Our Building

January 20, 1924, to January 20, 2024 -
100 Years of First UMC Elgin

2024 marks the 100th anniversary of the magnificent church building located at the corner of Highland Avenue and Center Street in Elgin. Join us throughout the year as we share the history of First UMC Elgin and celebrate our wonderful church home.

On Sunday, January 21, 2024, Alan Walters, Trustee Steward, shared the story of First UMC Elgin's founding and the buildings that came before the current church. To watch his presentation, please click on the photo.




On Sunday, May 19, 2024, Alan Walters shared the story of how the magnificent building at 216 E. Highland Avenue came to be. Click on the photo to watch the second of his 100th Anniversary Celebration talks.

Welcome to the First United Methodist Church. As one of Elgin’s oldest congregations, we are celebrating our 186th year. This church is located on what early Elginites referred to as Holy Hill because of its elevation above the river and the number of churches located in close proximity. This is the third Methodist church building to stand on this site. It is built in the Gothic style and is similar to Methodist Churches in Evanston and Oak Park. This structure will be 100 years old in 2024.


3/7ths of the cost of this building was provided by David C. Cook, a nationally known publisher of Sunday School learning materials. Mr. Cook was a prominent Elginite and a member of the congregation.

D.C. Cook had three design requirements that accompanied his generous donation:

  1. The church must be constructed of stone, not brick. The exterior of the building is Bedford Limestone from Indiana.
  2. The church must have an ample number of rooms so that every Sunday School class could have its own small classroom for study. The original building had 106 rooms.
  3. The church must have no side doors. Everyone entering or leaving the building, no matter their business, must use the main entrance and pass by the sanctuary so as be regularly reminded why the church exists. 

​​​​​​​The cornerstone was laid in -20-degree weather on January 20th, 1924. The building was dedicated on Nov 30th, 1924. It took less than a year to build this grand building at a cost of $407,000.

The first church building on this site was known as the Buttermilk Church. It was one of the first church structures in Elgin. The Buttermilk church measured 24’ X 32’. The current Holman Parlor is slightly smaller than the size of the original building.

The Buttermilk Church was thought to be large in size in its day. But as the Circuit Riders continually preached the Gospel and Elgin grew, the building quickly became too small to accommodate all those wishing to worship. Congregants sat in the church from East to West, and the windows were opened on the North and South sides. The people who could not fit inside sat on horseback or on horse-drawn carriages and wagons outside the windows, so they could see and hear the church service. The main entry doors were also left open for worshippers.

The Church was painted, or as was known back then whitewashed, with Buttermilk paint, a homemade concoction. Hence the church came to be known as the Buttermilk Church……also some say the name further recognized that many early worshippers did so while seated outside in their butter and milk wagons.

Construction of the second church building was started in 1866, in time to commemorate the first 100 years of Methodism in America. Therefore, it was called the Centenary Church. It was constructed of brick at a cost of $30,000 and took three years to complete.

Like the Buttermilk Church, the Centenary Church faced Center Street. This building had two steeples, one of which was damaged in the 1920 Palm Sunday tornado shortly after the morning services were concluded. No one was injured here, but three people were killed a block away at the Congregational Church, and another person died at the nearby Baptist Church. The steeple damage may have hastened the decision to build the present building four years later. The steeple damage may have hastened the decision to build the present building four years later.