Column: What we can learn from 150 year old church, a land surveyor, and the human spirit?

ESCANABA — Our goal at Visit Escanaba is not to just inform visitors about the many things to do here but to create a connection with people that are as fond of this area as we are. Whether it be a connection to the people, history, or culture that makes-up this beautiful region. We are always looking for opportunities to stay connected to the many points of interest that this area has for people looking to experience Delta County. After writing this blog, I realized the power of connections from a person who was best at connecting people and a place that had been connecting people for over 150 years. You can also find the full blog post at VisitEscanaba.com. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. 

The Beginning

This year the First United Methodist Church in Escanaba celebrates its 150th birthday when it was first dedicated in 1870. The history of the Church represents years of perseverance of people who made this unique fieldstone building possible in the first place. If the Church could speak, it would most certainly have something to say. Although some of the first contributors of the Church are long gone, their legacy can still be found all throughout, and they wouldn’t mind a listening ear. This is a story about a church, the will of people, perseverance, and connectedness.

Have you ever heard the phrase “The people are the church?” This couldn’t be more true in this Church’s history. This beautiful reminisce of time wouldn’t be standing if it hadn’t been for the perseverance of the people during the Church’s unfortunate beginnings. We spoke to The First United Methodist Church Historian, Barbara Synder to get some insight on the creation of the Church. According to Synder in 1869, eight people began meeting as a Methodist Episcopal Society in Escanaba. In 1870, they appointed a pastor to mark their beginning, and four years later, the First United Methodist Church sat on the corner of S. 6th St. and 2nd Ave. The first Church was built and dedicated in 1874, but unfortunately, it fell to flames only four years later. The 20 members were left with nothing but thousands of dollars of debt and discouragement. However, in four years, they were able to build a new wooden church and cleared their debt within 9 years- a feat that would surely impress the modern-day debt guru, Dave Ramsey. This was just-in-time as Escanaba started to take the shape of a hustling bustling port-town. 

The character behind the stained-glass window

An unmissable feature about this building is the stained-glass windows that are filled with shimmering hues of red and green. According to Synder, the windows were created by the Wisconsin Art Glass Company of Oshkosh. There is a total of 28 stained glass windows still intact. Initially, there were 30 windows. The total cost for the windows during that time was $394.20. A steal of a deal, especially because they have lasted more than 100 years and are still just as breath-taking. Each window was dedicated to a person or people who contributed to the Church. One of the windows is dedicated to the first group of people who started meeting in 1869 as a Methodist Society, another window is dedicated to some of the children who raised funds for the church by filling-up barrels with pennies. But one window, in particular, is devoted to a man by the name of Charles E. Brotherton. This is not the only place you will see the name Brotherton in this town, let alone in the Upper Peninsula. Charles was born July 12, 1834 and came to the Upper Peninsula in 1852 with a survey team. In 1865, he worked as a land surveyor for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. Brotherton is responsible for helping create the City of Escanaba that you see today. It is hard to fathom what his work must have been like. Most of us grow up in a city, and yes, we see new development and the loss of old buildings, but Brotherton saw nothing but grass blowing in the wind and a few small structures. Within a short time, his vision took flight. This booming spot on the map appeared overnight and he continued to watch it grow throughout his lifetime. The Brotherton family had a long-lasting relationship with the City of Escanaba and the First United Methodist Church. Both of Charles’s sons grew up to be surveyors and continued his work. The Brotherton name lasted in the Church until the year 2000. Between Charles and his son Hugh Brotherton, they spent a total of 90 years working for the Chicago and Northwestern Railway connecting Escanaba to many neighboring towns. Charles Brotherton watched the transformation of all three churches and had given financial contributions to each one. He passed away one year after the final Church was built. You can see his dedicated window near the pulpit, and his house is also a historical site on 606 Ogden St., just a couple blocks from the Church. Brotherton had played a fundamental part in the growth of the church and the growth of this little town on the water.

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Baylie Bullington is part of Visit Escanaba


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