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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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ST. LUKE'S UNITED METHODIST CHURCH. St. Luke's is successor to the first Protestant church in Iowa. (1) The history of Saint Luke's began on September 6, 1833, at the meeting of the Illinois Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church at Union Grove, Illinois. Pastor Barton Randle, a thirty-seven-year-old Georgia native, was assigned to Dubuque as a missionary. On November 6, 1833, he rowed across the MISSISSIPPI RIVER and delivered his first sermon at the boarding house of Jesse M. Harrison, located on the present site of the HOTEL JULIEN DUBUQUE. (2) Other reports have the sermon being given at the BELL TAVERN. Soliciting funds from anyone regardless of faith, he led efforts to construct a log meeting house to be used by any religious denomination.(3)

The minister lived at the tavern for a period of time and offered sermons there. On April 24, 1833, the first Methodist prayer meeting was held in the home of John Johnson. On May 18, 1833 the first regular Methodist class was held with twelve persons. (4)

On June 23, 1834 work on the first church was begun. A witness to the work remarked," Raised the meeting house today with a few hands and without spirits of any kind." The building stood in the center of WASHINGTON PARK. It was the first church building in Iowa and cost $250. (5) Years before" ecumenicalism," the Methodists opened the building they constructed for the use of all congregations when their own group did not need it. The chapel was also home for the first public school system in Iowa. On March 25, 1837, the building was the meeting place where citizens passed a resolution incorporating Dubuque as Iowa's first town.

In 1841 a second building, called Centenary Church, was constructed on the one-hundredth anniversary of John Wesley's founding of the Methodist Church. This building, located at the northwest comer of Locust and 7th STREETS, was 30 by 60 feet, stood two stories high, and had a belfry. (6)

Third Methodist Church. Image courtesy: Upper Main Historic District Nomination. Online: http://weblink.cityofdubuque.org/WebLink8/1/doc/38915/Page61.aspxp., p. 40
Continued growth of the congregation led to the purchase of a lot for the construction of a larger church between 11th and 12th Streets, facing Main Street. Built of brick, Third Methodist Church was 50 by 80 feet and saw its dedication on April 14, 1853. The land on which the church was built was donated by Jesse P. FARLEY. (7) This structure was enlarged and remodeled in 1869. It was torn down in 1878 before the construction of a livery for the BYRNE BROTHERS. (8)

Randall and twelve fellow Methodists decided on June 23, 1878 to construct a meetinghouse. This log structure, costing $255, was 20 by 26 feet and held the honor of being the first church built in Iowa. The building, the site now marked by an engraved boulder on the southeast corner of WASHINGTON PARK, was entirely debt-free when construction was finished. Contributions ranged from twelve and one-half cents to twenty-five dollars. The building was later covered with clapboard and was still in use in 1878. (9)

Plans were a new church building were announced in September 1894. The site selected was owned by Charles H. EIGHMEY, John Rider WALLIS and the church association at Main and 11th. Initial plans called for a building costing $60,000 constructed of red Lake Superior sandstone. The auditorium and Sunday school room would be located on one floor and could be combined for special occasions. Each room was to have a seating capacity of 800. (10)

Angel Among the Lilies
Good Shepherd
In 1896 the present church, at 1199 Main, was designed by George Kramer. Constructed of Bedford limestone, it remains one of Dubuque's finest examples of RICHARDSONIAN ROMANESQUE ARCHITECTURE. The church's nine Tiffany Favrile memorial windows include one called "The Good Shepherd" which was exhibited by Tiffany in 1893 at the World's Columbian Exposition. (11) The painted face of the angel in the window known as "The Angel Among the Lilies" is thought to be a perfect likeness of the eighteen-year-old deceased daughter of the people who commissioned the window. The installation of four large memorial windows each costing about $2,000 and the frescoing was awarded to Tiffany of New York. (12) The four windows were in memory of John T. HANCOCK, Dr. G. M. Staples, George Richardson, and D. N. COOLEY. (13)

The church members marveled at their new organ when it arrived in Dubuque on February 16, 1897. Described in the Dubuque Herald as "a monster affair," the organ occupied a space fourteen feet square and twenty feet high. Made in the factory of Farrand and Votey, it featured all the newest features with the electrical system being considered unique. The bellows and keys were electrically operated. Another feature was the movable keyboard. With a long cable containing all the wires to the valves of the organ, the keyboard could be moved to another room and the organ placed remotely. (14)

