Georgia Kestol made a presentation about the Heart Prairie Norwegian-American Methodist-Episcopal Church to the Nordland Lodge #5-544, Sons of Norway, in Janesville, Wisconsin. The presentation was made on Wednesday evening, September 17, 2014 at the monthly meeting of the organization. Using slides to illustrate her presentation, Kestol discussed the history of the church and the current efforts dedicated to its restoration. The presentation was followed by a question and answer session.
Thank you to everyone who attended the Open House at the historic Methodist-Episcopal Church at the East Richmond Cemetery on August 24, 2014. Attendance was nearly 100 on a hot and humid afternoon.
Special thanks go to:
- My Helpers – Shirley, Allison, Alexandra, Arlene, and Charles;
- Lisa, who provided beautiful flute music for the afternoon;
- McDonald’s Restaurant, Delavan, who donated Orange Drink and cups for 100 people;
- Cookie Bakers, who provided a variety of cookies, including Norwegian Sandbakkels and Krumkake;
- Area ministers, who helped spread the word about the Open House;
- Area newspapers
- Janesville Gazette, Andrea Anderson, reporter;
- Daily Jefferson County Union, Chris Welch, reporter;
- Delavan Enterprise, Vicky Wedig, Editor; and, the
- Whitewater Banner Web Site.
Many of you made monetary donations and I thank you very much for your generosity. The donations totaled over $500 and will be used to begin the restoration of the windows.
Near the completion of this project, we want to have another Open House to celebrate the restoration of this historic church. Until then, with your support and encouragement, we will keep working!
A few snapshots of the Open House are shown below.
Richmond church founded by Norwegians under renovation
Posted: Monday, August 18, 2014 9:25 am | Updated: 9:31 am, Mon Aug 18, 2014.
RICHMOND — A few miles south of the City of Whitewater, near Whitewater Lake in the Town of Richmond, you might — just might — catch a glimpse of a white roof between the lush summer leaves on the wooded bluff.
If you’re not driving by too quickly, that’s it.
That glimpse actually is a view of one of the best-kept secrets in this region’s history, for sitting atop the bluff, at N7273 Walworth County Highway P, are the Norwegian American Methodist Episcopal Church and East Richmond Cemetery.
The church originally was built in the early 1850s, and now after decades of abandonment and neglect, one of the descendents of the church’s founders has made it her mission to restore and recondition the former place of worship.
Georgia Kestol-Bauer’s great- grandparents were Norwegian immigrants to Wisconsin in the early 19th Century. Peder and Anna Kjostolsen (who would Anglicize their name to Kestol) were one of five Norwegian families, about 32 people in all, who relocated to the Richmond area. One of the other immigrants, Christopher Steeson, donated part of his farmland so the church could be built there.
Kestol-Bauer and her supporters will be holding a public open house from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 24, so folks can see how far the church’s rejuvenation has come along, and how much still needs to be accomplished to fully restore the former house of worship. The Norwegian American Methodist Episcopal Church in Richmond is only the second church in the state of that particular denomination. The first one is Willerup United Methodist Church in Cambridge, named after the Rev. Christian Willerup, a circuit rider who served as pastor of the congregations.
“They say that they are the first Norwegian American Methodist Episcopal Church in the world,” Kestol-Bauer said of Willerup. “So, we say we’re the second one. The thing is, if there was not a church, they would have meetings in people’s homes.”
Kestol-Bauer explained that while the Richmond-based building fell into disrepair, the adjacent East Richmond Cemetery has been maintained by the township. There are both new and century-old graves on the grounds.
In fact, Kestol-Bauer organized the Walworth County Cemetery Association, and that group recently held its annual meeting in the partially-refurbished Norwegian American Methodist Episcopal Church.
“The last association was formed in 1907, but that one just stopped after a while,” Kestol-Bauer said.
It was her love of family history that prompted Kestol-Bauer to pursue the project.
“I have always known about the church because many, many Kestols are buried here,” she said. “The family has always sort of been ‘in charge’ of the cemetery; it’s always just been in the family. When my Uncle Joey died, no one else was really interested, so I took over. I now live on his farm, which was Peder’s original farm, and that put me close to the cemetery. Actually, I started taking over the cemetery in the 1990s for a few years while my uncle was ill before he passed away.”
She added that in 1992, her family had a historical plaque installed just outside the church to remind people of the church’s past. “Over the years, my dad and cousins would occasionally put on a new roof or repaint the church,” Kestol-Bauer recalled. However, much more needed to be done. Last fall, a contractor told her that the walls, ceiling and floor had to be stabilized to keep the building from collapsing in on itself. In fact, the Town of Richmond Board of Supervisors was considering tearing down the structure for safety reasons before Kestol-Bauer undertook the reconstruction process.
