FROM THE BEGINNING
In the autumn of 1833, Iowa was part of the Black Hawk Territory and Dubuque was little more than a miner’s camp and trading post. The village consisted of log cabins, a few mud streets and not a single school or house of worship. The first mention of a church is in the minutes of the Illinois Conference on September 25, 1833, in Union Grove: “DuBuke Mission – Barton Randle.” On November 6, 1833, Randle crossed the Mississippi and preached in the Bell Tavern where the Hotel Julien now stands. This was the first sermon preached on Iowa soil.
The first church building, dedicated on August 23, 1834, was a log meeting house on the southeast corner of what is now Washington Park. Seventy subscribers of both members and “friendly sinners” raised the necessary $225 for its cost. This small cabin was used by other denominations and also served as a public school building and the first courthouse in Iowa. It was here that the incorporation papers for the City of Dubuque were prepared and signed.
In 1839, a more fitting church was built on the northwest corner of 7th and Locust Streets. It was called the Centenary Church because that year was the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the Methodist Church in England. The building was two stories high and outside steps led to a meeting hall on the second floor. The first church bell brought into Iowa rang from its belfry. The marriage of John T. Hancock and Bertha Enz on February 22, 1849, in the Centenary Church was the first Protestant church wedding in Dubuque.
Within ten years, a still larger church was needed and a lot was selected on Main Street between 11th and 12th. The new Main Street Church as built of brick, 50 x 80 ft., and when it was dedicated on April 4 1853, was called the finest church in Iowa. In 1868, the church was rebuilt and enlarged. A splendid organ 17 x 24 ft. high and encased in black walnut was installed.
The Main Street Church was used for 42 years until the growing congregation needed larger facilities. In 1895, work began on a magnificent new building. Dr. George M. Staples, a prominent physician and chairman of the building committee, was one of the most active spirits in pushing the new enterprise. Before the building began, Dr. Staples died and the church was named St. Luke’s as a tribute to “The Beloved Physician.” The building, including the memorial Tiffany windows, altar furniture and individual gifts, cost more than $100,000. It was free of debt on the day of dedication, May 16, 1897.
Since 1833, St. Luke’s has served Christ and His Church and has been a vital part of the community. Many visitors come each year to worship, to learn more of the history of the “Cradle of Iowa Methodism” and to be inspired by the treasures of St. Luke’s, but the people who worship in this church are our greatest treasures. May the Lord continue to bless and strengthen our minds and hearts that we may serve Him.
At the Feast of Dedication Service on May 16, 1897, Dr. W.A. Shanklin, the pastor, said, “It was not a matter of pride, but of principle, that a place of worship ought to be not only substantial, but as attractive and beautiful as the builders could make it.” The church’s committee of able businessmen supervised each part of construction with the closest scrutiny. Only the best, most durable material was used. George W. Kramer, a nationally acclaimed architect from New York, was named the designer and Guilbert and Littlefield, well-known local architects, carried out the project.
The Romanesque style of architecture, with origins in the Middle Ages, is characterized by thick walls, heavy columns and round arches for windows and doors. On foundations 32 inches thick, the walls are built of enduring Bedford limestone from Indiana. Each stone was cut by hand and if one looks carefully, imbedded fossils may be seen.
The frontage of the building on Main St. is 115 ft. wide and it extends back 106 ft. The Church rises 86 ft. above the street and is crowned with a bell tower, 17 x 17 ft. The large portico extending 47 ft. across the front is supported by six delicately sculptured, but massive columns. The double doors on the left side of the portico provide an entrance to the sanctuary.
The original sketch for the ten-room adjoining parsonage was made by Dr. Hugh D. Atchison, the minister from 1900 to 1938. Its cornerstone, laid on August 4, 1905, was the threshold of the old parsonage. The architecture of the parsonage echoes the church, repeating the pillars, arches, and tower in a modified but elegant style.
The chime in St. Luke’s tower was dedicated on September 21, 1913. There are eleven bells in the chime, making it possible to play an unlimited number of tunes that are in the key of G, key of D, or in the key of A. The bells each weigh between 575 to 3050 lbs., for a total weight of approximately 15,000 lbs. They are suspended in a square frame, each hanging stationary. The Bells are rung from a lever stand or console which is placed in a room in the tower below the belfry. The hammers of the bells are connected to levers of the console by a series of rods, chains, and leather belts. Pushing down on the lever activates the clapper which strikes the bell on the inside.
The bells were cast by the McShane Bell Foundry Company of Baltimore, Maryland, and each bell is inscribed. The bells were placed in memory of Elizabeth Jane Eighmey who died on November 30, 1912, by her husband, Charles, and her daughter, Augusta.
When the organ was installed in the new church in 1897, it was described as a musical marvel and was one of the largest organs in the West. It came by train from the noted organ manufacturers Farrand & Votey of Detroit, and required two carloads to transport it.
On Sunday, May 10, 1992, over $200,000 was given in a single day by church members and friends for the complete restoration of the organ, as well as to air condition the church. The restoration was done by Fowler Organ Company of Lansing, Michigan. The instrument was completely disassembled, pipes rebuilt and repainted, bellows re-leathered, and all components repaired or replaced as needed.
At that time, a new console was constructed in a style similar to that which was common when the organ was built. The cabinet is built of white oak with mahogany trim and its manual keys are of polished bone and rosewood. The draw knobs are also turned rosewood and are believed to aid in visual identification. the console is fitted with internal casters to enable it to be moved for various program uses.
THE BAPTISMAL FONT
The baptismal font in St. Luke’s is carved of fine white marble that emphasizes the purity and innocence of a child. On the two-foot square base are inscribed the words: “In memory of Susanna Weigel, 1913.” From this base rises a graceful column carved with lily stems and leaves. These symbolize a new life. The capital consists of clustering lilies, carved in high relief, each flower standing out as in nature. Within the cluster of lilies and rising above them is the polished bowl around the side of which is inscribed the text: “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism.”
The frieze in beautiful bas-relief, extending across the entire chancel and choir loft, is a replica of the famous “Singing Children” designed for the singing gallery of the Cathedral of Florence by Luca della Robbia (1400-1482 A.D.). These panels of children singing, dancing and playing musical instruments help to create a joyful atmosphere and even a touch of humor (look for the child holding his ears). The two central dividing columns each are topped by a cherub with spread wings done in oak to match the other wood work. The frieze is not a memorial and was given anonymously to St. Luke’s.