The "Other" Methodists in Santa Rosa
Our “ancestor” churches here in Santa Rosa consisted of more than just the mainstream Methodist Episcopal churches talked about earlier. Tracing the roots of Methodism in Santa Rosa becomes confusing due to the church being split into various branches, each quite active in the community. There was the Methodist Episcopal Church that was the main foundational organization, the M.E.(South) Church, which split from the main body over the question of slavery, and later the German M.E.Church, which was aligned with the main body, but was a German language church. In addition to the various church activities in the community, the M.E.(South) Church established a major college here in Santa Rosa that took on a life of it’s own.
The Southern Methodists arrived first, though they were not the first Methodists to build a church.. The Reverend Solomon Smith of the M.E.(South) visited the Santa Rosa valley in 1851 or 1852. In1853 he was officially appointed to the Bodega Bay Circuit, which included Santa Rosa as a preaching point. The M.E.(South)congregation met in Baptist churches until 1868, when a church was erected at the corner of Fifth and B Streets, seven years after the M.E. church was built at Fifth and D. In 1884 the M.E.(South) moved their original church to a new site at the corner of Fifth and Orchard. In 1894 the old church, having outgrown the facilities which were built before the arrival of Pacific Methodist College with its influx of professors, staff and students, was moved to the rear of the lot, rotated 90 degrees, and a new sanctuary, steeple and entrance was added. In the photo, the old church can be seen at the back, with two narrow windows and a doorway.
The church remained there until after its merger. In 1924 a plan for merging the M.E. can M.E. (South) churches was voted on at the annual conferences. The California Conference voted unanimously in favor of the unification plan. The Pacific Conference had a majority in favor, but the vote fell short of the two-thirds majority required. With the failure of the 1924 plan, the two Santa Rosa churches decided to ignore the vote and merged on their own.
The numbers of Southern Methodists grew sharply in 1871 when the Pacific Methodist College relocated to Santa RosafromVacaville. After President Lincoln's assassination, the college in Vacaville had been burned to the ground by Yankees angered at the college's southern parentage. Looking for a kinder reception, the college found it in Santa Rosa, a town with Confederate leanings. The new school was built and the street leading up to it was named College Avenue. At the turn of the 20th century, Pacific Methodist College reported that it had graduated over 180 students since coming to Santa Rosa, and had "partially educated" over 4,000 more. Pacific Methodist College endured until after 1900, surviving financial setbacks, the arrest of one of its professors for forgery, and finally a move to the outskirts of town.
In 1882 the Reverend August Lemkau established the local German Methodist Episcopal Church, which was Wesleyan Methodist. The church building was erected in 1888 at the corner of Cherry and Orchard Streets. By 1942 World War I and onset of World War II had changed the nature of German culture in America, and a German language churchwas no longer desired. The buildingcontinued to serve as a church for many years after the Methodists sold it, and still exists.