More Than Brick and Mortar
The official founding date for Park Church is 1836. The church building’s history, however, began in 1837 with a small church built by city founder Louis Campau at the corner of Monroe and Division. Though Campau meant it for the community’s Catholics, his quarrel with the Bishop of Detroit led to the sale of the building to the Congregationalists in 1840. Since the local Congregationalists couldn’t raise the $3,700 to pay for the building, Deacon Stephen Hinsdill and the Reverend James Ballard traveled on foot and horseback through New York and New England, collecting money for the little mission church “way out west”. Locally, members held sales and suppers to raise the down payment. After moving into their new home, members paid pew rents to help sustain the church financially. The rental custom, with quarterly payments made in grain, lumber, shingles, or cash, prevailed until 1921.
In 1867, the present English Gothic church was built at a cost of $75,000 and became known as “Park Church” because of its proximity to what has become Veterans Park across the street. The church’s Tiffany stained glass windows, purchased as memorials to former members, were installed between 1904 and 1938, adding a rare beauty to the sanctuary. The large “Angels of Praise” window over the balcony, dedicated to women of the church, was installed in 1927.
In 1912, the steeple was replaced by a bell tower, and in 1917, an addition known at that time as the parish house was added for recreation and activity space. Named for Dr. Charles Merriam, Park’s minister from 1916 to 1933, the space has hosted many dinners, plays, parties, and meetings.
Adding a center aisle, the Alois Lang wood carvings, and a new organ were part of a 1929 update to the sanctuary.
A major remodel in 1951 changed the facade of the church. The congregation added a 90-seat chapel and office space along Library Street, a church school wing on the south, and the current bell tower.
Then in 1988, an arsonist set a fire that almost destroyed the interior of the historic sanctuary and seriously damaged the organ. Fortunately, the Tiffany windows suffered little damage. Extensive restoration work quickly began, with the congregation worshipping temporarily across the street at the Saint Cecilia Music building. The restoration included a complete sanctuary redecoration and installation of a new 104-rank pipe organ and a carillon.
In 2012, the church celebrates its 175th anniversary. Park Church’s members learned after the fire that a building does not make a church – its people do. But for the generations of members who have worshipped in this building, the church that continues to sit solidly on the corner of Park Place and Library Street means home.