In the early 1850’s the Reverend Christian Willerup, circuit rider out of Cambridge, Wisconsin, visited recently arrived Norwegian Lutheran immigrants in the area and persuaded a number of them to become Methodists. It was they who became the founders of the Heart Prairie Norwegian Methodist-Episcopal Church, and Chistian Willerup became its first minister. According to early church records, Christian Willerup noted on June 26, 1853 that Christopher Steenson had donated a portion of his farmland to establish a church and cemetery. Thus, the Heart Prairie Norwegian Methodist-Episcopal Church was established in the early 1850’s by a settlement of Norwegian immigrants from the parish of Holla in Telemark, Norway.
Later the congregation was served by Reverend Christopher Steenson and his son Reverend Steen Steenson, who became a missionary to Norway.
Two church ledgers exist from the 1850’s with information noting births and deaths of those in the congregation, and information regarding meeting details. Earliest entries are in Norwegian and later entries are in Norwegian and English.
Over the years as an influx of immigrants to Wisconsin from Europe and other states took place, the population demographics changed. Some of the original founders of the Heart Prairie Norwegian Methodist-Episcopal Church left the area, while others arrived. These changes brought about the foundation of new churches in the area, and the membership of the Heart Prairie declined. In 1872 the charter of the nearby larger Methodist-Episcopal church in the village of Richmond, Wisconsin, had a substantial impact on the Heart Prairie church. Faced with a declining membership, religious services were discontinued at the Heart Prairie church in 1883.
In the first half of the twentieth century the church was not maintained other than a periodic exterior painting and roofing. Occasionally, the interior was damaged by vandals, especially in the 1940’s and 1950’s when the church was broken into and the interior was destroyed. By the 1960’s the pews, organ, oil lamps, and items on the altar had been removed and the window broken.
A Historical plaque was presented through the efforts of descendants of the first members of the church. A dedication ceremony was held Aug 9, 1992.
East Richmond Cemetery Association
On August 15, 1907 a meeting was called at the office of attorney James G. Kestol to establish a cemetery association. Because no quorum was present the meeting was adjourned until August 22, 1907. Officers were elected, and the association was given the name North East Richmond Cemetery Association. Needed improvements for the cemetery were identified during the meeting. Over the past 100 years records show that the name of the cemetery changed to Lyman Cemetery and later to East Richmond Cemetery. In 2007 a newly organized cemetery association was established and the name East Richmond Cemetery Association was formally adopted.
I was searching for materials on the Rev.Hans Christian Madsen, pastor in the Norwegian-Danish Conference. I was made aware of the presence of the Heart Prairie church by Rev. Dr. Phil Blackwell who now lives across and up the road from the church. My Grandfather, the Rev, John J. Wang was a member of the N-D Conference and a long-time Conference Historian. Rev. Dr. Richard A. Wang.
Hello, Rev. Dr. Wang,
I enjoyed reading your message on the website.
How interesting that your grandfather was the N-D Conference Historian. Would you know if there are archives for the N-D Conference? People at the Wisconsin Conference Archives told me that after a certain date all the Heart Prairie Norwegian M.-E. Church records were sent to the N-D Conference instead of to the Wisconsin Conference. It would be wonderful to get copies of those records if any exist.
The church restoration is nearly completed. It is my hope that the church will be used often by the community. Any time you are in this area you are welcome to visit the church.
On October 18 2015 I was glancing through the Janesville messenger and my eye was caught by a picture of a very familiar looking church. I was moved to tears to find out that it was a church I had grown up very close to, ( behind and across the field) my big brother ( now deceased) and I would go up there to look at the headstones. we both wondered how old the church was . we knew it was pretty old. I remember looking through a crack in the door and imagining what it would have been like to go to the church back then and was only 7-9? years old. The artical made me smile and I had to send my mother and oldest sisters a copy. Of coarse I kept one for myself. I wish I could help you out financially to refurbish it but I am on a fixed income, however my thoughts and best wishes are with you. God bless you
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I enjoyed reading your comments about the church and cemetery, and especially about you and your brother going there as children to explore. I would be happy to show you our progress in restoring the church when the weather gets warm.
And I would like to hear more about your childhood visits to the cemetery.
Please feel free to email me at any time or call me at (608)883-2858.