United Methodist Flame

The History of St. Paul's United Methodist Church


The history of Methodism in Tompkins County goes back to 1793 when a circuit rider, Wm. Colbert, Jr. preached the first Methodist sermon in Ithaca. This was followed in 1794 by the formation of the first "Methodist Class".

In 1819, under the direction of David Ayers, the small band undertook construction of their first house of worship. The building was forty-four by fifty-eight feet and of wood frame construction, located on the corner of Aurora St. and Mill St, (now known as Court St.) which is the location of the current structure.

First wood frame church

By mid-century the congregation had outgrown the building and plans were developed to erect a larger church on the site, this time of brick. This building served well for the growing congregation until, in 1892, it was determined that either an addition was needed, or a new facility had to be considered.

Brick church

After only 36 years of service, it was decided that the brick church, now known as the First Methodist Episcopal Church, would be demolished and a new building constructed on the site. The last service of worship was held in November of 1906. Bricks from the structure were salvaged for use in the new stone faced church, the design of which was based on the "Akron Plan" that was popular at the time.

The new building, the present church, was opened in 1909 with a week long celebration and received great recognition in the February 25, 1909 edition of The Christian Advocate.

At this time the house just north of the church on Aurora Street was serving as the parsonage. However, it was decided that a larger home was needed for the pastor, so in 1917 the present parsonage, immediately west of the church on Court Street, was constructed. The old parsonage was then converted into office and classroom space.

Over the first half of the century the congregation grew steadily and it was decided, in 1948, that additional classroom facilities were needed. In order to make room for an attached addition, the old Church House was demolished and the three floor addition placed on the site. This part of the now enlarged church was named the "Church House", bearing the name of the old structure.

Over the years a second Methodist congregation had grown in Ithaca as well. Their church, located on State Street, and bearing that name, had deteriorated to the point that extremely expensive repairs were needed in order to maintain its integrity. After much discussion between the leaders of both churches, it was decided that the best solution was to merge the two downtown Methodist congregations at the First Methodist location.

Thus, in 1961 the merger was officially completed with the new church taking on the name: St. Paul's Methodist Church. Some pews and other furnishings from State Street were installed in the "new" church in order to maintain some physical connection.

The final step in the evolution of the church was the merger, on the national level, of the Methodist Church and the United Breatheran Church. The resulting name, the United Methodist Church, completed the transition to our present name: St. Paul's United Methodist Church of Ithaca.

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Last Updated: 4/21/2003