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Back to the future: Historic church still beckons

A cleanup crew of Kinnickinnic Historical Association volunteers stands in front of the memorial garden while preparing the old church for next month's ice cream social. Shown are, in back: Amy Thurston, Dick Tresselt and Ellen Rider; middle: Mary Murphy and Shirley Tresselt; front: Laura Bond. <i>Phil Pfuehler photos</i>1 / 2
This photograph, probably at least 100 years old, was taken by someone on horseback approaching the Kinnickinnic Church by dirt road on what is now County Road JJ.2 / 2

The little clapboard church in Kinnickinnic went up shortly after the Civil War when Ulysses S. Grant was president.

Built for $2,000, it opened in December 1868 and was shared by the area's Methodists and Congregationalists for services on alternate Sundays.

The Methodist design included pews with a divider down the middle keeping men and women on opposite sides. A bell in the tower was reportedly given by a Mississippi steamboat captain.

As Methodist numbers declined, Congregationalists bought the building in 1895. They used it as their church until 1951.

Then it stood empty for 11 years. On rare occasions, vagrants caught living inside were chased out.

Finally the Congregationalists found a buyer who planned to convert the building to a house.

Concerned about the loss of the pioneer-era church, some 50 people assembled at Kinnickinnic Town Hall to oppose the sale.

They wanted the vacant church preserved as a historical monument.

In 1962 they formed what became the Kinnickinnic Historical Association.

After meetings and negotiations with Congregationalist officials, KHA bought the little church for $600.

The rest is history -- or, rather, part of the evolving history of this group and building that has lived on for generations.

Today, Kinnickinnic Church, east of Hwy. 65 on County Road J and about halfway between River Falls and Roberts, is maintained by KHA.

In another six years Kinnickinnic Church will reach a milestone -- 2018 will mark its sesquicentennial.

Meanwhile, the church's caretaker group, KHA, turns 50 this year.

As it does every first Sunday in August to highlight the church's existence and historical value, KHA will hold an ice cream social from 2-6 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5.

The fundraiser will have homemade cakes, pies, ice cream and root beer floats for sale, as well as postcards and stationery with various church images. Tables and chairs will be set up on the lawn outside.

A tent will also be erected for those seeking relief from the heat or rain. Live music will be performed.

Those attending can stroll through the church aisles to experience its largely unchanged interior with tall windows, arched ceiling, potbelly stoves, chandeliers, ornate pulpit and functioning pump organ.

"I find it very peaceful sitting here," says Amy Thurston, KHA president. "It's comforting. I seem to breathe differently. Being here allows me to decompress."

For the complete story, please see the July 25 print edition of the River Falls Journal.