History of St. John’s 1870-1931

A Church is Born in Centralia

The following is based on several different sources found among the articles in the Church archives.  This includes 2 articles without mention of an author or date, a handwritten letter from Helen …, and a brief history included in the bulletin from the Consecration of the present Church on October 18, 1931.

“There is little to be found in written record of the first Episcopal Church in Wisconsin Rapids.  This is doubtless due to the fact that records were lost in the fire that destroyed that first building on December 21, 1928.  We do find from the Centralia Enterprise of March 6, 1879:

            “Our Episcopal friends have let the contract for their new church building in Centralia to

            Mr. Demereau for the sum of $1500.  The work is to begin May 1st, and to be completed by October 1st.”

With a mere handful of loyal and devoted church people, led by the Rezin and Albee families the work was begun.  St John’s was an organized mission in 1882, and to its first building was added a Guild Hall, built by the offerings of the women of the Church, and later a vicarage.  All of the property was located on the northwest corner of Third Avenue and McKinley streets.  The earliest records available, dated 1890, show Rev. Weller (later bishop of this diocese of Fond du Lac) holding services here and in Stevens Point.”

“The Episcopal Church was built in this city in 1870.  Dan and Tom Rezin, John Albee, and A. Lord made up the building committee.  The site for the church was purchased from Ella and Wilbur Cochran, on the north west corner of McKinley and 3rd Avenue north.

The first ten years the priest from Wausau served the parish.  Father Branscombe came in 1890.  Father Branscombe served and began rebuilding and improving the property.  The chancel was enlarged, a rectory built, the sheds and hitching post were removed from the back yard.  We began to look quite citified.

The first resident priest was Father Gardner.  In 1888 Mr Alexander gave the Baptismal Font when his child was baptized.  He was followed by Father Fleetner who the help of St Katharine’s Guild continued improvements.

In 1893 St Katharine’s Guild pledged themselves to earn $2 for the building of a guild hall.  On St Katharine’s Day of 1894 they would hold a birthday party and tell in rhyme how each had earned their $2.”

“Mrs. Albee was born in England (at that time her name was Johnson).  Her son was baptized in Westminster Cathedral.  She’s the great- grandmother of John Bender and Ward Johnson.  She was widowed and then married an Albee.  She gave $500 to build the church.

The lumber for the church was given by Daniel Rezin; he felled trees from hos own farm near Rudolph and had it sawed and planed professionally.  Mrs. Albee gave $500 of the total cost which was $1300.  Members of the congregation did the actual building in 1879.”

original St. John’s the north west corner of McKinley and 3rd Avenue north.

“According to a letter of Mr Isaac Witter to the vestry it was stated that the first church was closed for some time but the MacKinnon family was instrumental in reopening the Church.”

“Money was needed in so many places and an organ was necessary so in 1912 Mr. Witter gave $1000  to add to St Katharine’s fund for the purchase of an organ.  In 1912 the Guild published a cook book and sold it to the public. 

In 1916 Father Rochstroh came.  He served the parish from 1915 or 16 until 1922.

Father Belliringer came for one year.  He was followed by Father MacHorter who also served one year.

After Father MacHorter left, the vestry requested a priest who would be interested in building up the membership of the church and Sunday school.  Father Way of Wausau highly recommended Father Johnson as did Bishop Weller.  A call was put into Father Johnson and he came to this parish in Oct 1925.  He wasted no time in trying to interest the congregation in bringing friends to church and any who had no church affliliations.  He said itw was every bodies duty to bring people to worship and do God’s work. 

From the Consecration Bulletin of 1931:

“Thus do we read of the beginning of St John’s church, half a century ago.  It was in pioneer times – money was scarce but the church loyalty and spirit were stead and strong.  With a mere handful of church people, led by the faithful Rezin and Albee families – the work was begun. 

The leaders were conscious of the great task and obligation they had assumed.  But there were quite as conscious that the work would not be for the church group alone, but that their good neighbors and their loyal friends would rally to their support; and so it proved to be.  The names of Slocum, Reeves, Lynn, Spafford, and Wood appear almost often as those of the church members, in every effort made to raise money and later the maintenances of the church.

Probably those fathers of the church realized, as we do today, that a fine building in the proper setting is an asset to any town.  Further they believed that a church building is of all buildings the most to be desired, as from its portals flows constantly a stream which revives and purifies all that comes within its influence, falling alike on churchman and friend to comfort and inspire them in every walk of life.

St John’s was an organized Mission in 1882 and to its first building was added a Guild Hall, built by the offerings of the women of the church, and later a vicarage was built by the church members with the aid of many interested friends.

….For the past twenty five or thirty years the names of Hoskinson, MacKinnon, Muir, Hambrecht, Witter, Gibson, Kellogg, Marvin, Gleason, Carlson, Hougen, Carey and Lipke have been frequently St John’s people as vestrymen, wardens, church school and guild officers, delegates and solicitors in Parish and diocesan work.

For over fifty years St John’s church has ministered to Wisconsin Rapids.  A succession of devoted priests and faithful laymen worked loyally together, to lay the deep and lasting foundations of the faith.  Love and self sacrifice and tender memories helped to make the little old wooden church on Third Avenue a real source of Divine Grace to the people of St John’s and to the community.”

