The Epworth United Methodist Church in Edgewater has been a community landmark for over 100 years. The story of how this unique church was built and how it became a neighborhood institution is an important part of Edgewater history. Lets go back to the beginning and the founding of the church.

Mr. Louis T.M. Slocum was already an active churchman when he moved to Argyle Park, an area just south of Foster along Sheridan Road. He had been the Superintendent of the Sunday School of Grace M.E. Church in Chicago.

Near his new home at 2238 (now 5047) Kenmore, he found no church and only the semblance of a Sunday School. Here began the nucleus of a Methodist Church in the summer of 1887 when Mr. and Mrs. Slocum gained the help of Dr. Luke Hitchcock, corresponding secretary of the Home Missionary and Church Extension Society of Chicago. He was able to supply the new community and Methodist movement with a student pastor from Garrett Theological Seminary. At the initial service on Sunday, November 3, 1888, Dr. Hitchcock preached the sermon. The Rev. C.C. Woods, a student at Garrett, was secured as the first pastor. He could remain but one year since, upon graduation from Garrett, he returned to his conference in Kansas.

By this time, Mr. Slocum, always the visionary, was increasingly anxious to organize and build a Church in the new thriving community. The next minister was the Rev. Gerial K. Flack, another student at Garrett, selected by Dr. Hitchcock because of his special qualifications for organizing a church society. He was most faithful and persevering during these early days and gathered about him many friends and co-workers. He was appointed in March 1889 and, on July 1st of that same year, in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Slocum, the Epworth Methodist Episcopal Church was organized.

On this now historic occasion, the entire membership of the Church was present and consisted of Augustus Nelson and Mr. and Mrs. L.T.M. Slocum. On motion of Mrs. Slocum, the Society was named Epworth. Mr. Charles L. Rising, Mr. L.T.M. Slocum and Mr. Augustus F. Nightingale were elected trustees – President, Secretary, and Treasurer respectively. At a later meeting of the Board and Pastor, with Mr. Frederick B. Townsend, the architect, present, it was decided to procure a lot and go ahead as rapidly as possible with the erection of a Church building.

After the selection of Mr. Townsend as architect, Mr. Townsend very generously explained that he would make no charge for his services. This wonderful offer was carried out to the letter. Not only did he give his time, make all plans and supervise the erection of the building but, in addition, made a handsome cash subscription to the building fund. Epworth Church can never pay its debt of gratitude to Mr. Townsend for his wonderful assistance in building this magnificent Church.

During the ensuing days, the pastor, Rev. Flack, and Mr. Slocum were busy securing subscriptions for the Church building. Many were skeptical about the wisdom of erecting such an edifice. The project was often referred to as “Slocum’s Folly.” Reverend Flack secured the donation of a 100x150 foot lot from local developer Mr. John L. Cochran. A cash gift of $1,000 came from Mr. William C. Goudy, who lived nearby and was later to have one of the local Chicago Elementary Schools named after him. Mr. Goudy was a prominent real estate and railroad lawyer in the Midwest and also happened to be the father of Mrs. Slocum. Other subscriptions were rapidly secured and, at the time, it seemed marvelous that they could get such a large sum of money out of that little community which was so sparsely settled.

During the late 1920s, under the dramatic ministry of Dr. Travis, attendance at both the church service and the Sunday School grew so large that the building accommodations were overtaxed. Expansion was necessary. The sanctuary would have to be bigger. People sat on the steps of the Chancel and chairs were placed in the aisles; members united with the church nearly every Sunday. Better and larger Sunday School facilities were needed. The social and recreational program of the church had grown so that these facilities needed additional expansion. Truly, Epworth had arrived. It was no longer a “church in the woods” but a church in a community that had come of age. A shifting population was still the norm; an attractive program with challenging goals was needed to attract the people. Loyalty of the community to the church could no longer be depended upon to attract and hold a constituency. The membership under the able leadership of Dr. Travis rose to meet the hour. Epworth began to launch an expansion program.

General plans were drawn up and the cost of the expansion project was estimated. These were presented before the membership of the church, which was called together for that purpose on the evening of April 24, 1929. It was at this meeting that Mrs. N.J. Ludington announced that Mrs. Charles O. Barnes and family would present a pipe organ as a memorial to Charles O. Barnes, who had long been a trustee of Epworth Church almost from its beginning until the time of his death, a span of nearly thirty years. The organ was designed under the auspices of his son, Dr. William Barnes, and installed by the firm of M.P. Möeller of Hagerstown, Maryland as their opus 5881.

Pledges amounting to $100,000 were secured and the building committee was authorized to employ an architect and let contracts. Mr. E.L. Offlighter was appointed to supervise construction. Mr. Fred J. Thielbar, principle of the architecture firm Theilbar and Fugard, was employed to draw plans for the remodeling and enlargement of Epworth. This well-known firm also designed such great buildings in the Chicago skyline as the Jeweler’s Building, 35 E. Wacker Drive (1926), the McGraw-Hill Building, 520 N. Michigan Avenue (1929) and the Trustee System Service Building, 201 N. Wells Street (1930).

Ground was broken for the new building on May 25, 1929. Work on the new addition was began June 9th, the cornerstone was laid June 18th and the building was completed and consecrated on February 22, 1930. For the expansion program, a mortgage against the property of $125,000 had been made with the Mississippi Valley Trust Company of St. Louis as trustee. Bonds to this amount were issued by the trustee and sold by them. Subscriptions were taken from our members and friends for a sum slightly in excess of $100,000, with a realization that, at the end of five years, it would be necessary to make another drive for additional funds. However, with the onset of the Great Depression, not only did many default on their payments of pledges because of lack of ability, but others also held back rather than have their contributions go merely for payment of interest on the bonds with nothing being applied against the principal. Between 1939 and 1948, the church struggled to find the money to retire their debt. In 1948 the last payment was made.

Changes after WWII in the 1950s lead many people to move away from Edgewater. By 1960, a drop in the neighborhoods socio-economic status carried with it a drop in membership for the church. Eventually, there was talk that the Conference would close the church. For some years prior to 1990, the Sanctuary was unused and fell into disrepair. The congregation began to worship in the Chapel. The paint was peeling, there were broken windows – the dormers and fan window were bordered up and plastered over – and there was no heat. In early 1990, with the help of a grant from the Chicago Temple upon the bequest of Rev. White, the heating system was repaired and the congregation again worshiped in the Sanctuary. The first communion being served at the altar rail was an emotional experience for all in attendance.

The Administrative Council voted unanimously in mid 2002 to allow the building to be nominated for the National Register of Historic Buildings. In April 2005, Epworth hosted the closing recital for the Chicago-Midwest Chapter of the Organ Historical Society’s convention. During the ceremony, a historical citation was issued to the Epworth congregation for the organ. With the citation, it is noted that the instrument will join with distinction nine organs in the city of Chicago and only three other instruments built by the Moeller Organ Company in the North America.

Epworth is a relatively small church in membership size but growing. Like many neighborhood churches it does have financial struggles, but it remains vital and alive with a committed congregation reflecting the cultural, racial, and economic diversity of its community.