Installation of the famed Tiffany windows began during the second week of December, 1896. Each of the memorial windows cost an estimated $2,000. These were placed on the north side of the church by the families of John T. HANCOCK, G. M. Staples, George RICHARDSON, Sr., and D. N. COOLEY. Fresco work was also contracted to the Tiffany Company of New York with all work to be finished by April 1, 1897. (15)

When the church was finished in 1897 it included five large and ninety small Tiffany windows. In 1916 two additional Tiffany windows were added with two more during the 1930s. In 2010 there were a total of one hundred Tiffany windows throughout the church. An expert in Tiffany glass in the early 1990s called St. Luke's 'one of the top-five Tiffany window collections in the world.' During the 1990s the larger windows were removed, cleaned and reinstalled by Bovard Studios, of Fairfield, Iowa.

Recognized as an important part of the church, the Sunday School program was started in 1834. Among its superintendents was Jesse P. Farley. Also appealing to young people was the Palestine Class begun by Mrs. D. N. Cooley who felt a church home was needed by those not involved in other religious groups. It developed into occasional literary or musical gatherings. Lectures were offered until these became an active interest of other literary organizations. (16)

St. Luke's float in the Sunday School Parade June 23, 1914. Photo courtesy: Cathy's Treasures, 156 Main, Dubuque

The bells, given in memory of Elizabeth Jane Eighmey, arrived in Dubuque from the McShane bell foundry in March, 1897. Four in number, three large and one small, the largest weighed 8,000 pounds and stood more than six feet in height. (17) They were played over a period of fifty years by Dr. Walter John BAUMGARTNER. The organ from the factory of Farrand and Votey, renowned organ manufacturers of Detroit, was one the largest musical instruments in the West when it was installed. Two train carloads were needed to transport its parts to Dubuque. The frieze of statuary surrounding the chancel and choir loft duplicates precisely the Luca della Robia's "The Singing Children" found in the Duomo of Florence, Italy. The brass altar railing is a replica of one found in the Cathedral of Ravenna. Among the gifts of Charles H. EIGHMEY to the church were the oak, brass, and Sienna marble pulpit; the quarter-sawed oak ceiling over the nave and chancel; and the carved altar table. The church has a seating capacity of 1,400 people.


The pipe organ that filled the church with music for nearly one hundred years fell silent in June 1992. The organ which had been dedicated along with the building in 1897 had been purchased for $7,500. Restoration of the 2,200 pipes was expected to cost $140,000 which was much less than the anticipated $450,000 a new organ of comparable size would now cost. (18)

On May 18, 1997 as on the original dedication day, the trustees and pastors marched into congregation with the bishop reciting the 24th Psalm: "Life up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in." On May 18th the choir sang "My Spirit Soars," a special anthem composed by Peter Hamlin. The anthem was dedicated to David Burgus, a member and long-time choir member, who had helped plan the centennial but died before it occurred. (19)



1. Jerde, Lyn. "St. Luke's Flock Remembers Past, Look to Future," Telegraph Herald, May 19, 1997, p. 3A. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19970519&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

2. "Among the Churches," Dubuque Herald, April 28, 1878, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18780428&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

3. Nevans-Pederson, Mary. "Faith Performs An Important Role From Dubuque's Earliest Days," Telegraph Herald, November 10, 2008, p. 22

4. "Among the Churches..."

5. "Dubuque County Before 1880," Telegraph-Herald and Times Journal, October 5, 1933, p. 19

6. Ibid.

7. "Among the Churches..."

8. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, January 1, 1877, p. 8. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18780101&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

9. "Among the Churches"

10. "A New Church," Dubuque Daily Herald, September 8, 1894, p. 4

11. "Church Window Here Once Exhibited at World's Fair," Telegraph Herald, March 29, 1960, p. 5

12. "St. Luke's Windows," Dubuque Herald, December 13, 1896, p. 8

13. Ibid.

14. "A Musical Marvel," Dubuque Herald, February 18, 1897, p. 5

15. "St. Luke's Windows," Dubuque Herald, December 13, 1896, p. 8

16. "Among the Churches..."

17. "The Chimes Here," Dubuque Herald, March 4, 1897, p. 8

18. Glindinning, Mary. "Fine-Tuning," Telegraph Herald, June 13, 1992, p. 10A. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19920613&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

189 Jerde

"175 Years" Vol. II Telegraph Herald, p. 8