The vital ministry of the Methodist Church in Utah began soon after the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 when the Central Pacific & Union Pacific Railroads were joined at Promontory Point north of the Great Salt Lake. The railroads created opportunities for the arrival of the first Methodist pioneer missionaries.
The Reverend Lewis Hartsough was the first Methodist missionary to arrive in the Salt Lake Valley in December of 1869. Considered the “Father of Methodism in Utah,” Rev. Hartsough became the Methodist Mission Superintendent in Utah and composed many church hymns and songs, including “I Am Coming Lord,” “Let Me Go,” “Jesus Calls Me,” “I Want to Cross Over,” and “Who’ll Stand Up for Jesus.” Reverend Hartsough preached his first sermon in an adobe building located at 21-23 West 300 South, known as Independence Hall in December 1869. Many early “gentile” meetings, school classes and church meetings were held in this building that was originally built by the Walker Family.
In the spring of 1870, Rev. Hartsough returned to the East to obtain men and money for the Mission in Utah. He secured the services of the Reverend Gustavus M. Peirce from the Central New York Conference, who returned with him to become the founding pastor of First Methodist Church in Salt Lake City. Rev. Peirce arrived in Utah on May 8, 1870. That same year he began the Methodist contribution of education in Utah by opening a school known as the Rocky Mountain Seminary. Within two years, the school had an impressive enrollment of 220 pupils, and it remained open until 1893. He organized churches and schools in Salt Lake City, Ogden, Corinne, Tooele, Beaver, Provo and Evanston, Wyoming.
On May 15, 1870, Rev. Peirce also delivered his first sermon in Independence Hall. Faust’s Hall & Houtz Livery Stable (right), an unfinished hay loft over a livery barn was the first official meeting place of the church. It was located on 200 South between Main & State Street (where the Gallivan Center is now). The first meeting was held May 22, 1870 with forty people in attendance and was rented at fifty dollars a month. Rev. Peirce called it “an exorbitant amount, but our only chance.” The first Sunday School met in Faust’s Hall on June 12, 1870 with three teachers. Faust’s Hall later became a District Courthouse and was the location where Brigham Young was tried for polygamy. The first Methodist wedding ceremony was between Abram Young and Martha Canary and was performed by Rev G. M. Peirce on June 20, 1870. In doing further research, we found that American frontierswoman and professional scout Calamity Jane’s real name was Martha Canary. Although we have been unable to prove that the Martha Canary that Rev Peirce married is one and the same, we have been able to place Calamity Jane in SLC in 1870.
The original First Methodist Episcopal Church was located on 300 South between State and Main Street and served an ever-changing congregation from 1871 until 1906 under twenty different pastors. The basement rooms were used for both church and seminary purposes until the structure was completed and dedicated in August of 1875. The building was sold in 1905 for $47,500 and a new church site was selected at 203 South and 200 East. The building was torn down and the Metropole Hotel was built in its place. A parking garage is currently in that location.
The Women’s Home Missionary Society, predecessor to the United Methodist Women, was established on 10 July 1880 in Cincinnati, Ohio and in the winter of that year two of its first missionaries arrived in Utah. In 1883, the Woman’s Home Missionary Society started a boarding hall for teachers and pupils. The Home and Boarding Hall, built in 1884, was located at 41 East 300 South next door to the First Methodist Episcopal Church. The society’s focus was on education and social work. Within six years of its arrival, the Women’s Home Missionary Society had missionaries and teachers in Salt Lake City, Ogden, Moroni, Spanish Fork, Richfield, Elsinore, Grantsville, Ephraim, Mount Pleasant, and Spring City. In some areas, they worked with missionaries or ministers from the Utah mission, but in some of the smaller towns they were responsible for Sunday services including the preaching of sermons. The 1888 General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church legislated in favor of the Office of Deaconess calling for the creation of Conference Deaconess Boards to oversee missionary service for women and trained laywomen. The Deaconess’ work in Utah was first instituted on June 18, 1894 when the first Board of Managers met in the pastor’s study of the First Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1896, the Home and Boarding Hall then became known as ‘Davis Deaconess Home,’ named for Mrs. Eliza Gina Davis, the 2nd president of the Woman’s Home Missionary Society in Utah. In 1905, a home was purchased on 400 East between 3rd & 4th S that served as a residence for women serving local Methodist parishes and surrounding neighborhoods. In 1937, it became the Davis Esther Hall and was a home for young women working or attending school in SLC. Since 1966, it has been the home of Crossroads Urban Center and the building is still owned by the Women’s Division of the United Methodist Church.
