History of St. Luke's
A New History 1872 - 2010
St. Luke's Episcopal Church, Detroit Lakes, MN
The history of St. Luke's you are about to read was graciously written for us by Richard D. Hecock. Thank you!
Detroit in 1872. This is a view looking north across the railroad tracks.
Photos courtesy of Becker County Historical Society.
St. Luke's "Creation Story"
This is E.S. Peake's 1882 sketch of proposed location of St. Luke's Church at Detroit. The sketch places the four lots purchased by the church on the NW corner of the intersection of Washington Avenue and Union Street. The Congregational Church was directly across the street to the east, and a half-block north of the Baptist church. The Methodist Church was located on the south side of the tracks .
Source: Peake's diaries, found in the Minnesota Historical Center
St. Luke's Church in 1884 on the site depicted above, looking north. The first Washington School is to the left; Washington Avenue is to the right of the church. The church door faced Union Street. A new Washington School was built later on this St. Luke's Church site.
Whipple's "Railroad Strategy"
The earliest Episcopal churches in Minnesota were at St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Stillwater. The next "wave" brought churches to Winona, Red Wing, and later to St. Cloud, along the Mississippi, and not too long afterwards to Shakopee, St. Peter and Mankato along the Minnesota River. Development pushed inland into southeast Minnesota, roads were built, and the next phase included churches in Northfield, Cannon Falls and Faribault. It is understandable that the next step of Minnesota church-building in the 1870's was associated with the construction of railroads, especially the Northern Pacific and Great Northern.
The Diocese of Minnesota's first Bishop stimulated the organization of many dozens of local churches during his forty one year ministry. Many of the church buildings were based upon plans developed by Richard Upjohn, an English architect whose work was widespread in New York during Whipple's formative years in the 1850's. Indeed, Whipple oversaw the construction of an Upjohn Church in Rome, New York, his first parish. Twenty-two chapels and 73 churches, mostly wood structures had been built in his Minnesota Diocese by 1880. Many more were added later in the decade, mostly in the northwest. Many of these were evolved from Upjohn's earlier more elaborate "pointed" Gothic church plans, such as Christ Church built in 1860 in St. Paul. The derivations of Upjohn designs called for plain long, narrow structures, featuring vertical lines, often exaggerated by board-and-batten exteriors, scissor support beams, pointed arches for windows and doors, a three-staged steeple, and a chancel separated from the nave. Whipple Gothic was well suited to the resource limitations and rudimentary carpentry skills found in rural and small towns across Minnesota
St. Luke's was built in 1882-1883 apparently in accordance with the Upjohn plans that had been adapted to accommodate rural financial resources and carpentry skills. While there exists no specific reference to the source of the plans for the Detroit church, the narrow, long nave and separated chancel, board and batten siding, pointed arch windows and doors, and vertical lines in the plain three-stage steeple, all these were elements consistent with Upjohn's ideas. Similar designs were used to build the Richwood and White Earth churches.
Whipple Gothic elements are also seen in the interior features of St. Luke's Church in Detroit -arched windows and doors, arched chancel separate from the nave, and an arched window behind the altar. As was common in Whipple churches, the scissor support beams (crossed) which appear at the top of the chancel depart from the Upjohn plan which called for curved beams, more expensive and more difficult to construct.
The Early Years 1872-1883
Primitive as it was, the situation changed rapidly after the arrival of the railroad. In 1870 there was only a handful of people (perhaps 40), living in all of Detroit township (an area extending from Lake Detroit to just north of Floyd Lake, and from a little east of the Pelican River westward to about Long Lake.) But by 1880 there were 500 inhabitants of Detroit and its environs. A community was being carved from a wilderness.
Moreover, as a result of the promotional and recruitment strategies of the NP Railway Company, and the arrangements made with the "New England Colony"*, the population moving to Detroit was comprised predominantly of New Englanders. The Baptists and Congregationalists each had railroad town evangelism programs of their own. Both were active in the Detroit area before the Episcopalians, and the Methodists arrived within months afterward. All of these sects would have been familiar to the new immigrants from New England.
In 1873, Whipple assigned The Rev. Hamilton Dudley responsibility for non-Indian missions west of Brainerd; though Dudley resided in Detroit services were not held every week, and in all likelihood were held at different times on different occasions. It is known that services for the first ten years were held in many different venues - Peakes Hall, Tyler Hotel, Baptist Church, Washington School, and the Congregational Church among them.
