The Beginning – First Universalist Society of Racine, WI

This is a revisiting of the “Message For All Ages,” Leann Pomaville presented to the congregation on October 2, 2016.

October 2nd is our church’s anniversary, or we could call it founder’s day, and next year 2017, our church will be 175 years old. But I’m not talking about the building. This building is actually our second church building.

On October 2nd, 1842, a group of 10 men met on a Sunday afternoon do discuss forming a Universalist Society in Racine and that society was the beginning of our church.

Wisconsin Territory 1838

So 1842 was 174 years ago. How old was Tony then?

Right! No one here was alive 174 years ago! And guess what? Wisconsin wasn’t even a state then! Wisconsin became a state in 1848, so in 1842, Racine was part of the Wisconsin Territory.

In 1842, Racine was a village, not a city. It became a village on February 13, 1841, and on the August 5, 1848, an incorporated city.

On October 2nd, 1842, a group of 10 men met on a Sunday afternoon to discuss forming a Universalist Society in Racine and that society was the beginning of our church. October 2nd is what we call Founder’s Day and after a week of investigating the statutes to determine how to legally form a religious society in the territory of Wisconsin, the “First Universalist Society of Racine” was created. Therefore, our “official” anniversary is October 9, 1842.

Ten might seem like a small number of people to start a religious society, but in 1842, there were roughly 1000 people living in Racine. One thousand people is not a lot. Right now there are twice as many kids attending Horlick High School – 2,058.

The “First Universalist Society of Racine” didn’t hold church services during the winter, so the first church service was held on March 25, 1843 in the court house which was located on the public square.

Racine was quite different in 1842 than it is now. This drawing shows the entire village of Racine in 1843. Everything past these streets was pretty much wilderness or prairie, and to the west a few farms.

Chippewa Street – Park Ave, Barnstable Street – College Ave

To give you an idea of how different it was, I’m going to read you some descriptions of Racine given by Melissa Perkins. Melissa Perkins was the wife of George Perkins, whom was one of the 10 men who meet to begin our church. In 1910, Melissa Perkins, turned 90 years old, and the Racine Journal Times interviewed her for a newspaper article. Here’s what she said:

You asked me when I came here and how things looked. I came here in 1839, and it was pretty much of a wilderness then. There were but a few dwellings above sixth street then. There were both log houses and frame houses. The logs were not hewn. We built on the corner of Sixth and Wisconsin streets, and that building has but recently been moved back and may not yet be seen. A log house stood where the post office now is and one where the Presbyterian church stands, and a frame house opposite here on Main street, and one log house about on Main and Ninth street. That was all the houses south of sixth street then.

Q.-What about the light house?
A.”The light house stood on the corner of Seventh street-on the bank of the lake-where Mrs. Deason now lives. It had a revolving light.”

The lighthouse was located where the Racine Public Library is now.

Q.-Did you have any hotels in those days?
A.”Yes, the old Racine House stood on the corner of Monument square and Fifth street, where the express office is now. It was a frame building, and there were a good many houses on the other side of the river, some frame and some log”.

Racine House was located on the southwest corner of Main Street at Fifth Street. In 1837, it was erected at a cost of over ten thousand dollars by Alfred Cary. It burned down in 1866.

Q.-How about the farmers, where there any farmers around here then?
A.”There were farmers out around in the country, and they came in with their grain and produce, and what is now Monument square, was used as a market place for the farmers to come and sell.”
Q.-How were the prices in those days?
A.”Food was not as high as it is now, we could get eggs at 3 cents a dozen.”
Q.-Was there much game in those days?
A.”Yes, the woods were full of game, Prairie chickens were everywhere, and the sloughs were full of ducks. My husband was quite a hunter and would go out and get a wagon load of prairie chickens in half a day. Mr. Perkins would go ahead with the gun and dog and scare up the chickens and shoot them, and I would go after with wagon and team and gather them up and distribute them to those who wanted. And we got ducks from the sloughs. But there were not many deer here, but further west.”
Q.-Did the people have plenty of food in those days?
A.”Yes, we had plenty of food. The hogs would run in the woods and live on the nuts from the trees, and we thought it would be so nice to get fresh pork. But it was so different from the corn fed pork of the east that we did not like it at all. Butter was from 7 to 10 cents a pound.”

Racine Harbor 1850s


Q.-Was the railroad here then?
A.”This was long before the railroad, but the steamboats were on the lake at that time.”
Q.-What means of transportation and communication was there?
A.”There was a stage running from Chicago to Milwaukee, and boats on the lake. Boats were running from Buffalo to Chicago. But the stage did not run every day, and the boats were irregular.”

In 1849, the members of our church purchased a lot of land on Main Street and our first church was built and then dedicated on October 9, 1852. It was named The Church of the Good Shepard.

The Church of the Good Shepherd was located in plot 27 across from Monument Square. (Map 1887)

This is a map of Racine County in 1858, and is currently in the archives at the University of Wisconsin Parkside. The reason I’m showing you this map, is because on the left side are small drawings of buildings in Racine. One of them is The Church of The Good Shepard, our first church.

Racine County 1858

This photo is of Monument Square in 1870. If you look to the left side you can see our church’s steeple and the Shepard’s Crook that we still have on top of our church today.


Our history continues with a lot of money problems, Olympia Brown becoming our minister, and then leaving to work to get women the right to vote. In 1891 because of money problems, the church was sold to a hotel company for $9,000 and the bell was taken out of the tower and the church torn down. In 1892 the bell, was sold to Grace Lutheran Church for $300.

Also in that year, the congregation decided on a new centrally-located church site….. at the corner of College Avenue and Seventh St. They had managed to exist for 50 years, and as you know, we still do almost 175 years later.