History

HISTORY

of Braceville United Methodist Church

The first settler in this township was a Methodist preacher by the name of Rev. L.S. Robbins, back in 1834 (long before the Church was supplied with an appointment of a pastor).

     In 1848, B. R. Dowd came to the area.  At this time the local area was a farming community.  Mr. Dowd looked at the small collection of house and businesses and thought it needed a proper name.  Being homesick for his hometown of Braceville, Ohio, he thought it would be wonderful thing to name the little town "Braceville", and so he did!  Not surprisingly, he was also the first Township Supervisor.  

     In 1850 the Methodist started having church services every Sunday at Waters School, a little country one room school house that was two and a half miles out of town.  They called themselves "Christ in Methodism".  For thirteen years they met here and in the lodge above a small grocery store.

     Then in 1863 they started looking for someone to fill the appointment as pastor.  This came about in 1864 with the appointment of Pastor M. Dewey to what was now called the "Methodist Episcopal Church".  But they had the same problem back then that the church has faced in every era - how to pay the pastor.  Finally, in 1867 they formed a circuit church that included Gardner, Braceville, Braidwood, and Essex Center.  This worked well for the parishioners, but did keep the pastor very busy!

     Big changes came in the early 1870's when coal was discovered in the area.  Braceville started to grow as people were coming from all over to work in the coal mines.  But the best part was when G.P. Augustine, owner of the new Braceville Coal Company, provided a plot of land for their Methodist Episcopal Church.  Being the wise man that he was, and interested in building community, he encouraged the town to work together on holding fundraisers for the building project.  Voluntary subscriptions were made by the miners, with the amount taken out of their pay and turned over to the church trustees.  Then Mr. Augustine had a formal ceremony to sign the land over to the members of the church.  The building was finished in 1873, at which time the population of Braceville had grown to 3500.  (Keep in mind that the original building consisted only of the sanctuary - the rest of the building, including the belfry, that now exists was added later).

    By 1885 the town had grown even more, and Mr. Augustine decided the church building needed to be moved to a more central location.  He bought a plot of land on the corner of Goold and Merrill, and in 1887 the Braceville Coal Company deeded the land to the Methodist Episcopal Church trustees.  

     The whole town was involved in the project of moving the building from Mitchell St to its new location.  The front of the church was located on the west end of the building.  But it wasn't long before the church members thought the building should also have a belfry, with a steeple and a bell.  It took eight years of fundraising for it to become a reality, but it did in 1893, along with a new entrance door, and a gallery above the entry for the choir to sing from.

     The church membership kept growing and growing, and soon they did not have enough room for everyone.  They definitely needed to add on, but weren't sure how to do it, since the altar was on the east side and there was no room on the west side because the building was so close to the street.  Rev. A. J. Buxton even went down into the mines to seek the help of the miners with the project.  Finally someone got the idea to remove the front door and put a big stained glass window in its place below the belfry.  (Later on this window was covered with a wall).  Then the altar was placed in the entry space, and the gallery removed.  A door was installed on the south side of the church where you would enter the new addition, called "The League Room".  The Epworth League met there as well as Sunday School classes, Ladie's Aid meetings and other social activities.  At first they used folding wooden doors to separate the addition from the sanctuary, but later they replaced them with a glass filled wall.  Because of the addition, the parsonage had to be moved, but not far.  They bought Lot 8 next door and moved it there.  Everyone was happy!  They had a wonderful church, plus room for the 200 children and adults that attended Sunday School, as well as all of their meetings and activities.

     But between 1900 and 1910 the productivity of the coal mines started to decline.  People were moving away.  Some even took their houses with them.  By 1920 there was only a population of 250 people.  The Episcopal Methodist Church was the lone survivor of Braceville churches.

     During the 30s, 40s and 50s, the Ladie's Aid did a lot of fundraising through their quilting projects.  It provided them some treasured social time as well.

     When the strip mines came, it boosted the economy somewhat; as did the defense plants built during the early 40s in Joliet.  Then after the war, in 1950, the new Catepillar plant in Joliet helped the population to grow, and the little church started to grow again as well.

     So the next thing to be added was a kitchen on the back of the League Room in 1955.  Soup suppers, salad luncheons, and pot lucks were then possible for The Ladie's Aid, which became The Women's Society of Christian Service.

     But even better was the growth of the Sunday School program.  By 1960 there were from 80 to 100 in attendance every Sunday.  The League Room got too crowded and classes were even held in the kitchen.  A temporary solution was found by buying a trailer used for class rooms.  They called it "Our Educational Unit".  

     In 1968 they took out a loan to build another building.  An unexpected blessing followed shortly, when Mrs. Margaret Oliver left $70,000 in her will to the Braceville United Methodist Church, which paid off the loan!  It was her childhood church, and Rev. James Patrick had kept in touch with her over the years on all that transpired there.  The new building had five classrooms, a pastor's study, and rest rooms.  It was also used by the public school across the street Monday through Friday, as it too had become overcrowded by 1970.  

     (It should be noted that in 1968 the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church combined, and became the United Methodist Church.  The women's group was now known as The United Methodist Women.)

     While the church was becoming the hub of the community, the parsonage next door was in need of repair, so they used the rest of the money left by Mrs. Oliver to build a new parsonage across the street on Mitchell St. from where the church was first located.  The project was started in the fall of 1978, and was finished, and dedicated by Bishop LeRoy Hodapp, on Sept. 30, 1979.  They removed the old parsonage and replaced it with a garden.

     Next step was to remodel the kitchen, by replacing the old water pump with new plumbing, and installing new kitchen cabinets.  In addition, they connected the two buildings with hallway.  Now they had one big building, instead of two separate ones.

    But then the church started to fall on hard times once again.  The membership started to dwindle.  Children grew up and left home, the older ones went to be with the Lord, and many adults moved away or lost interest.  But there were a handful of loving and dedicated people who stood staunchly by the church and kept it together as much as they could.  They prayed for a miracle and God answered their prayers with a new pastor named Andrea Boggs.  She, and her husband Dave, along with their dog, Malachi, worked very hard, and their love and faith in God turned the church around.  Braceville United Methodist Church now had youth groups (JAM, EDGE, and STATIC), the UMW revived, Vacation Bible School grew, and the pews started to fill up once again.  

     The renewed enthusiasm inspired the congregation to make some needed improvements in the building.  Jack Dobrzynski rewired the church, redid all the fixtures, and put in new lighting and ceiling fans.  Church members started painting, scrubbing carpet, and cleaning.  They bought tiles and retiled the ceiling.  Everything looked so fresh and bright!

     Following Pastor Andrea in 2013 was a young pastor named Bennett Woods, and his wife Kim.  When he graduated from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in 2017 he was appointed to serve at Industry and Vermont United Methodist churches, and Pastor Karen Fabian became our pastor.  Repairs to the steeple were made, and it was painted red!

     We pray God continues to bless Braceville United Methodist in the years to come, and have faith that He will.

     Early photos (thanks to Alice Creech):

     Picnic at Mazonia

     Pythian Sisters and family - August 1910

     Photo taken in the yard of Braceville Methodist Episcopal Church.

Ladies are dressed in native dress of their ancestors.  Tall hats - Wales.  Tamoshanter - Scotland.  Also represented:  England, France, Germany, Sweden, and Bohemia.

Baby in front row is Verna Clark Jerus.  To the right is her mother, Mirium Resse Clark.  5th from left is Mary (Mae) Leona Gray Arthur.  Standing at extreme right is Bessie Reese, a long time teacher in Braceville schools.

     Oldest building in Braceville.  Built in 1872.