City Methodist Church
This Gothic-style church was built in 1926 at a cost of more than $1 million. The church featured a four-story community center and a meeting hall and gymnasium in addition to the sanctuary and classrooms. The congregation voted to close the church in 1975 owing to the gulf between the cost of its upkeep and their shrinking numbers that reflected the larger history of the city.
City Methodist Church in 1929, in its early days.
The derelict inside of the church after several decades of abandonment.
City Methodist Church's ceiling has collapsed in some places thanks to years of abandonment.
Backstory and Context
Gary, Indiana was founded in 1906, with its location chosen thanks to its proximity to shipping routes and rail lines. With the nickname "The City of the Century," it is easy to tell how big the city's dreams were. For a time, it lived up to its own ambitions, eventually becoming America's largest company town around its steel industry. However, the city peaked in the 1960s with a population of around 178,000. After this, the steel industry plummeted thanks to overseas competition and restructuring. The city lost much of its livelihood and many people moved away. Today, Gary is far from completely empty, and almost 70,000 people live there today. This means, though, that the city has lost around 100,000 people since the 1960s, and many of its buildings are abandoned and have fallen into disrepair. An especially iconic ruin is the City Methodist Church. Once a flourishing community with 2,000 members and a grand, expensive building, the abandoned church and its collapsed roof have become a symbol to visitors of the city's decline.
There has been a Methodist community here ever since the town was first founded. In 1916, Dr. William Grant Seaman became pastor. He had big ideas for his congregation, hoping to make it into a "religious oasis" in a neighborhood full of brothels and saloons. The U.S. Steel Corporation helped him build the City Methodist Church, a majestic and ornate which costed a whopping $800,000 and took nearly two years to build. The church opened its doors in 1926. The church itself was attached to another building known as Seaman Hall, a four-story building containing offices, a fellowship hall, a gymnasium, a kitchen and dining room, and Sunday school classrooms.
Despite facing some financial problems during the Great Depression, the church was fairly successful through World War II. Membership peaked in the early 1950s at more than 3,000 people. In fact, the church and Seaman Hall were centers of cultural life in Gary for some time, hosting all kinds of plays and musicals. Sadly, it was not to last. When the steel industry crashed in the 1960s, so did church membership. By the 1970s, it was not only too expensive to keep the church open, but too dangerous. A former church choir member even described a time that the father of the bride's car was stolen during the wedding ceremony. Between safety issues and the lack of money needed to repair the building's roof, boilers, and antique organ, the church closed its doors in October of 1975 after nearly 50 years of service.
City Methodist Church, Endangered Structures of Gary. Preserve Indiana. . Accessed March 28, 2017. http://www.preserveindiana.com/pixpages/nw_ind/orrcitymeth.htm.
City United Methodist Church of Gary, Indiana, Sometimes Interesting. Accessed December 16th, 2022. https://sometimes-interesting.com/city-united-methodist-church-of-gary-indiana/.
City Methodist Church - Gary, Indiana, Atlas Obscura. Accessed December 16th, 2022. https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/city-methodist-church.
Christopher, Matthew. Gary, Indiana, Abandoned America. June 7th, 2022. Accessed December 16th, 2022. https://www.abandonedamerica.us/gary-indiana.