In 1905, the church purchased its present site, located on the southeast corner of Second South and Second East. The historic building represents a Victorian Eclectic architectural style designed by Frederick Albert Hale (1855-1934), a prominent Utah architect from 1890 to 1934. The appearance of the building has remained the same since its completion in 1906. Mr. Hale designed mansions along South Temple, as well as numerous downtown commercial structures, most notably the Alta Club at the corner of State Street and South Temple, reflecting his strong association with the city’s leading citizens. Hale’s portfolio in Utah also included the David Keith Mansion, the Downey House, the Haxton Place, the Markland/Walker House, the A.O. Whitmore Electric Automobile Building, the American Linen Building, the Continental Bank, and the old Salt Lake Public Library. Born in 1855 in Rochester, New York he migrated to Colorado with his mother when he was five years old where his father had preceded them. He won a scholarship to Cornell University in 1875 and graduated as an architect, returning to Colorado in 1880. He has numerous buildings and churches that he also was responsible for in Colorado and Wyoming. However, First Methodist Episcopal was the only church he designed in Utah. Dispensing with more traditional Gothic design, Mr. Hale designed an interior space that could seat hundreds, while fostering rapport between the minister and his congregation.
In April 1906, the new church home for the First Methodist Episcopal Church was completed at the corner of 2nd S & 2nd E. The building was dedicated on May 22, 1906. The stained glass is original to the building as is the historic pipe organ-now the oldest in Utah with more of its original components in their original location. Retail giant JC Penney and his wife, Berta Alva Hess Penney, attended First Methodist and she was a consecrated member. They met in Longmont, Colorado where he opened his (unsuccessful) butcher business. They married in a simple private ceremony in Cheyenne, Wyoming on Aug 24, 1899 by Rev. S.C. Davis, pastor of the First Baptist Church during the city’s Frontier’s Day celebration. They had two sons, Roswell Kemper Penney and James Cash Penney Jr. JC Penney opened his first store in Kemmerer, Wyoming in 1902.
By 1909, Penney had established his headquarters in SLC for the development of the J. C. Penney Company stores and remained here until they moved to NYC in 1914. The family lived in a prominent Avenues street home near LDS Hospital. Mrs. Penney had a tonsillectomy to help relieve her asthma symptoms in preparation for a cruise. While returning home during a rainstorm, she subsequently contracted pneumonia and tragically died on December 26, 1910. An ideal mother and most devoted companion, she was an inspiration and a sustaining power in the life of JC Penney. With her passing, he all but collapsed in body and mind. Penney was devastated and later wrote that with Berta’s death, his “world crashed” around him. In 1912, JC Penney paid off the final $5,000 debt on the building and the church tower is dedicated with a large plaque in the memory of Berta A. Penney.
From this struggle, Mr. Penney finally emerged with new spiritual vision and broadened, tendered sympathies. It is likely that a sermon which Mr. and Mrs. Penney heard in SLC contributed to Mr. Penney’s new spirituality. That discourse from the text, “He that is faithful over that which is least,” exerted an enduring influence on Mr. Penney’s life and led to a close relationship between him and the minister, Dr. Francis Burgette Short, [pastor of First Methodist Episcopal Church of SLC, 1907-1913]. Dr. Short later became the head of the educational department of the J.C. Penney Company with offices in NYC.
Berta A. Penney photo – Used by permission. Southern Methodist University Archives of JC Penney.
Fife, Connie, Methodists. http://www.media.utah.edu/UHE/m/METHODISTS.html.
First Methodist Episcopal Church, Salt Lake City, Jubilee Program and Semi-Centennial Souvenir, 1872-1922.
http://gbgm-umc.org/umw/history/legacy.cfm#THE DEACONESS OFFICE.
J. C. Penney: The Man with a Thousand Partners (1931, memoirs, with Robert W. Bruere)
Merkel, Henry Martin, History of Methodism in Utah. The Dentan Printing Co. Colorado Springs. 1938.
“Methodists Note Birthday” Salt Lake Tribune, January 2, 1960.
Missouri Historical Review, Volume 21 Issue 4, July 1927
Photos – Used by permission, Utah State Historical Society. All rights reserved.