Ebenezer Steele Peake
Ebenezer Steele Peake was a key figure during one of St. Luke's growth periods. He had worked previously in founding churches along the Minnesota River, and then at St. Columba during its Crow Wing period. A very close associate of Bishop Whipple, Peake (together with Breck, Wilcoxson and Gilfallen) was important in the early years of the Diocese. He had left Minnesota for a time, to work in California and later as Chaplain in the Union Army. During a post-war visit to Wadena (where his brother lived), he encountered Whipple, who prevailed upon him to take charge of the Railroad churches in the Red River Valley (sic). He was assigned to Moorhead in 1878, and provided services to Wadena and Verndale. He gradually expanded his work to include Crookston, Detroit, Perham, Staples, New York Mills, Red Lake, Ada, Glyndon, Breckenridge and other places.
The Rev. Joseph A. Gilfillan
The Reverend Joseph A. Gilfillan was born in England, but came to America as a young boy. Little is known of his early history. He was rector of a church in Duluth before being called to Indian service at Crow Wing by Bishop Whipple. In the early 1870's he was put in charge of the Railroad Missions, then in 1873 went to White Earth to help Enmegahbowh. By all accounts he was extremely popular among the Indians with whom he worked. An Ojibway speaker, he achieved almost heroic status among "his people."
Decades of Growth, 1880's & 1890's
Detroit was growing rapidly in 1880's, and its good fortune continued into the 1890's and beyond. Forestry industries still prospered, while the agricultural sector began to emerge as a bigger factor. During these years, Detroit was firmly established as a tourist destination. The Pelican River Steamship Company was formed and by 1888 was carrying passengers from Detroit to Pelican Lake. By 1890 three trains in each direction stopped in Detroit, and by 1892 there were three daily steamship trips from Detroit to Shoreham where there were nearly 200 summer cottages. Not only did the residents grow, but local population swelled during the summertime. Many new firms were established. Detroit was thriving.
The Rev. Peake returned to Detroit in 1884, and with the help of the women of the church, the heating problem was soon solved. On September 16, 1885, Bishop Whipple consecrated St. Luke's Episcopal Church of Detroit Lakes. By then there was an active women's group, and an energetic Sunday school program.
It was a period of rapid expansion and growth for the Diocese of Minnesota too. Priests were in short supply, and many who served Detroit, including Gesner, Moultrie and Munson, came first as deacons and later were ordained as priests. These often left soon after ordination to the priesthood to seek more prestigious posts. Others found the weather or working conditions discomforting.
Early Lay Leaders of St. Luke's
John K. West was one of the early settlers of Detroit Lakes who came from "out east." He was born in Massachusetts, and attended school there, including Williams College. Arriving in Detroit, he soon became the inspiration and founder of the Pelican River Navigation Company which was the key to the early resort development area. The development of the steamship route involved building a system of locks and dams, thereby raising the water level in Detroit Lake and the Pelican River by several feet. By 1890 his steamships were carrying tourists and goods from Detroit to Shoreham where there were approximately 100 summer cottages. He also invested in real estate and other local businesses. He was a Congregationalist by birth and tradition, but he attracted the attention of Bishop Whipple who prevailed upon West to become Treasurer of his Detroit Church. (It is said that Whipple often reached out to non-Episcopalian community leaders to fill specific jobs in his churches.)
West served the Bishop and St. Luke's for many years, not only as Treasurer, but as Senior Warden, and eventually as Lay Reader. He was also a host for church outings which often involved a trip on a steamboat. His first wife, Mary, died in the early 1900s. Soon afterwards he married Agnes Brownjohn, who was a long-serving Superintendent of St. Luke's Sunday School. Agnes Brownjohn West was also an important chronicler of St. Luke's, writing the valuable history of the church from its inception through 1939.
Another native New Englander, Homer Earle Sargent, was born in 1822 in Leicester, Massachusetts. Sargent was a railroad man, having served in an executive capacity with the Boston and Albany, the Michigan Central, and eventually the Northern Pacific. Later he was President of the Fargo and Southern Railway. He resided in Chicago where he was very active in the Episcopal Church. After the Northern Pacific came to Detroit, he built a summer home on Lake Street about a half-block from the site which St. Luke's occupied after 1892.
Emma K. Ogden, M.D. arrived in Detroit in 1897. It is said that she is the first woman physician to be graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. She rendered almost twenty years of medical service to the community, and had an equally long time as a devoted servant of St. Luke's - as a Sunday School teacher, a Woman's Guild member, and a patron. She lived next door to the Lake Street Church (and after she died in 1916, the church purchased her home as a vicarage.)
Ups & Downs: 1907 - 1946
St. Luke's survived these circumstances but did not grow.
Post War Years & St. Luke's Resurgence
Not long after World War II, St. Luke's entered a period of almost uninterrupted growth in the 1950's and 1960's. This resurgence of church interest was shared by many denominations in Detroit Lakes. Nationwide, the Episcopal Church doubled its membership.
