A Brief History of Wauwatosa Avenue United Methodist Church

It was on May 22, 1848 that the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Wauwatosa was incorporated. For twenty years a little group of Methodists, led by circuit rider preachers, met in the village school house, taking their turn with other Protestant and Catholic congregations.

In 1868, the congregation, 42 members strong, purchased the site upon which the current building stands, and built the first church building which stood until the fire of 1919. The original church had an odd-looking, extremely narrow steeple, which the villagers soon started calling, “the Methodist toothpick.” At the dedication, Edward Hyde, a member of the First Methodist Church of Milwaukee, proposed that a “more respectable” steeple should be built to crown the building, and he gave a substantial contribution to get a fund started. He said he wanted to be able to see the church when he passed through the town. The present church no longer has a steeple, but features a Gothic-style tower that displays an illuminated Cross and Flame.

One fateful Sunday in May, as the families were preparing for Sunday services, the fire siren sounded its warning and clouds of smoke arose on the hill. The people learned their beloved church was afire. The fire department labored valiantly, and folks trouped to the scene to rescue any possible furnishings. The building burned to the ground but, that very afternoon, the official board met with the pastor to launch plans for a new building. The Masons offered use of their Temple for services, and meetings were held there until April of 1921, when the basement rooms of the new church were ready to use. The new lannon stone edifice, in Gothic style, like the old church, was constructed by one of the church’s members, James Norwood.

In 1934, Reverend Charles and Nancy Heywood came to Wauwatosa, and the spiritual and numerical growth of the congregation greatly accelerated. By 1942, under Reverend Heywood’s leadership, the mortgage was paid off and a mortgage-burning ceremony was held to celebrate the event. Another accomplishment of Reverend Heywood was the increase in membership, which stood at about 800 until his retirement in 1945.

Dr. Francis and Alice Kearns came to Wauwatosa in 1945. By 1946, the congregation had grown to such an extent that it was necessary to take on an associate pastor to help with the work. Next, the parsonage south of the church was purchased, and the old parsonage became the Parish House to provide for the toddlers and nursery, and to furnish an upstairs apartment for the caretakers. The cramped quarters of the church were being felt, especially in the Sunday School. This growth in membership necessitated a building expansion program, which was undertaken in three steps. In 1949, the first addition for more office space and Sunday School rooms was built. In 1953, the Sanctuary was lengthened and some new windows, including the beautiful Gethsemane window, were installed. The final addition, housing the Chapel, Wesley Hall and additional Sunday School rooms, was completed in 1957, on the site of the 1877 parsonage, which was torn down at that time.