Friday, October 21, 2016

First United Methodist Church, Long Pine, NE

The Methodist Church in Long Pine, Nebraska was established in late 1881 or early 1882, shortly after the townsite was platted.  From the very beginning, the wider community has contributed to the wellbeing of the congregation.  For about four years, the Methodists and Congregationalists shared a temporary worship space on Sunday mornings in Skinner Hall, a meeting room located on the second floor of the Charles Clift Cafe.  The Methodists held services in the mornings, while the Congregationalists used the space in the afternoons.  During this time, a Community Ladies Aid group was formed for the purpose of raising funds for permanent homes for both congregations.  The revenue from their various fundraisers was split equally between both churches.

Thanks to the generosity of this group and others, the 87-member strong Methodist Church proudly dedicated its first church building on July 18, 1886.  Almost 21 years later, on July 6, 1907 this structure was destroyed by a tornado.  Undaunted, church members purchased a new site and quickly began building the present structure, which was dedicated in 1908.  This new church was given the formal and somewhat unwieldy name of "The Melvin W. Eighmy Memorial Church" in honor of the late son of the minister at the time, Rev. Philip Eighmy.  Today, the church building is simply known as the "First United Methodist Church."

Long Pine's First Methodist Church shortly after its construction.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of writing about these churches is the opportunity to dig deeply into the history of a place.  Every now and then, you find a real gem.  That's exactly what I found when I stumbled upon an incredibly obscure biography published in 1940 entitled, The Life and Works of Mrs. Mary Bradstreet Helmershausen by Adella Helmershausen.  Among other things, this book contains the text of many letters written to Mrs. Helmershausen.  Apparently, Mary was a cousin of Rev. Philip Eighmy, the minister who built the 1908 church.  His letters published in this volume offer an incredibly valuable and interesting glance into his life and the life of the Methodist Church in Long Pine.  Here, he describes the church building just days after its dedication:

Long Pine, Nebraska, 
Sept 12, 1908 

Dear Cousin Mary:
     We received your letter and the book for which please accept our thanks.  We dedicated our new church last Sunday, Sept. 6, 1908.  It cost six thousand dollars.  We raised the sum of one thousand dollars which clears our indebtedness.
     We have a beautiful church.  The window at the right as you enter is your window.  It is fine.  All of the windows were sold and are memorials.  Yours to your godly parents "Daniel M. and Clarissa Bradstreet."
     The audience room is raised, floor seated with opera chairs, and is very pretty and comfortable.  We have a fine pulpit and three pulpit chairs.  The house is beautifully lighted. I send you a card with the picture of our church.  On the right is the parsonage.  The marble slab over the main entrance is inscribed: "Memorial Melvin W. Eighmy Memorial Church, 1908."  It is in memory of our only son now deceased.
     Hoping to hear from you again, we are 

Your loving cousins,
Phillip H. and Dorinda C. Eighmy

A postcard of the First Methodist Church in Long Pine, dating from shortly after its dedication in 1908.  This is likely the image referenced in the above letter.

Writing about two years later, Rev. Eighmy reflects on growing up without a mother, the goodness of God, and his own accomplishments.  He also speaks of his upcoming retirement and move to San Diego, California.

The Long Pine First United Methodist Church as is presently appears.

Long Pine, Nebraska, 
June 4, 1910 

Dear Cousin Mary:
     Referring to my mother, I never saw her to know her.  She died May 22, 1839, your Aunt Affa; I was bom April 9, 1839 and have never known what a mother was.  But God has been good to me and I love Him.  His goodness is great.  For thirty years I have been in His ministry, six years of that time a presiding elder.  I was two years in the Nebraska Legislature ; and served one year as Chaplain of the Grand Army of the Republic of the state of Nebraska.  In 1904, I was elected a delegate to the General Conference held at Los Angeles, California.  I have tried to do what has been committed unto me, faithfully, and God's hand has led me, motherless, step by step, onward.  I am old now, Mary, but answer calls to preach, to fill vacancies, and funerals; am class-leader in our home church, pay on the salary and benevolences, and cherish a hope to meet that lost mother, sometime, somewhere.
      On the 16th of November we started for the Pacific coast, and spent two months visiting at Santa Barbara and Los Angeles.  We bought a home in San Diego before leaving; returned home April 15th, expecting to go back this fall.  We remain, Always, 

Sincerely your cousins, 
P. H. and D. C. Eighmy

The interior of the church has changed little since its construction.

Aside from being a highly accomplished and deeply spiritual man, Rev. Eighmy was also apparently very prosperous financially:

Long Pine, Nebraska, 
Sept. 20, 1910

Dear Cousin:
     We hasten to write to you before we leave for the Pacific coast permanently.  We are selling out our effects here; have sold five of our six houses.  We do not expect to sell the land this fall before we go.  The lease will hold five years' cash rent, subject to sale.  Our ranch of eight hundred acres is southeast of Long Pine.
     Our golden wedding will be April 8, 1911, if we live so long.  I am seventy-one and Dorinda will be seventy on Aug. 17, 1911.  We came to Iowa in 1867; bought land; came to Nebraska in 1893; sold the Iowa land at a good profit; and bought Nebraska Land.
     Now, dear cousin Mary, we have had a little farewell visit with you on paper, and gone over the past.
     We expect to leave Long Pine on the 11th of October.  The parting from friends makes us sad, as does the leaving of our home and church.  Our address is 805 Irving Ave., San Diego, Cal.  With prayers for you and your family God bless and preserve you all.  I hope to hear from you often.  We remain, Always,

Sincerely your cousins, 
P. H. and D. C. Eighmy

A minister with six houses and an 800 acre ranch!  I wonder what the locals thought of that!  Whatever the case may have been, the Rev. Philip Eighmy was an important figure for the Methodists of Long Pine who shepherded his congregation through a significant natural disaster and the building of a new church: a legacy enjoyed even now by current congregation members

The wide but lofty nave of the church brings worshippers close to the altar and pulpit.  

Following the construction of the church, a parsonage was constructed in 1910 to the east and a community hall was completed in 1924.  Both of these structures were sold in 1974 and 1941, respectively.  The membership of the church has declined over the years, along with the rest of the community.  Long Pine's economy had long depended largely upon the significant rail-yard that existed there from 1881 until the late 1950s, when passenger rail service was discontinued.  Shortly afterwards, the roundhouse, shop, and stockyards were demolished, eliminating many jobs.

The sanctuary of the Long Pine United Methodist Church.  The three pulpit chairs are original to the building.

Thanks to the assistance of various United Methodist aid groups, major repairs have been undertaken over the past several decades and the building remains in relatively good repair given its small congregation.  Long Pine's First United Methodist Church stands as the quintessential small-town Protestant church: white clapboard exterior with a corner steeple, windows and bell tower vaguely inspired by gothic architecture.  The interior is marked by utmost simplicity, but with a stateliness that comes from high degree of craftsmanship.

One of the three large stained glass windows that dominate the church building.

This church holds a special place in my my memory and identity.  My grandmother, Mary Jensen was assigned as pastor here from 1997 until her retirement in 2008.  I remember being warmly welcomed into worship by this small but joyful congregation of about a dozen people.  Since grandma's retirement in 2008, the congregation has been without an assigned pastor.  The congregation has since enlisted the assistance of a very part time minister who travels 135 miles one way to lead Sunday worship during the warmer months of the year.


Adele Helmershausen, The Life and Works of Mrs. Mary Bradstreet Helmershausen.  Chicago, IL: Manz Engraving Corp., 1940.

Materials from the Long Pine Heritage Society & Heritage House Museum

Virtual Nebraska: Long Pine

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