|The church prior to 1893 - click to enlarge
Around 1856 immigrant families from Bohemia began meeting in their homes on Sunday for simple worship services using prayers and song books they had carried with them from the "old country". They helped their German neighbors build the Banner Valley Lutheran Church (located at Ely Rd and Hoosier Creek Rd) which was dedicated in 1859. As thanks for their help, the congregation allowed them to use the church buildings on Sunday afternoon.
By October of 1860 the families had secured a minister from their homeland to lead their services. Rev. František Kun dutifully served his people and the community in these early years and after the Civil War ended, he called upon them to build a church of their own. Funds were raised and the cornerstone laid in 1867. By July of 1868 the building was completed on the ground where the First Presbyterian Church cemetery now sits west of Ely. The church was a simple structure, 30 by 40 feet with 3 windows in each side and 2 doors in front - one for the men and the other for women.
Originally, the church was called the "First Bohemian & Moravian Brethren Church".
In 1883 the church was moved 1 mile north to its current location and in the fall of 1893 the church was expanded to include a balcony and bell tower. The bell first tolled for Rev. Kun's death in January of 1894 where over 1000 people from the Midwest attended his funeral.
In the following years the Chadima or "West Church" branch was started to serve the people of Swisher and the Rogers Grove Church was purchased and used to serve those East of Ely - all served by the same minister from the "Mother church", now almost 50 years old.
|The church and congregation in late 1920s / early 30s - click to enlarge
Over the next 50 years descendants of the first families still made up much of the congregation and until the 1950s services were conducted in the Czech language. The year 1958 brought big changes; first the congregation joined the Presbyterian church and became known as the First Presbyterian Church near Ely. The other event was a major addition where Sunday school rooms and a modern kitchen were added as the church celebrated its centennial.
The history and heritage of this church and its first minister, Rev Kun, is unique. It has a very special place in Czech-American history as the first Bohemian/Moravian independent church in the United States. The same building that is at the center of the current structure is mostly unchanged over the years and the Czech spirit that built it is still as strong as ever.
In August 2008 the church that started out as the Bohemian and Moravian Brethren Church celebrated its dedication after 150 years of prosperity and serving the Ely community. A special service and potluck were planned. Descendants of the original families still can be found on membership rolls where they and other faithful families are still carrying on the work that was started so long ago.
|Taken after the 150th Anniversary celebration at First Presbyterian Church near Ely in August of 2008.
**Note: Also view a bit of history about this church at http://www.elypres.org/our-history.html