North Hibbing was, by 1919, a beautiful town of nearly 18,000 people. It had a downtown lit by so many electric streetlights that it was called “The Great White Way”, the grand Lincoln High School with its indoor pool, graceful Carnegie Library, and some very impressive homes. It also had many churches built with the support of active congregations.
Today, Easter Sunday 2019, one hundred years later, seems a good time to remember those churches and their congregations.
Most of the North Hibbing churches, because of their size and building materials, would not be eligible to make the move south which was soon about to begin. As hard as it was for Hibbing’s citizens to leave their homes, it was equally hard to leave their lovely churches.
One house of worship which did move was the Swedish Evangelical Emanuel Lutheran Church. It was bought by the Agudath Achim Jewish congregation from the Oliver Mining Company. The congregation then had it moved to its location on what is today 2nd Avenue West near 23rd Street. It is a private home now, but the powerful Star of David stained glass window is still intact on its east-facing wall.
Congregations whose churches did not move built new houses of worship in their new town. As you drive around the central area of Hibbing today, you can see the results of their vision: the beautiful churches of various denominations, even more solidly built than their predecessors.
The following are excerpts taken from “Hibbing: the Man and the Village”, by Dr. Samuel Guello. Originally, the manuscript was written in 1957 by Guello as part of an advanced college history course and later published in 1983, with the assistance of Dr. Robert P. Koenig, by the Hibbing Historical Society. Guello interviewed many of Hibbing’s “old timers” as part of his research.
As is typical with researching history, there can be conflicting stories about the same place, person, or event. Sam Guello did the best he could to get the most accurate information. I found that some of his details conflicted with other histories I have come across. So some details I have left out because of a conflict in the information, or I have made an adjustment (such as in a date) when I found several sources agreeing on that information.
Joe and I wish all of the “Years of Yore” readers a Blessed Easter and happy springtime!
~ Mary Palcich Keyes
It was on a Tuesday, May 9, 1893, when Hibbing was composed of a dozen or so log cabins, shacks, and tents, that a Methodist minister, Reverend George P. Watson, rode a borrowed pony from Mountain Iron to Hibbing in nine hours over impassible roads and unbridged streams to be the first minister of the gospel to come to the settlement. He immediately visited every one of the tents and shacks and then went west to inspect the Lake Superior Mine’s quarters a short distance away. There he preached the community’s first religious sermon to the miners and squatters.
With the organization of the Methodist Church in 1893, regular services were held first in a shack on Center Street and later in the old bank building on the same street. Pews were made by laying planks across whiskey kegs and a larger keg for the pulpit. The first day’s collection was five dollars.
Reverend Butters held Methodist services in 1894 in Bergman’s Building on Pine Street. The next year, during Reverend Thomson’s term, enough funds were collected to erect a better building. The minister lived in a small board shack nearby. The church was moved from Pine Street to Mahoning Street in 1902, enlarged, and a parsonage was added.
The Catholics in the area were visited in 1894 by Fathers Melvel and Bilban, and later intermittently by Fathers Gamache and Monsignor Buh. Hibbing had 50 Catholic families on September 19, 1897, when the first mass was held in the (still not completed) first church. Until the opening of the church, mass was held in the village hall. The church building was completed and Bishop James McGolrick of the Duluth Diocese dedicated the church on November 21, 1900. Father Gamache came in July 1901 as the first resident pastor and had to live in a hotel the first two years until a rectory for the priest could be built. The church was enlarged in 1908.
A visit to the Finnish Lutheran group was made by Reverend Saavala in 1896. In 1900, two lots were bought and in 1901 a church edifice was erected. An earlier visit was made to this group by a minister whose name has been forgotten by those now living.
Our Saviors Lutheran Church group held services in 1898 with Reverend J.H. Grotheim of Virginia. A Ladies’ Aid Society was organized in 1902. The first meetings were held in the homes of Mrs. Herman Khort and Mrs. Morten Imbertson. Mrs. Ole Harness organized the Sunday School. A church was erected in 1910.
Immanual Lutheran services were held in private homes during 1900, later in the town hall, and then in the Episcopal Church. Reverend Krantz of Duluth was the first pastor. The Ladies’ Aid Society was formed at this time and these women taught Bible lessons in Swedish. In 1901, Reverend P.O. Hanson led a group in constructing a small frame structure on Center Street at Second Avenue, which was sold to the Oliver Mining Company in 1909, but still used by the congregation until 1920, when another group purchased it and moved it south.
It was April 20, 1903, when the Presbyterians met at the old town hall on the corner of Pine Street and Second Avenue to organize the First Presbyterian Church of Hibbing. The first services were held in the Finnish Lutheran Church on Sunday evenings. The building committee picked a site on Mahoning Street for a church, which was built in 1905 by David Graham, and dedicated on February 11, 1906.
Immaculate Conception Church was organized in June 1906 by a group of Italian residents. Father Zarelli celebrated masses until he was replaced by Father Joseph Berruatto in 1907. Father Zarelli returned to be the first resident pastor after the church was completed. After mass, sermons were preached in Italian for the benefit of those who did not speak English. The church was located on Cedar Street , just west of Third Avenue.
Christ Memorial Episcopal held services and celebrated Holy Communion on December 28 and 29, 1895, in 20 degree below zero weather. In 1912, Miss Jane E. Schmlzel hired Cass Gilbert, a nationally known architect, to erect a beautiful stone church in memory of her father. Lots at Mahoning Street and Fourth Avenue had been donated by Frank Hibbing, who was an Episcopalian by birth but preferred to attend Methodist services quite often. During the same year, the beautiful C.F. Corey home was purchased as a rectory.
Hibbing was always considered to be a rather clean and moral town, although in 1897 there were 32 saloons and only one church edifice, the Methodist. Many other saloons were being considered, but only one church was under construction – that being Blessed Sacrament.
On Father Gamache’s early missionary visits, previous to the construction of any public building, he held an afternoon service at the Midway Tavern on Pine Street. The place was full of lumberjacks and miners busily engaged in games of poker. At the close of the service, one of the characters appreciatively passed the hat. Mixed in the liberal collection of coins and greenbacks were found a number of poker chips whose value ranged from 25 cents to one dollar. Turning to Duff Campbell, the proprietor, Father Gamache innocently inquired, “What will I do with these, Mr. Campbell?” “Well, Father,” answered Campbell, “you can play them or cash them, whichever you like!”