The First United Methodist Church
The First United Methodist Church is one of the most imposing structures in the city, and one of the few made entirely of stone. Located on the corner of Chestnut and Chambers Streets, it represents one of the pioneer religious societies in Bradford.
The First Methodist Church was incorporated on May 30, 1878. Early meetings were held in the Wagner Opera House (formerly McCrory's 5 & 10 on the corner of Main and Chambers Streets and now home to Performance Tool), but by 1887 a large, impressive wooden frame church was built at the same location as the present church. This wooden Methodist Church remained in use for the next 36 years. In 1885, a young people's club was organized, later known as the Epworth League. The 1890s were the "heyday" of the Epworth League both nationally and here in Bradford. By the end of the first World War, there was talk of a new church. The congregation had increased and it was decided that the two older buildings (the church, and its companion building, the Epworth Chapel) were unfit for further service.
Plans were made to construct a large impressive church made of stone. On April 21, 1923 The Bradford Era wrote of the destruction of the older church: "a fence has been placed around the entire lot so as to safeguard passersby and it is expected that the entire building will have been taken down within two weeks. The old material is being carefully sorted and will be piled up, and preserved on the church's new lot adjoining the chapel on the north, the design being to use the material in the inconspicuous parts of the new structure. It has witnessed some of the most significant developments connected with the religious history of Bradford ..."
But construction was slow to begin. Pledges were undertaken to finance the new church, which would cost $200,000. It took three more years before the cornerstone would be laid at 12:30 PM on April 30, 1926. The Sunday School class, under the direction of Miss Luella Harris, bought the cornerstone.
The new church was built of 35,000 square feet of native limestone found on the property of the Lewis Run Manufacturing Company and quarried by two church members, Simonsen and Lundgren. The stone was brought to the site in the rough and then cut on six sides. Each piece was chosen for color, then measured and cut for the particular place that it was to fill. Enough stone was cut in the winter months to carry the masons through the following summer. In all, it took three years to complete. The new church was dedicated on September 25, 1927- with a total of $173,559.50 in pledges reached. Neighboring churches, the Presbyterian and the Baptist, cancelled their evening services that night, and those church members attended the "grand opening" of the Methodist Church. E.E. Smathers, a New York financier, in memory of his mother Cynthia Smathers, donated the immense center tower. There was seating room for 1000 members of the congregation.
The church was remodeled and enlarged between 1956 and 1960 at a cost of $250,000. During this construction, services were held in the YMCA, the Grand Theatre (later known as the McKean Theater), and the Presbyterian Church.
The church became part of the Erie Conference in 1962 by boundary changes (along state lines) and later of the Western Pennsylvania Conference by merger. The name of the church became the First United Methodist Church in 1968 after union with the former Evangelical United Brethren Church.