A Short History of Our Buildings

A Short History of Our Buildings

In 1873 The Liberal Christian Association (possibly viewed as Unitarians) purchased a little private schoolhouse and moved it to a southeast corner of Maple and Cherry Streets. A cupola and a cross were added and it became a church building. This building was shared with what would become the Winnetka Congregational Church.

On September 29, 1874 the Winnetka Union Religious Association (later changed to The Winnetka Religious Association and five years later to Winnetka Congregational Church) was ordained by a Council and incorporated into the Conference of Congregational Churches of Chicago. The Winnetka Congregational Church was incorporated in the State of Illinois. July 21, 1883.

Financial challenges followed the formation of the Church from paying rent for use of the Unitarian church and, just as importantly, paying clergy. A January 10, 1886 proposal was presented for a new church to be built on lots acquired by the congregation at the present site of Hadley school.

Through donations, an advance from a member, and fundraising efforts by the women of the church through 1886, at 10:30 AM on September 26, 1886, the new church at the top of Arbor Vitae at Elm Street was celebrated. It is the present site of the Hadley School. Erected at the cost of $5000, this building was something all congregations strive for: debt-free.

The Sanctuary was built to hold 70-80 people. A second hand organ, purchased in late January 1883 for $151.49 and an assembly hall were built for use by the congregation and the community. Wood burning stoves were installed for heat and lighting provided by oil-lit wall lamps. The chandeliers were donated by the Spencer, Massachusetts Congregational Church.

It took until September 1889 to finish the basement of the church and the project. The young people of the church sponsored a fund-raising lecture by Col. J.E. Buckler on “The Story I Tell the Children-A True Story of Capture, Prison Pen and Escape” Not quite a Dr. Seuss or Good Night Moon presentation. The completed basement was dedicated on September 29, 1889, was debt-free, and used for Sunday School.

Hope for a church bell lingered with repeated delays until the project was handed to The Woman’s Society. In three months, the new bell rang on Easter Sunday. 1896. It is suggested that the bell now resides in the Tower of The Chapel on Lincoln.

A collaboration between then senior pastor Quincy Lamartine Dowd (below left) and Winnetka resident and progressive muckraker Henry Demarest Lloyd (below right) led to Town Meetings in the Church’s basement.

The Town meetings were for community discussions about local topics and concerns, such as forbidding bicycles rides on the wood sidewalks, Winnetka Schools, the Chicago & Northwestern station, and the problem of liquor. What were hot topics in 1880’s still seem to be topics in the 2020’s.

Several innovative and progressive initiatives did come from these meetings; Municipal ownership of electrical and water utilities; women attending the Town Meetings were given equal voting rights 20+ years before the 19thAmendment was passed. The Caucus system (for better or worse) was also proposed at these meetings.

Pastor Quincy Lamartine Dowd was a dynamic leader who drove the construction of the first permanent church. He believed the church should be in the background and community service in the foreground; A community orientated church that has been the mission of WCC for decades.

Many Thanks to the content of Remember, Rejoice, Renew by George D. Brodsky, a long-time and faithful member of Winnetka Congregational Church.