The following is from the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune, December 22, 1928

“Flames Destroy St John’s Church: $12,000 Loss

Building Half Century Old Is Left in Ashes”

“Fire starts in Basement and Rapidly Eats way to Roof: Walls and Steeple Collapse”

At 10:30 last night, St John’s Episcopal church, 237 Third Avenue north, which had been one of the religious landmarks of Wisconsin Rapids for over half a century, was lying in flaming embers, having been totally destroyed by fire, with a loss to building and contents of about $12,000, fully covered by insurance.

Shortly before nine o’clock the fire department was called to the church, Rev. J.M. Johnson, rector of the church, turning in the alarm.  At first it was thought that the blaze was not serious but, after having laid two lines of hose, without appreciable results, two more lines were laid and a thorough effort made to get water under the roof.  This was found impossible, because the ceiling of the auditorium had no trap door and the roof structure was so firm that the water failed to penetrate sufficiently to reach the fire which seemingly had started in the central part of the basement, eaten its way slowly up between the walls and was gnawing at the under sides of the shingles before the alarm was turned in.  The smell of smoke had permeated the building all afternoon, it is said. 

Finding no way to cut through the roof of the main structure, the department concentrated its efforts upon the guild hall, two holes being cut into the roof, one on the east and one of the west side.  Through these two lines of hose were used to control the flames already eating their way along the joists, so that, with the exception of water damage, there was practically no loss to the hall or the rector which is located north of the guild hall.

The flames finally burst out at about fifteen minutes to ten and shortly thereafter the steeple fell in flaming brands toward the south side of the building.  About twenty minutes later the south wall fell, and soon the entire building collapsed, a mass of flames with the exception of a portion of the north wall which with the partition and doors leading into the guild hall were saved.

St John’s Episcopal Church was organized in 1877, and the entire front portion of the structure was built shortly thereafter, Daniel Rezin, Thomas Rezin, John Albee, Emmanuel Dutruit and J.W. Cochran being largely instrumental in its erection.  After the arrival here of Falkland MacKinnon he became interested in this church, and was able to heal a breach in the original membership which had caused the church remain idle for some years.  Father Weller, now Bishop Weller of Fond du Lac, a friend of Mr. and Mrs. MacKinnon, was called here occasionally to preach until Father Gardner was installed as the first resident vicar.

The Original Church interior photo.

In 1898, largely through the efforts and contributions of Mr. and Mrs. MacKinnon and through the labors of Rev. Branscomb who was himself a master carpenter and architect and both designed and supervised the erection of it, the chancel, guild hall and rectory were added and the building as then completed has not been much changed since that time.  The fire which destroyed the church structure last night was the third in its history, the other two being caused by lightning striking the steeple.

According to Rev. Johnson, services of the church will be held at the Palace theater on Sunday and Monday and some of the services which had been planned for those days will be discontinued.  The new services will consist of Holy Communion at 10:45 Sunday morning at which time the children of the congregation will be expected to attend and receive their Christmas candy.  On Monday evening the Midnight Eucharist will open at 11 o’clock with Christmas carols.

From A History of Falkland MacKinnon and Genealogy from Wood County

Mackinnon, Falkland
Source: History of Northern Wisconsin (Wood County, Wis.) 1881 Falkland Mackinnon, son of Capt. L. B. Mackinnon, of English Royal Navy, who, while on a visit to Washington, in 1849, made the acquaintance of Gov. Doty, who persuaded him to visit Wisconsin. They came to Cleveland, and from there, on a Government boat, came to Green Bay, and together drove to Menasha, where the Governor had property, on Doty’s Island. The Governor secured a loan from the captain, and in due time he was obliged to foreclose. The captain lived here some time, returning to England, occasionally, to look after his interests there. Being a non-resident, his property here suffered considerably, and finally, the young man, Falkland, who was born May 19, 1849, near Richmond, Surry, England, came to America to care for his father’s interests, in 1873, remaining thirteen months. In August, 1875, he came to this country with a commission to report as to the value of certain iron mines, which work was satisfactorily executed. In 1877, he was recalled to England by the sudden death of his father, at the age of fifty-nine. On his return, he became interested in the Menasha Wooden Ware Company. Was afterward in the lumber business in Wausau. Sold out there and came to Centralia in 1878, in the hard wood lumber business, where he still is.  MacKinnon died in 1928.

pictures of Falkland MacKinnon and MacKinnon Manufacturing

This company manufactured hubs and spokes and was one of the very early manufacturers on the Centralia side. F. Mackinnon and C. L. Griffiths started this mill in 1879 and it continued to manufacture the old solid birch hubs for a great many years. Mr. Mackinnon invented a sectional hub which had a steel center from which wooden spooks radiated. It was a very good improvement and saving of the birch, which was beginning to be scarce. They also manufactured the Mackinnon Wagon, that was probably one of the best heavy farm wagons on the market and had a very wide and well deserved reputation as being an “A1” product. This line they started in 1892.