First Congregational Church of Rochester
First Congregational Church of Rochester, east elevation, 2020
First Congregational Church of Rochester, south and east elevations, 1990
First Congregational Church of Rochester, south and east elevations, 1907
Backstory and Context
The Congregational Church of Rochester was founded in 1827 and was the first congregation of this denomination to be formed in the territory of Michigan. The congregation built a church on the corner of Pine and Third streets in 1839, but by 1853 had outgrown it and required a new building, so they purchased a lot at the corner of Walnut and Third from Almon Mack in March 1854. This building was erected by local builder John Ross at a cost of $2,600.
The building was substantially renovated by contractor J. S. Stackhouse in 1914-15, at which time a colonial-style overlay was added to the front of the building. The Rochester Era reported on June 19, 1914:
At a meeting of the Congregational Society at the church last Monday evening it was voted to ratify the work of the trustees and building committee in the selection of plans for remodeling the church. The plans as selected were drawn by Mr. Cowells, of Saginaw, and are quite extensive. They call for a colonial front, an extension on the north for pulpit and choir room, and the building of an annex on the west that may be used to increase the seating capacity of the church when needed for Sunday school or for banquets or any other social work of the church. They also provide for a basement under the annex, new windows, hardwood floors and other up-to-date features. It is estimated that the amount expended will be between eight and nine thousand dollars, and that work will be begun very soon. This is the oldest Congregational church in the state, and it is fitting that it will soon have facilities that will enable it to do better work and extend its usefulness in this community.
The renovation work was mostly completed by the end of 1914, according to this description published in the Rochester Era newspaper on December 11, 1914:
"Contractor J. S. Stackhouse has finished the work on the Cong'l church and now all that remains is the decorating, sealing and electrical fixtures, which when placed will complete the edifice. The work is very satisfactory and the society will have one of the prettiest and most convenient little churches in the country."
In 1927, Homer Sipperley was the contractor for the construction of five Sunday School rooms in the basement of the church building. The building served the congregation until 1961, when a new church campus was opened on the north end of town. The old church building was sold to the Rochester Elks club, and after the Elks moved out was home to a variety of boutique businesses and professional offices.
One locally infamous iteration of the building happened in 1974, when new owners decided to cloak the structure with a medieval castle motif in order to provide a unique shopping experience to their customers. The building's exterior was redesigned to look like a castle, but the look was unpopular with Rochester residents. The castle facade was removed in 1979 and the building's exterior was restored by subsequent owners.
Almon Mack and Elvira Mack his wife to the First Congregational Society of Avon, 22 March 1854, consideration $150, lot 87, Original Plat of the Village of Rochester, Oakland County Record of Deeds, liber 51, p.459.
Brown, C.O. "History of the Congregational Church, Rochester, Michigan, 1827-1877," Rochester Era, July 12, 1877, p.2 and July 19, 1877, p.2.
"Organized 1872: The First Congregational Church of Rochester is Still a Power for Good," Rochester Era, March 19, 1909, p.1.
"Work Completed," Rochester Era, December 11, 1914, p.5.
A History of the First Congregational Church United Church of Christ, Rochester, Michigan, In the One Hundred Fiftieth Anniversary Year, 1827-1977. [Rochester, Mich.]: The Church, 1977.
"Sunday School Rooms Being Added," Rochester Clarion, February 25, 1927, p.1.
"Cong'l church to be rebuilt," Rochester Era, June 19, 1914, p.4.
"A Castle Comes to Rochester," Rochester Clarion, September 12, 1974, p.5.
Rochester: A Sketch of One of the Best Towns on the Map, 1907 [public domain]