Corner of Main & Chicago Street, Oconto Wisconsin
Submitted by Diane Nichols
Built in 1886 for $1,137.20, this structure
is the first edifice built for Christian Science services in the world.
Although the Boston mother church had started a number of years before, no building had been completed for the express purpose of worship until Oconto’s church was erected.
How did Oconto come to have this first structure? It all started in 1883 when two Oconto residents, Mrs. Emma McDonald sent for her friend, Mrs. Laura Sergeant, of Oconto. Both women were in ill health and traveled to Milwaukee for Christian Science treatment where they were healed. The two women returned home with copies of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, then in its seventh edition.
When Mrs. Eddy was in Chicago in 1884 to teach a class, several women from Oconto went to take instruction, including Mrs. McDonald, Mrs. Sergeant, Mrs. Lovina Milledge, and Miss Elizabeth Beyer. Upon returning to Oconto, Mrs. Milledge opened her home to the students of Christian Science and for Sunday worship. The group grew steadily through healings and it was decided that a church should be built. Mrs. Eddy gave her permission, and Mrs. Victorian Sergeant accepted donations. Many who were not Christian Scientists gave funds, as Oconto was then a “hard” lumbering town and it was thought another church would be a good influence.
With the exception of modern lighting
and heating, the building remains virtually unchanged. Built of cedar
pilings with a wood exterior, the church had a basement added in 1916 when a heating plant was installed. The worship area contains one hundred birch chairs, painted a light mahogany. The original Kimball pump organ still provides music. The lights are reproductions of the kerosene lamps which were first used in the edifice. The congregation maintains a reading room in the basement containing historical documents relating to the church, and current publications about Christian Science.
A trust fund to help with the upkeep of the church was established in 1979. Although the congregation has never been large, the church has continuously held Sunday services since 1886 (now at 10:30AM each Sunday).
This structure was placed on the National
Register of Historic Places in 1974. Tours are available May 1 through
October 15 and may be arranged by contacting the Oconto Visitor Center
at 110 Brazeau (Z’s Cheese) on Highway 41 or by calling the center at (920)834-2255.