A new wooden cross has been donated for the altar area, and a classic Estey Organ has been donated to the church, as well. Other items, such as framed family letters (including one from a relative who fought in the Civil War, writing about Lincoln’s assassination), congregational letters written in Norwegian, and Daguerreotype-styled photos of early church ministers are hanging on the walls. The church still needs new windows, new paint, a proper step at the entrance, new front doors and some work on the walls. The altar area has been restored, but railings are needed. Beams and tension wires were added to the space between the ceiling and rooftop to help with stabilization.
The pews, 10 in all, have been removed, but the supporting boards, attached to the interior walls, remain visible. Square-headed nails in the wall likely held oil lamps at one time, she noted.
Kestol-Bauer said that two interior support beams might not necessarily be fully restored because they have their own history. It seems apparent that after in the church was abandoned completely, likely in the 1920s — the members dispersed to other congregations — the structure became a place for generations of teenagers to hang out and do teenager-like things without parental supervision. In fact, some of the graffiti, mostly names and hearts with initials carved into the wood, clearly date back to at least 1967.
“The things that need to be done now are more manageable,” Kestol-Bauer said. “Maybe, if we can get volunteers to donate their time and skills, that would help. The major expenses are complete now, but there is still a lot to be done.”
Kestol-Bauer said she has sought donations for the church’s restoration, but she personally has borne most of the cost. She hopes the open house on Aug. 24 might generate more interest and more volunteers to help on the project, although that is not the sole goal of the event.
“The open house is for everyone,” she said. “It’s basically just to generate awareness for the church. Driving by on County P, people just don’t realize there is a church and cemetery here. Even if you see the top part of the church, nobody really would know that it is a church, as it looks like it is just somebody’s house or an old barn from the road. We have this historical church that has not been used for almost 100 years.”
Kestol-Bauer said she envisions the restored church as meeting or gathering place. While a lot of the details about the church have been lost through the ages, Kestol-Bauer still has at least two “minister books” that give some historical clues about the congregation. early congregants’ names, baptisms and funerals are listed in the hand-written tomes.
The first entry is dated 1852, written in Norwegian, with later entries in English. Kestol-Bauer’s’ Great-Uncle James’ birth is listed in one of the books. There are also names that have been crossed out, indicating that members left the Richmond church for other congregations or, as listed in some cases, journeyed farther westward to other states.
One entry, dated June 1853, clearly states that the cemetery and church were built on Steenson’s farm “on the road to Whitewater, where the Norwegian Church now stands.”
That might have referred to the Rev. Christopher Steenson and his son, the Rev. Steen Steenson, who became a missionary to Norway.
The church represents a fascinating history of the Norwegian immigrants who settled in Richmond more than a century-and-a-half ago.
“I hated to see it just torn down or vandalized,” she said. “To me, it was important to honor these people who worked so hard by coming to this country to start a new life. In honor and respect for them, I thought we should save this.”
The open house will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 24, at the Norwegian American Methodist Episcopal Church and East Richmond Cemetery, located at N7273 County Highway P.
From Whitewater, take East Milwaukee Street to U.S. Highway 12. Cross Highway 12 and continue on Highway P. From Interstate 90, take the State Highway 59 exit 163 toward Milton/Edgerton. Turn right on East State Road 59, left on County Highway N, right onto Highway 12/89 and then right onto Highway P.
For more information about the history of the church, cemetery, and restoration efforts, visit a website created by Georgia’s daughter, Allison Kestol-Bauer and Charles Cottle at https://namech.org/.
Thanks to a generous donation from the Bethel United Methodist Church of Elkhorn, Wisconsin, the Norwegian-American Methodist-Episcopal Church at East Richmond Cemetery now has an antique organ. It was delivered on Tuesday, August 12th. Built around 1865, it is an Estey pump organ that fits perfectly in this historic church. At present the organ is in need of some repair. Any assistance from someone familiar with these instruments would be much appreciated.
In the photos below Wally McManaway and Steve Wade are shown delivering the organ to the church.
Woman aims to restore church ancestors founded 160 years ago
Cemetery Association members among first to meet there since building was vacated 90 years ago
By Vicky Wedig
The Walworth County Cemetery Association had its summer meeting in a church that hadn’t been used in 90 years. The church at East Richmond Cemetery – hidden behind foliage off a gravel frontage road along Highway P less than a mile north of Highway A – was falling apart until about seven years ago. The secluded church built in the 1850’s had been vandalized over the years, and young people had had parties there, said Georgia Kestol-Bauer, whose descendants were among the original members of the church.
Kestol-Bauer said the church’s pews were gone, windows were broken, the organ was missing, the floor was riddled with holes and the boards of the ceiling were falling down. The church had been boarded up and could not be entered, and the Town of Richmond was considering demolishing it because of safety concerns.
