Grammar School Commencement was held in the two-year-old church.
In 1942, while World War II raged in Europe and the South Pacific, Mr & Mrs A.L. Loomer, offered to present to the church a set of amplifiers as a memorial to their son, Barney, lost in naval action near Java on February 27, 1942. The speakers were installed on the roof of the sanctuary in a cupola especially built to house them. Every Sunday morning, organ music was broadcast throughout the neighborhood, announcing to all that the Methodist Church was open for worship. Unfortunately, some of the church's neighbors complained that the loud "noise" disturbed their sleep, so the volume was turned down, and a few years later the broadcasts were discontinued.
Next month you can read on these pages the early history of the third oldest Tulare church - the Christian, or Disciples of Christ.
Derryl Dumermuth is a retired TUHS mathematics teacher, author of "A Town Called Tulare", and co-author with his wife, Wanda, of "Tulare Legends and Trivia from A to Z". Both books were written as fund-raisers for the Tulare Historical Museum and can be purchased in the Museum's gift shop.
1. The original Tulare Methodist Church at Kern & G, 1883-1913.
2. The Tulare United Methodist Church at Kern & G, 1913 - present.