This picturesque church points to Christianity’s central role in the history of the Oneida Nation in Wisconsin. The Oneidas originally lived in upstate New York, but between the 1780s and 1820s they were gradually pushed out by land companies and state government to clear the way for European American settlement and construction of the Erie Canal. Christian converts were generally more willing to leave New York, and in 1821–1822 a group of them bought some five million acres of land from Menominees in northeast Wisconsin. Chief Daniel Bear and Episcopal missionary Eleazer Williams led 448 Oneida Episcopalians to settle near the Fox River in 1822. The following year, a smaller group of mostly Methodist Oneidas arrived, settling along Duck Creek. By 1838, the federal government slashed the Oneidas’ Wisconsin landholdings to 65,000 acres, forcing most settlers to cluster around the present hamlet of Oneida.
The Episcopalians built a log church in 1825 and then replaced it with a wood-framed one in the late 1830s. The third and present building was designed by the Reverend Charles Babcock of Cornell University. The congregants spent more than a decade quarrying and laying the limestone, and the new church was consecrated in 1887. In 1920, lightning destroyed all but the walls and foundation, but the congregation built anew, finishing in 1922. This rebuilt church closely resembles the one it replaced, a simple, well-proportioned edifice, whose unadorned ashlar walls and massive four-story square tower evoke English Gothic, as do such details as narrow openings on the tower and a belfry with pairs of louvered lancets. The reconstruction added a crenellated parapet atop the tower and stepped buttresses on either side of the front gable end. Many Oneidas are buried in the cemetery, as is Williams.
The Oneidas lost their tribal government and most remaining Wisconsin land to allotment, a federal policy that began parceling land to individuals in the 1890s but fortunately ended with the “Indian New Deal” in the 1930s. The tribal government was then reconstituted and land purchased for a new reservation. Land acquisition continues, and today the Oneida Nation encompasses over ten thousand acres straddling Duck Creek. In recent years, revenue from a tribal casino, conference center, and other enterprises has helped fund massive construction, including the Oneidas’ distinctive turtle-shaped school (BR15).