Franklin Street United Methodist Church stands as a testament to the perseverance of a faithful congregation.
The first Methodist service was held in Johnstown in 1819 when a circuit-riding preacher held a meeting in “Old Blackie,” an awkward little building set aside for public use by the new city's founding father.
In 1828, the first Methodist “church” was established in Johnstown along the banks of the Stonycreek River in what is now downtown. The new church was little more than an old building and the congregants were few but the purchase price of six cents was palatable for the small congregation. By 1838, the group had grown to the point where members decided they wanted a real church so a small lot at the corner of Franklin and Locust streets was purchased for $405 and a building erected. Less than 20 years later, the congregation decided to tear down the church and build something bigger. On Dec. 25, 1853, the congregation moved into its new church. At a cost of $4,400, it was the highest building in the city.
Just 14 years later, additional land was purchased and a two-story “chapel” was constructed. Educational classes and services were moved into the chapel while the sanctuary was demolished to make way for a new house of worship.
The new church was constructed of native sandstone, much of which is believed to have come from abandoned Pennsylvania Canal locks. The woodwork was of native walnut and chestnut and light was provided by two immense chandeliers each having 18 gas burners. A reed organ provided music and the sanctuary could seat 840 people. Construction costs totaled $65,000, but much of the labor was done by church members. The church was dedicated Oct. 25, 1869.
The Flood of 1889 took the lives of 57 adult confirmed members of the church along with numerous children and infants. While badly damaged, the church building survived the onslaught and is credited with saving the lives of countless in Johnstown. It acted as a buffer and saved several buildings – including Alma Hall where hundreds of residents had taken shelter. The congregation rebuilt, but on Feb. 7, 1895, a fire damaged the church again and repairs were again made.
In 1912, the old chapel building was torn down and a new educational wing was built where the city's first daily vacation Bible school was held.
In 1914, famed pro-baseball-player-turned-evangelist Billy Sunday held a series of evangelistic services in an old wooden building on the site of what is now Point Stadium. So many of those who attended “hit the sawdust trail” and gave their lives to Christ that Franklin Street Church had to add a balcony to the nave to accommodate the increased crowds at Sunday services.
The church was hit by two more devastating floods and another fire, but today Franklin Street United Methodist Church stands as a testament to the perseverance of a faithful congregation.
A video made to commemorate the bicentennial says this: “The firm foundation of Franklin Street Church is the heart and soul of the congregations who have always opened the doors of the church to the city and its people. Whenever there was seen a need, an Epworth League to guide young boys, Vacation Bible School for the city’s children, a day care center for children of working parents, a place for a budding Korean congregation to worship, a food pantry location for local distribution, clothing ministries, JUMP Ministries for home repairs, Bible studies for all, even a flower bed for a pair of mallard ducks to build their nest and of course a worship experience for anyone who comes to learn the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Mary Jo Grumbling, anniversary committee chair person and church member for nearly 77 years, says the church is all about “serving the people of Johnstown with the heart of Christ.
“Our mission is mission,” she notes. “Everything we do is in mission – for the community, for the world. It's just what we do.”
A banquet for the church family will be held Oct. 12 at Grand Halle and a special anniversary service open to the public will take place at 10:30 a.m. Oct. 13 at the church.