The Gathering Space
8494 State Rd 21, Omro WI
920 685 2094
The North Rushford Church has been a beloved feature of the countryside west of Omro for over 150 years. This May 15, 2010, it will reborn as “The Gathering Space”, a truly unique venue for weddings, meetings, performances, and special events.
The building that came to be known as The North Rushford Church was built in 1856 by a group of Episcopalian families living in the Bradley neighborhood of the Town of Rushford near Omro, Wisconsin. Local farmer David Bradley donated a small plot of land (less than an acre) for the church from his farm.
The founders of the church were sisters – Elizabeth Baldry Harvey and Susan Baldry Davidson. Their brother, John Baldry, is also thought to have played a role in the building of the church. The Baldry family were immigrants from Carbrooke, Norfolk County, England.
The building was built in a gothic style, and was patterned after the old English Churches, with a high groined ceiling (an angular curve formed by the crossing of two arches), and unplastered walls. The trim and furniture for the church were black walnut.
The church was now ready to receive its Episcopalian congregation, but unfortunately it was never to be, as a Rector to lead the regular Sunday service was never found. The local Methodist Society eventually became interested in using the church as a community center, where various types of meetings, gatherings, classes, etc. might be held. Some years later the North Rushford Church became exclusively Methodist, under the leadership of Rev. D.B. Coffeen of Eureka
Once the North Rushford residents took possession of the building, they began a campaign of repairs and remodeling. The Methodist Society voted to authorize a committee to “finish the carpentry, to plaster the walls, and to paint the woodwork on the inside.”
The Methodist congregation occupied the North Rushford Church from 1896 until June of 1971. During their time their, the little church was filled with life and activity. An article in the March 3, 1966 issue of the Oshkosh Northwestern by Ruth Westover describes a Rally Day, at which 40 to 50 children were welcomed to the church school, drawing from a 3 and ½ mile radius. According to the article, children received “certificates, pins, badges, flowers – the works.” Another Northwestern article, from March 21 of the same year, describes a Sunday of revival, worship and hymn singing at the little church. According to the article, there were 40 people at morning worship, about 50 children in Sunday school and about 25 people came to the noon potluck dinner. There was a full house at the afternoon hymn sing – about 200 people. Songs sung that afternoon included “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” and “The Old Rugged Cross”.
The article recounts the following:
“A gauge of the enthusiasm of the singing might be the clear glass windows at the altar of the church. At first the treetops were plainly visible. After a bit of singing the steam began to gather. By the end of the two-hour “sing” the windows were completely fogged over.”
The North Rushford Methodist Church closed its doors in June of 1971. At that time the local Methodist Pastor was serving the Eureka, Waukau, Elo and North Rushford Churches. It may be have been the burden of serving several small congregations that led the leadership of the district to mandate North Rushford be closed and its members join other congregations.
The North Rushford Church did not stand completely idle during the years after 1971. It once again became a sort of community center, occassionally being used as a meeting hall, school, or nondenominational worship center. The Wyldewood Baptist Church of Oshkosh utilized the space to provide services for migrant workers during this time.
In 2002, Paster Beverly Davidson and the congregation of Blessed Hope Minstries purchased the building from the Eureka United Methodists. Pastor Bev’s flock occupied the church for approximately the next 6 years, until the physical and financial burden of up-keep for the building became too difficult for the small group to manage. They ceased meeting at the church, and once again it stood idle.
In 2009, Charles Foote and his daughter, Jennifer Frank, toured the North Rushford Church with the members of Rebel Alliance Theatre, Omro’s non-profit educational theatre and arts organization. Rebel Alliance was considering purchasing the building, but in the end decided it was too small to meet the needs of the group. Charles, though, was so taken the the sturdiness, history, and timeless beauty of the old Church that he decided to purchase it himself. Charles and Jennifer plan to rent the space to members of the community for a variety of community activities, much as the early Methodists had first envisioned.
So now the Old North Rushford Church has come full circle. From the late 1800s, when those early Methodists first imagined that the building might serve as a place for the community to meet, gather, and celebrate, to today, when The Gathering Space opens its doors again, this venerable building has seen a lot of history. The new owners hope that once again people will pray here, songs will be sung here, vows will be exchanged here, and people will experience the joy of family and community under the soaring ceiling of the North Rushford Church.