Big building in Altoona too much for small congregation to maintain
June 26, 2011
By Linda T. Gracey
The last hymn will be sung, the last sermon delivered and the last prayer said today at First United Methodist Church in Altoona.
After 158 years of ministry, the church where Methodism started in the city will cease to exist effective Friday as a separate house of worship.
At one time, a congregation of about 1,700 members worshipped there. That number has dramatically dwindled in recent years, with between 35 and 40 attending Sunday morning services. Those members are mostly retirees who lack the wherewithal to maintain the brownstone at 1208 13th St.
The structure will be put up for sale, and the church’s members will unite with fellow Methodists at Jaggard United Methodist Church, 17th Street and Pleasant Valley Boulevard. The Rev. Towanda Acey, who pastors both churches, will continue to serve the newly formed congregation – Jaggard First United Methodist Church.
Saying farewell to the building is difficult for those who consider it an important part of their lives.
“I will miss it big time,” said Dave Barr, whose family has attended services in the 104-year-old church for four generations.
“I have never known another church,” said the 70-year-old Altoona native, who only went elsewhere during his college days in Huntingdon.
His grandparents used to worship in the building, and Barr’s grandfather served as treasurer.
“When he got the money [offering], he would take it home and count it and then walk it back to the church,” Barr said. “My dad and mom met there. My sister and I were baptized there.”
His wife, Barbara, started coming to First when she was about 13, and they were married in the sanctuary.
The Barrs’ two sons learned Bible stories and lessons in Sunday school and followed in their father’s footsteps by joining Troop 1, the first Boy Scout troop established in Altoona. Troop 1 was sponsored by the church from 1921 until it folded a year ago.
Through the years, Barr has been active in church work. He was head usher for a number of years and led singing for the adult Sunday school class. He continues to sing in the choir. Rest of the story:
Address: 1208 13th Street, Altoona 16601
Municipality: city of Altoona
County: Blair County
Directions: This church is in the old section of Altoona west of the main railroad tracks, south of the Altoona Hospital. Seventh Street (westbound) and Eighth Street (eastbound) are the arteries that cross the main railroad tracks. Once in the western section of Altoona, the church building is on the northwest corner of 12th Avenue and 13th Street.
Historic Conference: Central Pennsylvania Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church
Brief History: The 1850’s influx of people associated with the development of Altoona and the Pennsylvania Railroad included many Methodists, and they formed a society and met in a school house. By 1853 the class had grown to the point that they asked to be organized as a separate charge with their own pastor. That same year they secured from Colonel John A. Wright the two plots of land on which the present church stands and erected a large brick building with, as was the style, the sanctuary on the second floor. That building was remodeled in 1871, razed in 1905, and replaced by the present structure in 1907. This is the mother church of Altoona Methodism.
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