Lay Reader Reno Kuehnel began his ministry at St. Luke's in 1945. Ordained first a Deacon, and then a Priest, he served Detroit almost eight years. Though he resided in Fergus Falls, and served that church and a small church in Battle Lake, St. Luke's prospered during his years of service.
There were many important events in the life of the church-upgrades and remodeling of the church, a new organ purchased by the Woman's Guild in 1951, a new vicarage in 1961-but none were as dramatic as the new church.
The Church Bell, 1883
A Bell was hung in St. Luke's Church on Washington Avenue in 1883 - it's origin is unknown. The bell moved with the Church structure to its Lake Avenue home in 1891.
The period after the construction of the church could be called St. Luke's "golden years". Between 1967 and 1976 membership grew by almost 40% with a strong youth component; and attendance at worship stayed above 5000 in most years. There were several energetic priests in residence. One unusual arrangement involved the appointment by Bishop Anderson of an Assistant Bishop to reside in Detroit Lakes, serve as St. Luke's vicar, and attend to Diocesan duties as needed. Even though he provided services at St. Luke's only on alternate Sundays, the church reached a peak of activity during Bishop Varley's three years of service, 1981-1984.
The last half of the 1980's and the 1990's were not kind to St. Luke's. In most of the 100 years before 1985, St. Luke's numbers of both baptisms and confirmations exceeded burials. In 1985-90, burials exceeded confirmations, and after 1990, burials exceeded both baptisms and confirmations. Similarly, numbers of baptized members and communicants fell, and annual total service attendance dropped from an average of 3600 to 2400.
As in the case of the pre-WWII era, part of the problem was associated with demographics. The St. Luke's congregation was aging, as indicated by the relative numbers of baptisms and burials. Between 1985 and 2001 the number of those less than 18 years on church rolls dropped by more than half. Unfortunately as a general matter (and in Detroit Lakes too?), Episcopalians have relatively small families, are well-educated, and their offspring tend to move away from home (Chilton).
In the late 1980's and early 1990's, St. Luke's failed in at least two attempts to gain parish status, presumably because of the church's inability to support a full-time priest. There is some irony in this circumstance, since during this time St. Luke's Mission was yoked with Trinity of Park Rapids, a Parish church, while St. Luke's paid the majority of the costs of the priest.
The Women of St. Luke's
Women were critical to the founding and persistence of Minnesota churches. Under Whipple's leadership, women were expected to play an important role in his churches. In letters soliciting funds for his new churches, he refers to the "loving daughters" who stepped forward to assist in founding and financing churches.
On the other hand, for all their spiritual and financial influence, their participation in church affairs was limited. For many decades it was understood that the Vestry was comprised of Vestrymen.
By 1949 women were no longer excluded from the Bishop's Committee, but in a letter to the Senior Warden, Bishop Keeler somewhat patronizingly reminds the Senior Warden," women can serve on BC, but a majority should be men". In fact many Bishop's Committees had women members in the 1960's and 1970's, but it was not until Robin Granger Friendshuh in 1988 that a woman became Senior Warden.
The St. Luke's Music Tradition
Into the 21st Century
After the departure of The Rev. Husband in 2001, The Rev. Sandi Holmberg was named priest in charge. Revs. Cherry, Schaitberger, Pickeral, Holmberg, Schulenberg, and others supplied services on a regular basis. In addition, The Rev. Don Homme, a retired Lutheran Pastor, was licensed by Bishop Jelinek to serve in the Diocese, and became a member of the St. Luke's congregation.
Call to Common Mission
Upgrades to the Church
Faced with an aging facility, a number of major capital improvement were undertaken in this period. In 2002, the church received a $26,000 UTO grant to rehabilitate the furnace and the downstairs kitchen and lighting. Soon afterwards, and following some timely bequests, a productive pledge drive resulted in sufficient funds for a $270,000 addition to the church. This effort yielded a more user-friendly, one-floor facility for both worship and socializing. The new addition also provided badly needed handicapped-accessible bathrooms, kitchen, storage, office, and meeting space. The final major capital improvements of the decade included replacement of large windows and installation of air-conditioning of the sanctuary.
Indeed, it is interesting that financial support for St. Luke's programs never wavered in the 2000's. The Heritage Fund, created in 1976, has grown to provide significant investment income to the church. There are about the same number of pledging units in 2010 as there were in 2000, and pledge income has increased by about 20%. Average annual revenues also have grown about 10% since the late 1990's.
Richard Hecock finished his historical writing for St. Luke's in 2010. We are working hard to finish the history from 2010-2022. Stayed tuned for more information.
Thank you Dick for all of the hard work you put into the history written here.