There was a time when the region of Omaha between Dodge Street and Cuming Street was a very mixed-use neighborhood. Now called North Downtown, originally it was the Jefferson Square neighborhood, Little Stockholm, Chinatown, Little Hungary, and other neighborhoods. There were many churches serving the area, including one of the first. This is a history of the Eighteenth Street Methodist Episcopal Church.
Rev. Moses F. Shinn, Methodist’s greatest early promoter in Omaha, started the North Omaha outreach mission in 1868. During this time, Shinn was also active in starting three other churches and in maintaining the First Methodist Episcopal congregation, which moved to a new building at North 17th and Capitol in 1867.
This new church was started to serve the growing residential neighborhood southeast of North 24th and Cuming Streets. Houses, tenements, and apartments filled this neighborhood, along with other churches including the Holy Family Catholic parish. The neighborhood was largely Irish, along with the nearby new neighborhood eventually called Little Stockholm, and a new institution of higher education called Creighton College.
Towards this end, Shinn built a church at North 23rd and Izard Streets and ran it until 1872, when Rev. C. McKelvey was appointed to the congregation.
In 1872, the church building was moved to North Eighteenth Street with a membership of about 125. Afterwards, the ministers included Rev. J. H. Presson (1873 to 1874); Rev. T. B. Lemon (1874 to 1875); Rev. J. M. Pardee (1875 to 1877); Rev. P. C. Johnson (1877 to 1878); Rev. W. K. Beans (1878 to 1881), and Rev. J. W. Shank.
An active advocacy base, throughout the entirety of its existence the 18th Street Methodist Church was a hotbed for the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), which fought against alcohol sales and usage throughout the country.
Closure, Renaming & Merging
In 1884, when the church had 125 members, Rev. Jacob B. Leedom helped facilitate the sale of the building to the Swedish Methodist Church. That year, the 18th Street congregation moved to North 23rd and Seward Streets and was renamed the Seward Street Methodist Church. In 1911, that congregation was merged into Walnut Hill Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1930, the congregation moved again to become the St. Paul United Methodist Church that is still open in Benson today.
After the 18th Street congregation moved out, the building was home to Omaha’s Swedish Methodist Church until 1903. Established in 1882, there were 10 charter members led by Rev. H.L. Lindquist. Purchasing the 18th Street congregation’s building in 1884, the building hosted the Western Swedish Conference in 1894. In 1889, part of the congregation left to form the South Omaha Mission, and in 1907 the congregation built a new building at North 19th and Burt Streets.
The People’s Church was an outreach effort of Rev. Charles W. Savidge that was designed to bring people into religion who wouldn’t otherwise join. However, it wasn’t a Methodist effort, and when the Swedish Methodists tried selling it to become the new church, the former owners took Swedish Methodists to court. After fighting the case for several months, the 18th Street Methodists lost the court battle and it was able to be sold. Rev. Savidge was referred to as “Omaha’s Marrying Parson” for all of the people he married at the church, and by 1934 he’d married more than 6,500 couples. After a fire destroyed many of the surrounding buildings in 1903, the People’s Church rebuilt, and continued serving from that address for several decades afterward. For those 24 years, the People’s Church served the surrounding community with a non-denominational approach, holding regular socials and Bible studies, choir practices and community events. Rev. Savidge served there until 1935, when Rev. U.G. Schell began pastoring there.
By the end of World War II, the church had been demolished and replaced with a new warehouse. Today, that same building stands and is part of the Creighton University campus.
Today there is no sign the Eighteenth Street Methodist Church ever existed in Omaha. The Seward Street Methodist Church is long gone, and although the old Walnut Hill Methodist Church still stands, the building has not been recognized for its historical role in the culture of Omaha. A section of the brick pavers put down in the late 19th century is showing on North 18th Street just south of Burt Street though, just as it was when the church building stood on the southeast corner there.