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First Methodist Church (First Methodist Episcopal Church)
A forty-foot-high, Roman-inspired dome on an octagonal drum marks the red brick First Methodist Church as one of Michigan's most unusual churches, perhaps even more distinctive because of its small-town location above the Thornapple River. The church was also remarkable for its association with prolific Detroit-based architect Hunter. Hunter's numerous church designs for Methodist congregations were usually in the Gothic mode, but here he created an unusual departure into the Beaux-Arts vocabulary. Drawing on the style's predilection for freer interpretation of the classical forms, Hunter began with a strictly symmetrical design of alternating recessed and projecting bays. Decoration is fairly limited, no doubt by a modest budget. The recessed bays are quite simple, marked only by two large round-arched windows. The gabled projecting bays, however, are more complex. In each, paired windows are topped by a limestone cornice, above which is an awkward festoon supporting a single round window; the festoon and circle forms are echoed in the pediment above. A continuous cornice with massive dentils is an attempt to tie the whole design together.
The interior exemplifies the Akron-plan church, which was common from the 1880s to the 1910s. The auditorium, shaped as a quarter circle with semicircular seating for 350, slopes toward a pulpit backed by an organ case. Two side balconies seat 200 more. A semicircular Sunday school department area behind the sanctuary has two tiers of rooms, now partitioned off, but which, originally, could be opened by folding doors to allow the auditorium to seat 1,000. Grand Rapids Art Glass produced the stained glass window in 1948.
Spence Brothers of Saginaw constructed the church. It is the third home of a congregation established in 1841 and belonged to the Kalamazoo district. In 1845 a log church was built. The current church's immediate predecessor, a small Greek Revival building erected in 1859–1860 and now lacking its original steeple, still stands at 322 W. Jefferson Street.
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