The Church celebrated 165 years of ministry in Rockford in 2017, making it one of the oldest religious institutions in Northern Illinois.
Our Church building is rich with history, having survived a severe windstorm in 1905 and being burnt to the ground by an arsonist in 1969. Each time, we’ve survived with a firmer commitment to serve God and the Rockford community.
In 1851, twenty Methodists on Rockford's west side met on Sunday afternoons and Thursday evenings for prayer meetings in the home of James B. Skinner, a house which then stood on the southeast corner of Main and Mulberry Streets.
Meanwhile on Rockford’s east side, Sunday worship services were held at First Methodist Episcopal Church (now Centennial United Methodist Church). As the congregation quickly grew, its pastor suggested the formation of a west side church. His challenge accepted, Winnebago County records indicate that the Second Methodist Episcopal Church was officially organized in January 1852 with the following men listed as trustees: William J. Cole, James Taylor, Dr. Charles N. Andrews, Jonathan Hitchcock and James B. Skinner.
In January 1853, a lot located on the west side of Court Street near State Street was purchased, and the construction of the Second Methodist Episcopal Church began under architect John Austin’s supervision. During the construction period, worship services were held in Boyd's Hall, a room on the third floor of a stone building in the one hundred block of West State Street.
The new church building was dedicated in November 1854. An impressive brick structure trimmed in white, it was surrounded by a spacious lawn and a wrought iron fence. The total cost of the building and grounds was $7,000.
After several decades of progress and growth, it became apparent that a larger building was necessary to accommodate the growing church membership. In September 1883, the present site on the corner of Court and Mulberry Streets was purchased and a building committee selected to prepare plans for the new sanctuary. The committee chose a church member, David Keyt, to be the architect. Ground breaking ceremonies were held one year later in September 1884. During the winter of 1886-1887, the congregation held worship services in the basement of the new building. In May 1887, the Court Street Methodist Episcopal Church was dedicated with a construction cost of nearly $80,000.
Few changes were made to the building over the next twenty-five years. In 1905, a severe windstorm destroyed the original steeple of the church and the following year a new bell tower was erected.
Its growth and community influence increasing, Court Street Church recognized the need of a building that met the educational and social needs of the congregation. Consequently in 1911, lots adjoining the north of the church were purchased at a cost of $10,000. Construction of the new unit began in 1915, with a dedication on April 1917.
Since its construction in 1887, no major changes altered the Court Street Church sanctuary. In November 1929, member architect A. Reyner Eastman designed a new chancel of even more reverence and beauty.
The bell tower was remodeled in 1941 to its present appearance with no other changes then made until 1961.
During autumn of 1961, the church held a crusade asking for pledges to fulfill the first phase of a one-million-dollar expansion program.
The church purchased the lot north of the institutional wing, demolished the home on it, began constructing a new chapel and institutional building on June, 1962, and construction was completed in 1963. The chapel with its handsome cherry paneling and beautiful symbolic windows endowed the congregation with still another inspiring place in which to worship. The addition contained more educational rooms and various facilities for the music department.
The second phase of the ambitious expansion of the church was the remodeling of the old institutional building that had been in use since 1917. By the fall of 1968, contractors gutted the old structure and rebuilt it to house the renovated classrooms, the dining room and kitchen, and the ladies' parlor. In addition, the church offices had been moved from their former location at the southeast corner of the church building to this remodeled section.
Only five months after this phase of the expansion project was completed, disaster struck. On March 18, 1969 during the noon hour, an arsonist set a fire behind the east side choir stalls. Within hours, the sanctuary was destroyed, its charred ruins representing a $2,250,000 loss to its members. No price can ever be placed on the feeling of devastation that the ministers and congregation experienced on that day.
The congregation pulled together and resolved to rebuild the sanctuary as it had been and reconstruction plans began. During this time, Sunday services were held at 8:30 in the chapel and at 10:45 in the Coronado Theater. Less than two years after the disastrous fire, the first service was held in the new sanctuary on Christmas Eve 1970. Lovelier than ever, it appeared almost as before; the subtle changes contributed not only to its beauty but to its functionality as well.
If vision, courage, ability and dedication were required in the early development of what is now Court Street United Methodist Church, it is obvious that the same traits were needed and prevalent during its dynamic history. We have been abundantly blessed, and still are, with ministers and members displaying these admirable attributes.