Summerdale Congregational Church: History of the Congregation


The Summerdale Congregational Church developed from a Sunday school organized to meet in the Summerdale railway station at Berwyn and the Chicago Northwestern tracks in May of 1889. This was a short time before the town of Lakeview became a part of Chicago. [Editor’s note: the station was between Foster and Farragut.]
Later, the school moved to a factory building nearby where crates and planks furnished the seats. The Ravenswood Church donated old pews, a small organ and a number of hymn books.
After moving from a home on Lincoln Street, the church group took shelter in a storefront on Ravenswood at Farragut called the Wager Hall.
In 1890, under the leadership of Rev. Zwingle H. Smith, the Summerdale Congregational Church was organized. In 1891, because of the generous aid of Mr. R.J. Bennett, a lot at the corner of Farragut and Paulina was purchased. Soon afterwards, part of this lot was sold off to cover church debts.
With no funds in sight for the construction of a church, a resident mechanic, David Evans, offered his labor to Rev. Edgar B. Wylie, pastor, to begin building the church. With subscriptions of $1,427 and a matching gift from Mr. Bennett, the new building was begun with excavations on October 21, 1893. While Mr. Bennett supplied the plans and supervised construction, Mr. Wylie marshaled the labor for the project.
The basement of the church was completed in September, 1894 - 100 years ago - and here the church carried on for six years. In 1899, after another subscription drive netted $1,500, the building of the upper church began anew. The costs exceeded the initial funds raised and additional support from Dr. E.P. Goodwin and Dr. F.A. Noble brought together enough to complete the structure by September 16, 1900. Shortly after its completion, Rev. Wylie succumbed to pneumonia.
Succeeding ministers continued the programs and activities of the church and attracted many participants who were not members. Throughout its history, the membership has hovered between 100-200.
In 1931, the Argyle Community Churches joined the Summerdale Congregational Church to become the Summerdale Community Church. By 1940, at the time of the 50th anniversary, the membership numbered 192. At this time work was done on the church building, including the addition of the oak wood cabinetry in the sanctuary.
The church design is a simple open space with bead board wainscoting and oak choir loft. The ceiling is beamed with bead board finish. A most remarkable thing about the church is the beautiful stained glass in warm earth tones with blue accents. The artist is unknown.
In 1973, the original church steeple was struck by lightning, and what you see today is a modification. Because the steeple was designed as a separate structure, the ensuing fire did not damage the church. In another freak accident, the circular window on the façade was blown out in a windstorm on January 10, 1975. The Summerdale Community Church has held its doors open to other church groups over the years. Most recently, the Fil-Am United Church of Christ has joined in this process. It is this open door that gives validity to the name “The Summerdale Community Church.”
–from description of church in 1994 Edgewater Historical Society Home Tour booklet.

See also:

Rev. Silas Meckel Interview*

History of Uptown, Summerdale District/Recent Changes, Document #29

Source: Interview with Rev. Silas Meckel, residence 1728 Catalpa, pastor of the Summerdale Congregational Church at Paulina and Farragut Avenues [1700 West Farragut] for the past two years. Interviewed in January, 1928.

I have only lived in the community for two years so that I know nothing of the early history of the church, but I can tell you what others have told me since I have been pastor. The original church was started by English speaking people, many of English or Canadian birth. These people had English traditions and Congregational backgrounds and wanted their own church here. During the first few years of its existence, it was quite a community church, being, as I understand it, the only church in the district. People used to walk across the open prairie to go to church at it. There were some Scandinavians in the locality when the church was started in 1890. These joined and became thoroughly Anglicized. But after 1900 with the increase in the Scandinavian element in our population, the membership decreased, for the Scandinavians very naturally and properly went to their own religious organizations as they were organized. In 1914 then, when the Swedish influx assumed its largest proportions, our little church was nearly in a state of insolvency. The budget for 1914 was $1,000. Most of the English-speaking members have moved out of the district.

In some case they have moved just across the tracks to the west. This land up until several years ago was all under glass. It was owned by Peter Reinberg who had built the greenhouses a long time ago. Since his death, they have been torn down, for the increased valuation of the land made such a move advisable. His son subdivided the land and in the last five years since the time it was opened up, the whole district has had an enormous development. In the last two years Hoyne and Hermitage have gone into apartments. This district is populated with English speaking people and in some cases there are young married people from the east side of the Northwestern tracks. But now, it is beginning to look like some of these young people are leaving the new district to go further west or north.

The opening up of the land directly west of the old church district had also decreased our membership and so when I came I asked that this new territory be given to me to work for one year. I made a survey of the territory and found no other church ministering to it. The people on the west of the did not know of our church on the other side of the tracks. So I had to do a great deal of visiting before they were acquainted with the church. But by the end of the year, my membership had doubled itself. Now we are hoping to build a new church in the new district. The territory in our parish will be bounded by Ainslee, Rosehill Cemetery, Western and Robey. We hope to locate at Hoyne and Foster Avenues. I do not believe that we will lose many of our old members by the church in location. At present the only street in the neighborhood of the church that can be called our parish street is Farragut Avenue. The other members are scattered east of the tracks or are all on the west side.

Another interesting point about the location of the old church was that while it was good in the early life of the organization, in the later years it turned out to be unfortunately located. When streets began to be built, some of the north and south ones did not cut across Bryn Mawr or Farragut and so the church was dependent upon east and west lines of travel. With the elevation of the Northwestern tracks, the isolation of the western territory began.

The elevated tracks of the Northwestern have been a psychological barrier. They have never been wholly physical since openings under the tracks are frequent and are used for automobile service. But when people are out for a walk, they stop at the tracks on their own side and do not mingle with the life of the other side. The people who now live on the west side have gotten so used to living to themselves over there that if we had a great big steeple on our church just a short way to the east of the tracks, it would never have been noticed by them.

Note: The replacement church at Hoyne and Foster was apparently never built. In 2013, the original building at Paulina and Farragut continues to operate under the name Summerdale Community Church as part of the United Church of Christ, a successor denomination to the Congregational Church.

* Silas Archipus Meckel was born 8 October 1899 in La Sueur, Minnesota, to Karl and Louise Meckel, both born in Germany. His father was a clergyman of the Evangelical Association( Evangelishche Gemeinschaft). In 1918 Silas Meckel worked as a seaman for a WeSeattle-based shipping company. He attended college and seminary in Minnesota in the early 1920s and it is possible that the position with Summerdale Congregational Church was his first after seminary. He married Ruth D. Jones and had a son and daughter before 1930. He was serving Mayflower Community Church in Minneapolis in 1930 and 1940. He became a chaplain during WWII, and his veteran’s death certificate indicates he was an Air Force Colonel during the Korean War. He died in Houston, Texas, 9 April 1980.

Cover page: Documents: History of the Uptown Community, Chicago. Prepared for the Chicago Historical Society and the Local Community Research Committee, University of Chicago. Research under the direction of Vivien M. Palmer; staff investigators Marion Lindner and Beatrice Nesbit. These documents contain data just as it was secured form old residents and from existing documents. A final check of the data will appear in the volume of the Social History of Chicago.

Format: Photocopy of a typescript without page numbers in the Chicago History Museum library; volume 2 of a 6-volume set containing documentary information on 20 Chicago community districts/areas.

Publication date: 1925-1930.