Kestol-Bauer knew if something weren’t done with the historic church, which lays claim as the second Norwegian-American Methodist-Episcopal church in the world, it would collapse from disrepair or be razed.
“It was just something that was always in the back of my mind that it would be nice to have it restored,” she said.
The church was founded in the 1850’s by three of Kestol-Bauer’s ancestors who sailed to America together from Norway and settled between Delavan and Whitewater – her great grandmother, Anna Steenson Kestol, and her great-grandmother’s brother and sister, Christopher Steenson and Caroline Steenson Johnson. Kestol-Bauer lives on the Territorial Road homestead her great grandparents, Anna Steenson Kestol and Peder Kestol established in 1851 – presumably around the same time they established the church.
Kestol-Bauer said the church is unusual in that it was founded by Norwegian immigrants, who are typically Lutheran, in a Methodist-Episcopal denomination. The first pastor of the church was a “circuit rider,” meaning he rode his horse around to conduct services at various locations, Kestol-Bauer said. The Rev. Christian Willerup was based out of Cambridge where the Willerup United Methodist Church, which lays claim as the first Norwegian-American Methodist-Episcopal Church in the world, still operates. The Richmond church is believed to have operated as a parish from the 1850s until around 1900. “We don’t know exactly,” Kestol-Bauer said. Handwritten pen-and-ink ledgers from the late 1800s, which have been in Kestol-Bauer’s family since the early 1900s, show X’s through the names of members who moved or died. Several members relocated to Cambridge, Kestol-Bauer said. and she believes membership might have begun to dissipate when the Richmond Methodist Church was built on Highway A in 1872.
Despite the dissolution of the parish, Kestol-Bauer’s uncle, Joey Kestol, she said, recounted social affairs being held there in the early 1900s. She said women would make box lunches, men would bid on them and the winning bidder would dine with the lady who brought the lunch. She said the church was likely last used around 1920.
Kestol-Bauer said she would like to restore the church to its original likeness to use for weddings, baptisms, meetings and even church ser- vices from time to time.
“My whole goal is to have this be restored historically to the way it was as much as possible,” she said.
She began the effort around 2006 when she decided to establish a cemetery association for the plots surrounding the church on the one-acre lot. Kestol-Bauer said her family had sold cemetery plots and maintained the site since the church stopped operating, and that responsibility fell to her when her uncle, Joey Kestol, died in 1995.
Knowing nothing about cemetery operations – her uncle had been charging $50 a plot at the time when the going rate was around $300 – Kestol-Bauer attended a meeting of a group in Elkhorn where veterans’ headstones were discussed. Kestol-Bauer suggested to others in attendance that a group of people from various cemeteries get together to discuss their practices. She said the late Charlotte Gates, of the Walworth County Genealogical Society, took the reins and established the Walworth County Cemetery Association, which has operated ever since. When Kestol-Bauer formed an association for the East Richmond Cemetery around 2007, she gauged the interest of area residents who attended the inaugural meeting in restoring the church. “So that’s when we actually got the ball rolling here,” she said.
Kestol-Bauer waged a fundraising campaign, collected donations including a $1,000 contribution from one family and accepted memorials to the restoration effort when her father, James Kestol, died in 2004. With the contributions and Kestol-Bauer’s personal funds, the church’s foundation was repaired and a new roof was put on in 2007.
She said nothing more was done toward the restoration effort until last fall when another contractor looked at the building and said it needed to be stabilized or it would collapse. Contractors removed the church’s ceiling and installed truss supports and replaced the ceiling and floor with boards like the ones originally used. The wooden altar was also rebuilt at that time, Kestol-Bauer said.
Work to be done
Work remaining, Kestol-Bauer said, is to replace the windows, build a railing that once was around the altar, install pews, repair plaster and paint.
To do that, Kestol-Bauer said, the project needs funding and manpower. Her daughter, Allison Kestol-Bauer, of Janesville, has created a Web site where people can learn about the project and find out how to donate. The website is www.namech.org, which stands for Norwegian-American Methodist-Episcopal Church.
Carol Cartwright, from the Whitewater Historical Society, is applying to have the site listed on the National Register of Historical Places. The designation could provide grant opportunities and would require historically authentic renovations, Kestol-Bauer said.
Her goal is to make people aware of the effort and gather “a group of people who think this is a good idea, who are interested in historic preservation,” she said.
Kestol-Bauer invited the Walworth County Historical Society to meet at the church July 23. Being able to step in- side was a milestone.
“We’re able to go in,” she said. “I was so excited.”
She notified area media of the event, and a story appeared in the Janesville Gazette on July 29. After that article, a man from Milton called to offer pews to the church, and a Whitewater woman stopped by the cemetery to ask Kestol-Bauer what she could do.
“I want to support it,” said Nikki Knudsen, whose Norwegian family has traveled throughout Wisconsin and to Norway to see Norwegian churches and homesteads.
