First United Methodist Church

Completed in 1926, the First United Methodist Church is one of the oldest remaining churches in Reno. The Methodist Church congregation was established early in Reno's history in 1868, organized by Reverend Thomas McGrath. The third Methodist Church to be built in Reno, First United Methodist Church was constructed during a time when Reno had an international reputation for the migratory divorce trade, which resulted in negative publicity for the town and the frequent comparison to Sodom and Gomorrah. In an attempt to defend the decency of the permanent residents, Reno was portrayed as a town of church-goers. Several new churches were built during this period.

Known at the time as the Methodist Episcopal Church, construction began in 1925 on a design by Wythe, Blaine and Olson, an architecture firm based in Oakland, California. The Period Revival cathedral displays impressive Gothic Revival design elements, utilizing a cross plan, typical of that style. The three-story cathedral was one of the first poured-concrete buildings in Reno. The wood grain left by the planks used as molds for the exterior can be seen in the concrete. The rough surface was left to facilitate the attachment of vines to the walls, but for unknown reasons, these vines did not grow.

Beginning on December 5, 1926, a three-day celebration of the building's completion included separate ceremonies dedicating the church to religion, fellowship, and music.

The church's scale combined with its siting on a corner near the river is dramatic and impressive, making it appear even larger than it is. The parish house and connecting wing were added around 1940, and were designed by prominent local architect Edward Parsons.

Images

Methodist Episcopal Church in the 1920s

Methodist Episcopal Church in the 1920s

A postcard of the Methodist Episcopal (M.E.) Church in downtown Reno. The Colonial Apartments are visible in the background. Image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

Laying the cornerstone, 1926

Laying the cornerstone, 1926

Laying the Cornerstone for the Methodist Church, March 30, 1926. Following a parade from the university, ceremonies included addresses by Governor James J. Scrugham, Mayor E.E. Roberts, and Walter E. Clark, President of the University of Nevada. The towers of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church are visible through the construction. Image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

The new church

The new church

This photograph taken shortly after the Methodist Episcopal Church was completed clearly shows its poured-concrete construction. Image courtesy of Dick Dreiling View File Details Page

Joseph Carpenter, visionary

Joseph Carpenter, visionary

Joseph Carpenter, Methodist minister from 1923 to 1927. It was Reverend Carpenter's vision that resulted in the construction of the new church in 1926. For inspiration, he visited churches throughout the Bay Area. He ultimately chose the architectural firm Wythe, Blaine, and Olson of Oakland for Reno's church. Image courtesy of First United Methodist Church View File Details Page

Choir

Choir

The choir is assembled on Easter Sunday, April 20, 1930. Image courtesy of First United Methodist Church View File Details Page

Wedding pastor

Wedding pastor

Reverend Stephen Thomas was known as the "Minister of Marriage" at the Methodist Church for several years. Many weddings took place in the church before Reno's wedding chapels were established. Image courtesy of First United Methodist Church View File Details Page

Martha Jones, dedicated churchwoman

Martha Jones, dedicated churchwoman

Martha Jones was the church organist for 25 years (1942-1967). She also compiled a history of the church in 1968. Image courtesy of First United Methodist Church View File Details Page

The final expansion

The final expansion

In 1965, a fund-raising campaign was launched to complete the expansion of the church. A flyer enjoining congregants and others to donate cites the work of Mrs. Sourwine, a long-time member of the congregation who provided the funds to excavate the Sunday School rooms and sponsored broadcasts of the church choir on a local radio station in the 1930s. Image courtesy of First United Methodist Church View File Details Page

Holy Family Window in June 1974

Holy Family Window in June 1974

The stained-glass window was created by Harold Cummings of the Cummings Architectural Glass and Interior Design Studios of Sacramento, California in 1942. The window is surrounded by the Hosanna Arch, which features replicas of the faces of the children whose families were attending the church in 1943. The arch was sculpted by Alice English. Image courtesy of First United Methodist Church View File Details Page

A historic bell

A historic bell

The bell from the 1871 church was moved to the new church in 1926. It was the gift of Judge William Webster of Washoe County. The bell, weighing in at one ton, was cast in San Francisco from two smaller bells. It is 40 inches in diameter and hangs 60 feet from the ground in the 75-foot-high bell tower. Image courtesy of First United Methodist Church View File Details Page

Surrounded

Surrounded

As the 21st century loomed, so too did condominium buildings dwarfing the beautiful church. Photo by Max Chapman View File Details Page

Angels in the bell tower

Angels in the bell tower

On Palm Sunday, April 17, 2011, six stained-glass windows adorning the bell tower were dedicated. The windows, nearly 8 feet tall, were designed by local artist Linda Walker and created by Kathleen Hallamore of Tapesty Glass. Photo by Alicia Barber View File Details Page

Architectural Detail

Architectural Detail

A graceful Gothic arch and Corinthian pilasters encompass the entrance that has welcomed churchgoers for almost 90 years. Photo by Alicia Barber View File Details Page

Street Address:

209 West 1st Street, Reno, NV [map]

Cite this Page:

Mella Harmon, “First United Methodist Church,” Reno Historical, accessed July 26, 2017, http://renohistorical.org/items/show/37.

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