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Grace United Methodist Church

Locust Street Methodist

Presently Grace United Methodist Church

Grace United Methodist Church

Methodist Church, Library of Congress, c. 1855

While origins of Grace United Methodist Church in Harrisburg date to meetings held in homes from 1810 to 1820, the first Methodist church in Harrisburg was built in 1920 as Second Street Methodist Episcopal Church at N. Second and South Streets.

In 1837 the church acquired the Unitarian Church (built in 1826) which became Locust Street Methodist Episcopal Church, located on the south side of the 200 block of Locust Street.

The congregation enlarged the structure in 1851 and there hosted the famous Jenny Lind concert on November 17,1851. This was the church that was present during the Civil War.

Representatives from the Church appointed to the Board of Managers of the Home for the Friendless were Mrs. Sarah Shrom Beatty Waugh and Mrs. Mary A. Murphy Wilt.

It’s successor building, the Grace Methodist Episcopal Church, was built between 1873 and 1878 on State Street, and became Grace United Methodist in 1968.

Further Historical Retrospection

In 1837 the church was officially constituted as the “Methodist Episcopal Church of Harrisburg, Maclaysburg and vicinity.” Maclaysburg was referenced as it was an unincorporated village just north of South Street which was annexed within the Borough of Harrisburg up to Herr Street in 1838.

The church remained at N. Second and South Streets until its growth in membership required a larger building. Accordingly, in 1837, the church acquired a building on the south side of Locust Street, between Court and N. Third Streets, that had been erected in 1826 by the Unitarian Church. The congregation remodeled the structure in 1851 and remained there during the Civil War.

The South and Second Street building, that still exists but in altered form, was occupied by the Sons of Temperance and in 1865 by the newly formed Ohev Sholom Temple, Harrisburg’s first synagogue.

By 1870 the Methodist congregation on Locust Street outgrew its church, which was later demolished to make room for the first Federal Post Office and Court House. Plans were laid for the erection of a much larger and grander building on State Street, just steps away from then old State Capitol Building.

History of Dauphin and Lebanon Counties, c. 1883, Willam Henry Egle

What became known as the Grace Methodist Episcopal Church was built between 1873 and 1878 with its majestic spire completed in 1888. Perhaps the church has been most widely known for its role in saving the Capital City from being moved from Harrisburg to Philadelphia when the old Capitol was destroyed by fire in 1897.

Grace Church can be credited to have deterred this move by offering its sanctuary as a temporary meeting place for the Pennsylvania State Legislature until the new interim Capitol was constructed. The Church has been graced over the years with architectural elements, such as the stained-glass Tiffany Window to the rear of the sanctuary and Italian marble Tiffany made altar, pulpit, lectern and baptismal font making it a distinguished architectural and historic landmark on one of Harrisburg’s most significant streets with a striking vista leading from Riverfront Park to the Capitol Building.

Grace Methodist would later become the place of worship for noted Harrisburg conservationist and printer, J. Horace McFarland, who was a major leader in spearheading Harrisburg’s City Beautiful Movement. Known for his cultivation of roses, many were transplanted in the Church’s rear garden after having been removed from the municipal rose garden in uptown Harrisburg. Further, Grace United Methodist Church became the home of the Harrisburg Choral Society. The beautiful sanctuary that has attracted musical artists and performances.

Banner photo courtesy Jeb Stuart.