122 West Main Street

Published In:
Community Observer, Winter 1998,
Winter 1998

Author: Grace Shackman

From healing souls to healing bodies

When Manchester physician Evelyn Eccles and her husband Tom Ellis bought the former Methodist church on Main Street in 1985, the building hadn't been used for thirteen years. Everything was still in place—the pews, the stained glass windows, and even the organ, still in working order, with bellows in the basement.

"It looked like they finished a service, then locked the door and left," recalls Eccles.

Today the building, built in 1837 and 1838, houses Eccles's family medical practice. She's kept the original stained glass, high ceilings, lights, and wainscoting. Some of the old pews are used as waiting benches. Eccles achieved this miracle of reuse by creating what she calls "a building within a building" All the offices were built away from the outside walls, so that the light from the stained glass pours in unimpeded.

"It's an old-time frame with joists into beams," explains Bob Lowery, who built an addition to the church in 1958. "It's made with oak timber, probably cut at the local sawmill." Emanuel Case's sawmill on the River Raisin, built in 1832, helped draw settlers to what is today the village of Manchester.

The church was originally built by the Presbyterians; Manchester's original settlers were of British descent, and the Presbyterian Church was the first religious group to organize in the village. Seventeen people attended the congregation's first meeting in December 1835 at the home of Dr. William Root. They began work or the church two years later.

The church played an important part in village life in the nineteenth century. A school occupied the building's basement, and the congregation sponsored speakers, such as a controversial antislavery lecturer. But membership dwindled as more churches were organized—Lutheran, Baptist, Universalist, and Roman Catholic. In 1893 the Presbyterians disbanded and sold the building to the Methodists, who had founded their local congregation in 1839. The few remaining members placed a memorial window in the front of the church. (It is still there, partially hidden by a display of medical pamphlets.)

The building served the Methodists well in the first half of the twentieth century. In 1904 they built a parsonage next door, and in 1928 they installed the organ and remodeled the rostrum, pulpit, and communion rail. But after wona War II, the congregation outgrew the building. In 1958 the Methodists built a two-story addition that linked the church and parsonage, and in 1965 they converted the parsonage into Sunday school rooms, moving the pastor to a new parsonage on Ann Arbor Hill. Still, soon after, the congregation decided they needed a new church.

"There was no parking," explains Lowery, especially on Sunday, when the Methodists had to compete with the congregations of nearby St. Mary's Catholic Church and Emanuel United Church of Christ. "The church needed work. It was cheaper to build a new one." Ground was broken on M-52 in 1971, and the first service was held there in 1972.

While the old church stood empty, the new addition was converted to offices and the old parsonage into apartments. Dr. Howard Parr bought the old organ but left it in the church until Eccles and Ellis bought the building. Before moving the organ (which is still in storage awaiting an interested buyer). Parr organized a meeting of the Manchester Area Historical Society in the old church so that people could get a last chance to hear it. Parr himself played hymns, and Historical Society members sang along.

—Grace Shackman