To The Churches
Steward, Lee County

Steward Methodist Church

As members and friends of the Steward United Methodist Church of 1974 engage in a year’s observance to celebrate one hundred years of heritage, some find themselves seeking and searching the church’s files, diligently reading past recorded accounts and jotting down recollections from many to form this compiled history.

This account can be but a brief resume and must, by necessity, entirely omit some points which a few folks have felt were quite important. Because of our times of inflation and the high cost of printing only the accounts of greatest significance are recorded and are written as accurately as knowledge permits.

Mr. Wesley Steward, who in 1870 founded the town of Steward, considered a church to be of prime importance to the growth of the new community. So, in the year 1874, Mr. Steward and Mr. J. C. Curry, partners in business, took the initiative in promoting such an enterprise, with Mr. Curry being especially active and the recognized leader in the promotion.

A meeting was called in April, 1874, in the railway depot, of which time a building committee was appointed and the contract placed. The plan was drawn by Perkins Richardson of Aurora and the contract was given to T. J. Labdell of Paw Paw, Illinois with work immediately being started on a lot on the north side of Main Street donated by Mr. Steward.

The church was built 36’ x 52’ and 28’ to the eaves with a steeple reaching the height of 80 feet. The building was of old New England style architecture, made of solid oak beams and painted white. This was thought to be the finest construction of its time between Aurora and Rochelle, with its large etched windows and winding stairs on both sides of the main entrance. It was customary in many churches for the women to sit on one side of the sanctuary and the men on the other, hence the two stairs. Seating capacity which included the basement (the whole size of the building), was understood to be 500. The fine basement room was used for Sabbath School (later referred to as Sunday School and Church School). The cost of the new church was $5000.

The naming of the church is somewhat unique in the respect that no special denomination was instrumental in its formation. At the completion of the building, the question arose as to which denomination it should be given, or whether it should remain an independent, union church, open to all denominations for worship but actually controlled by none. It is recorded that for many reasons it was thought best to give it to the Methodists.

Thus, it was name the Methodist Episcopal Church. The word Episcopal was dropped in 1939. It was known as the Steward Methodist Church until 1968 when the Evangelical Untied Brethren denomination merged with the Methodists and it was renamed the Steward United Methodist Church.

With the building completed and a name given, dedication services were planned for September 6, 1874. Since a large financial deficit remained, two things were thought necessary to insure success, an important man to dedicate the church and a large crowd to be present. Professor Miner Raymond of Garrett Biblical Institute, Evanston, Illinois, was secured as the preacher for the morning service when the church was formally dedicated. For the evening service, the presiding elder had secured the Rev. Frederick F. Farmoiloe, pastor of the Sononauk Methodist Church to preach. To make sure of a big crowd, Mr. Steward, who was then superintendent of the new railroad, had free trains run from Chicago and the ladies of the community served a free dinner in the church basement for the event.

A few days after the dedication, Rev. Farmiloe was asked to be appointed as the first pastor of the new church. He had been offered another position at a alary of $1000 and a parsonage, but Mr. Steward offered to build a parsonage free of rent to the pastor and guaranteed him a salary of $1000. Rev. Farmiloe accepted the offer and remained for only one year.

This first parsonage was then sold to Mr. Wm. Preston and still stands on the northeast corner of Miller and Tyler Streets.

The steward church stands today, one hundred years old, the only church in the village, remodeled and kept in repair -- never a large church -- but having a strong influence upon the community.

“God sends no churches from the skies; out of our hearts must they arise.” -- Edgar A. Guest.

By 1879, under the leadership of Rev. W. H. Tibbals, the church was in flourishing condition. He served for three years, which was the limit of pastoral service at that time. During his ministry he ceased holding services at the Twin Groves and the Flats (Fertile Valley) churches.

From action at the annual Rock River Conference (now named the Northern Illinois Conference) Steward was joined with Lee for a short time. The Fertile Valley appointment became a part of the Steward charge in 1890 once more. Now almost 100 years have passed and Lee again has voted to merge with Steward congregation.

Contributed by Karen Holt from the 1974 Centennial Booklet