A stately red-brick church that towered over a small town in western Wisconsin for 109 years has reached the end of its days, despite an effort by some in the community to save it.
Only the steeple and one wall of Peace Lutheran Church remained standing Friday afternoon in Baldwin, a village of about 4,000 people 45 miles east of the Twin Cities.
As the church was dismantled this past week, many residents came by to take pictures and pay their respects to the beauty and history it represented.
“It’s like you calling while I’m in the midst of mourning my dad,” said the church’s pastor, the Rev. John Hanson. “This is a sad day for us.”
Construction of the church began in 1905 and was completed in 1907. Services were held there until 2009, when a new building went up. Since then, the old building had been unused.
Jim Hauschild, president of Peace Lutheran’s church council, said restoring the structure to a usable space would have cost almost $250,000, and the money wasn’t there. So earlier this summer, church members voted 113 to 19 to bring it down.
But when town residents learned about the demolition plan in a community publication in June, some set out to try to save it.
Chuck Serier was among them. He said his family had attended services in the structure, which he called “a beautiful landmark,” for 50 years. He was baptized and married there, and it was the site of the funerals of his parents, who died in a car accident, and his 15-year-old son, who died of cancer.
“I’ve had lots of memories there,” Serier said. “I’m mad they wouldn’t work with us to save it.”
He declared the new worship space a “pole shed,” but Hauschild disagreed, calling it a “beautiful worship place.”
Hanson said the old church served the community well, but there was no way to pay for the repairs it needed, including a new roof and stone tuck-pointing.
“We need to move forward,” Hanson said. “The local congregation is doing the best that it can to give [the old building] a kind and gentle rest.”
The demolition “just had to be done,” he said, adding that he believes the new building will better serve Peace Lutheran’s congregation.
“At some point you can’t keep all the old structures,” Hanson said. “We took out all the religious memorabilia and everything that was important to save, and saved it. So all you have is red bricks.”