Kestol-Bauer will have an open house from 1 to 4 p.m. Aug. 24 at the church, N7372 Highway P, where people can come to see the church and the cemetery. For more information, contact Kestol-Bauer at (608) 883-2858.
Donations can be made to East Richmond Cemetery Church Restoration Fund, First Citizens State Bank, 207 W. Main St., Whitewater, WI 53190.
(August 8) Norwegian American Methodist Episcopal Church at East Richmond Cemetery Open House – Georgia Kestol-Bauer is a member of the Richmond United Methodist Church. She is restoring the Norwegian American Methodist Episcopal Church, off Cty P in the township of Richmond. It was built sometime in the early 1850s. Georgia’s great-grandparents, Peder & Anna Kjostolsen (who later shortened their name to Kestol) worshipped at this church. It is the second Norwegian Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States. (Cambridge boasts of the first; now Willerup United Methodist Church.) It is believed the church closed its doors around 1920. Georgia began restoration in 2006, after the township considered demolishing the building because of safety concerns. She has invested her own time and money and is determined to finish the restoration as soon as possible. Her goal is for the church to be used for meetings, weddings, baptisms, or even summer worship services. For more on the progress and pictures .
The Hart of History
Woman devoted to restoring Methodist-Episcopal church
By Andrea Anderson firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Jennifer Du Puis/ email@example.com
TOWN OF RICHMOND Hidden off County P, up a short gravel road and tucked behind some bushes and a gate sits Hart Prairie Methodist-Episcopal Church.
In the middle of East Richmond Cemetery, flowers surround the church with its chipped white siding and plastic-covered windows.
The church, N7372 County P, believed to be built in the early 1850s by Norwegian immigrants, is deceiving to the eye. What appears to be a deteriorating building is a historic part of the town’s history. The church is undergoing a restoration spearheaded by the descendent of one of the church’s original members. Georgia Kestol-Bauer, 72, is the great-granddaughter of Peder and Anna Kjostolsen, who later shortened the family name to Kestol. The couple attended the church when it first opened, and they might also have helped build it, Kestol-Bauer said.
Details on when exactly the church was built are fuzzy, but Kestol-Bauer believes it was sometime in the early 1850s.
During that time, Norwegian immigrants living in the area divided. One group went to a Lutheran church near Whitewater Lake. The others created the Norwegian-American Methodist-Episcopal church named Hart Prairie.
The church is the second (Norwegian-American) Methodist-Episcopal church in the world, Kestol-Bauer said. The other resides in Cambridge, Wisconsin. (Parentheses indicate correction to the original version.)
“That’s what makes this unique,” she said.
Church records listing members indicate the church was active in 1852. In blue ink, delicate and intricate cursive lists the former century’s members. It’s believed the church closed its doors around 1920, Kestol-Bauer said.
It’s not known if services were held every Sunday until its final days, but Kestol-Bauer knows gatherings took place until then.
In 1995, Kestol-Bauer began taking care of the cemetery after her uncle, Joey Kestol, died.
While Kestol-Bauer walked around the partially restored church Tuesday, she pondered why people left and what the church looked like in its heyday.
“I think as time went on, bigger places were built … People moved away and went to a different church,” she said.
Her own family left the church in 1872 to join the Richmond Methodist Church. Kestol-Bauer grew up in Janesville.
The restoration at Hart Prairie began in 2006 after the township considered demolishing the building because of safety concerns.
In 2006, the church’s foundation was replaced and its roof redone.
In fall of 2013, Kestol-Bauer was told the church was structurally unstable. She poured more money into the building. Beams and tension ropes were added, and the floor, ceiling and altar were restored.
Inside the church, holes speckle the walls and faded marks from furniture and a church organ destroyed by vandalism show impressions of things long past.
Wood nailed into the walls alludes to 10 rows of pews that are no longer—for now.
Left on the to-do list is restoring the church’s original front doors that now lean next to the new altar; fixing the windows; painting; plastering part of the interior walls, and fixing the faded exterior.
Kestol-Bauer, who has invested her own time and money, is determined to finish the restoration as soon as possible. The only snags are finances and community participation, she said.
“You don’t realize it’s going to cost so much to do a little thing,” Kestol-Bauer said, sitting in a chair at the church smiling.
But it’s worth it, she said.
Last week, a group of about 20 people from the Walworth County Cemetery Association gathered at the church for their annual summer meeting. It was the first time anyone had stepped foot in the church in more than 90 years.
“It felt wonderful,” Kestol-Bauer said with a flicker in her eyes. “The church was filled.”
Kestol-Bauer’s goal is for the church to be used for meetings, weddings, baptisms or even summer services:regardless of religious denominations.
When asked why she puts in the effort, her answer is firm.
“I do it to preserve history. I’m in favor of preserving structures that have meaning to the community.”