History of Broad Street United Methodist Church
The Early History
Broad Street United Methodist Church was organized in 1875 as the Broad Street Methodist Episcopal (M. E.) Church. The new church had its beginnings in the Wesley Chapel M. E. Church, then standing on the west side of High Street between Gay and Long Streets. In September, 1874, at the Fourth Quarterly Conference (now called the Charge or Church Conference) of Wesley Chapel, a Board of Trustees was elected and charged with the “…organization of a society and the location of a church”. The present site was selected as a location that would be advantageous for many years to come.
The first building was a 40 feet by 70 feet, three-room, white frame structure facing Washington Avenue. The first services were held on July 18, 1875. Included in the 265 members listed in “full connection” were 90 persons who had been members at Wesley Chapel. The founding fathers had always envisioned a large church facing Broad Street, so, even though the original building faced Washington Avenue, it was named the Broad Street Methodist Episcopal Church. By 1883, the church had begun to outgrow the original building and began planning for a new structure.
About the Building
Joseph Warren Yost, a well-known Columbus architect, was chosen to develop plans for a structure that would accommodate the growing congregation for decades to come. Yost chose the Akron Plan for the interior of the new building. This design was consistent with the Protestant emphases of the late 19th century – Strong Proclamation or Preaching and the rise of the Sunday School Movement. The Akron Plan features an auditorium style sanctuary with a sloping floor. This provided good sight lines and brought the congregation closer to the speaker. The Akron Plan also featured two levels of classrooms arranged roughly in a semi-circle around a Sunday School auditorium. Folding doors allowed each classroom to participate in “opening exercises,” then close the doors for class time.
For the exterior, Yost chose the High Victorian Gothic style – a style widely employed for churches and other public buildings in the 1870’s and 1880’s. Elements of this style which can be seen in the present structure are the use of polychromatic masonry materials with contrasting textures, pointed-arch bays, asymmetric massing, and complex gable roofs with gablets, dormers, and towers. The distinguishing feature of the exterior is the use of green serpentine stone as the facing on the brick walls. Columbus limestone was used in the base course and steps, and Berea sandstone was used in the five lower courses of the walls and as trim around the windows and doors.
Ground was broken for the new building in April, 1884. Services were held in the new chapel on Easter Sunday, 1885. The church building was dedicated at a festive service in the new sanctuary on July 5, 1885, ten years to the month from the dedication of the original building. In 1885, it was truly a “state-of-the-art” church.
Just three weeks later, on July 26, 1885, Broad Street’s mother church, Wesley Church, dedicated a new church building on the NE corner of Broad and Fourth Streets – just five blocks west. This building replaced the original one which had burned in May 1884. Wesley Chapel, which had merged with Third Street M. E. Church in 1913 and was renamed Central Methodist Episcopal Church, closed in 1935 and many of its members united with Broad Street Church.
The art glass windows in the west wall of the Broad Street sanctuary were originally in Central Church. These panels were reconfigured and installed at Broad Street in 1936 thus perpetuating the heritage of the Wesley Chapel, Third Street and Central congregations. The art glass windows in the east wall of the sanctuary were designed and installed in 1908 by the Von Gerichten Studios of Columbus. These windows are a memorial to Mrs. David S. (Eugenia) Gray, a member of one of Broad Street’s founding families. There are also other art glass windows which are original to the building.
The pipe organ, a Felgemaker, was originally installed in 1906. It was expanded and rebuilt to the present configuration of four manuals and 56 ranks by the Bunn=Minnick Company of Columbus in 1981.
In 2007-2008, all of the original Serpentine on the exterior of the building was removed and replaced by designer stone – a concrete -based material that was tinted and textured to resemble the original stone. Dedication of this renovation, the Big Reveal, was on Sunday September 28, 2008. This endeavor was financed by 20/30 year loan, paid off in full on April 1, 2016 -no small feat for a church of just over 200 members! Mortgage burning is scheduled for a date to be determined in 2016.
The Church In Mission
Across the years, Broad Street Church has served statesmen and common folk alike. Joseph Foraker, William McKinley, Rutherford B. Hayes and their families worshipped at Broad Street while they were governors of Ohio. Two of these, of course, became Presidents of the United States. A memorial service for President McKinley was held at Broad Street Church concurrently with his funeral service in Canton, Ohio, on September 19, 1901. Primarily because of this connection with McKinley, the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Throughout its history, Broad Street Church has ministered to its community – a community that has changed dramatically from a semi-rural neighborhood at its beginning, to the stately mansions of the exclusive residential community along Broad, Town and Long streets during the 1890s, to the present mix of commercial, cultural and educational institutions that today comprise the Discovery District of Columbus.
As a part of its mission to the community, the church has provided cutting edge ministries during each of those eras – adding a gymnasium and recreation hall for community activities in 1914; summer camps and vacation church school in the next few years; USO style canteens for servicemen during both World Wars and the Korean War; tutoring and mentoring for students and nurturing classes for neighborhood mothers and families in the 1950s.
Broad Street continues to be a place of vibrancy and activity. On any given day, you’ll find church and community members serving the homeless, providing care and comfort to those in the community, advocating on behalf of social justice issues, singing in the acclaimed choir, or working with other local congregations and groups to provide much needed supportive services.
In 2007, the church established a not-for-profit corporation, The Heart of the City Foundation, to facilitate funding outside usual church-related channels for the support of these ministries. Today, these ministries include Manna Café, Inter-faith Legal Aid Society, The Inn at Broad, and Freedom School.
James Read Barbee, Broad Street UMC Church Historian