Our History

How We Started

Learn how Iowa City First UMC began — more than 180 years of worship and service.

Our History

If you are interested in the history of our church – whether its architecture, its congregation, or its organ – this is the right place to be. Feel free to take a (virtual) look around and, for more information, please contact Claire at cbartleson@icfirstchurch.org.


1840; 1st building of First UMC 

1860; 2nd building of FUMC

1884; 3rd building of FUMC

1908; Current building of FUMC 

Between 1836 and 1839, Methodism was taking root in the Iowa City area. Beginning in 1839, Circuit Rider, Joseph Kirkpatrick, held services in a two-story log cabin near the site of our present church building. The cabin was owned by Matthew Teneick. In 1840, the Iowa Territory legislature set aside four half- blocks for church projects. Five churches are in those two blocks, each built within three years at a cost of at least $1,000.00 each. Our Methodist Episcopal church was completed for $5,000.00. In the decades that followed, four different buildings have served those who became Methodists. By 1863, the first church was enlarged, adding a steeple and colored glass windows. Twenty one years later, following a fire, the church was remodeled with a blunter steeple and steeper roof.

Another fire, on a Sunday morning in April, 1906, burned the church to the ground. With dedication of church members and the financial help from some churches in the east, the architectural plan, known as “The Akron Plan”, was chosen. It utilized sandstone from Colona, Illinois, with Bedford Indiana limestone trim. Six skilled stonecutters were brought from the Quad Cities to cut the pillars into the desired blocks. When the church was dedicated in 1908, the cost had been $75,000.00. The exterior of the building is what we still see today, renewed to its original look after a 1960s sand blasting to remove the grime of the decades, at a cost of $10,000.00. Interior renovations have taken place in the early 1940s, 1970, 1988, and 2010. Until the 1940s remodeling, organ pipes covered the sight of the beauty of the Rose Window from the Sanctuary. Interior carved walnut staircases to the balcony were also removed at that time from the front of the Sanctuary. Pews were reworked to allow a center aisle. A major remodeling took place in 1970. At that time, the Christian Education Building was built at the cost of $524,084.12. The parsonage adjoining the church had been torn down so an additional $12,000 was spent as a down payment on a new parsonage.

Between 1951 and 1958, The Wesley Foundation was completed on adjoining property. The Coralville Methodist Church, supported by our congregation, was established in 1963 to be followed by St. Mark’s Methodist Church in 1973.

In early 2013, because of ongoing issues, we had our pipe organ checked out. We discovered that numerous components needed simple maintenance but that some components were in a more-advanced state of decay: approximately 25% of our pipe organ was not operational. Click here for the story of how we are bringing our pipe organ back to life!

Much of our past is not remembered. Hitching posts for horses and carriages are gone. The years when members of the congregation paid a fee for pew seating are gone. A city ordinance to stop trolley bell ringing during Sunday worship hours is no longer needed. The reredos has been revamped, but the Last Supper wood carving installed below the altar remains. The First United Methodist Church is widely known for its beautiful art and stain glass windows. It is also known for its outstanding music programs. Fifty-seven senior pastors and dedicated associate pastors have given us memorable worship services.

Members of our congregations have volunteered for mission and service projects & continue to do that. These include the Crisis Center Food Bank & other projects, Habitat for Humanity builds, Free Lunch, In-Gatherings, school supply drives, homeless overflow, and many more. The year 2014 marks the 36th year of mission trips for the Appalachia Service Project. Bible Study groups are ongoing. We are the Church.