North Omaha has grown, morphed, expanded and transformed in countless ways over the years. With it, many church congregations throughout the communities have changed too. Few old churches continue to change with the community and stay relevant and vibrant. Like others, one of these congregations has absorbed others and continues to change after more than a century. This is a history of the Trinity United Methodist Church.
Starting in Kountze Place
Herman Kountze, an early banker and real estate mogul in Omaha, platted the Kountze Place neighborhood in 1887. Regarded as being in the “northwest corner” of the city, it was an upscale streetcar suburb with large homes for the upper-middle class managers, small business owners, and wealthier residents who commuted from downtown businesses to the northern escape. With fine cut curbs, gas street lamps, smooth streets, concrete sidewalks, and other sophisticated touches throughout the neighborhood, it was a fancy place to live. A shrewd developer of his new money-maker, Kountze provided lots for several churches to be built in the neighborhood, including Immanuel Baptist, Sacred Heart Catholic, First United Presbyterian, and others.
The same year the neighborhood was made, 1887, a small group of Methodists chartered a new congregation in the new Kountze Place neighborhood. Originally meeting in a storefront at Saunders (now North 24th) and Binney Streets, the group grew quickly and vigorously. In July 1888, a new “…spacious and attractive brick church” building at 2029 Binney Streets was finished for the congregation led by Rev. Alfred H. Henry, and cost $16,000 to build.
Strictly segregated, Black people were not allowed to live in the Kountze Place neighborhood. The only way African Americans came in was as domestic help and service workers.
Rev. J.W. Robinson took over the church within a few months of its completion, and the congregation grew fast. Suddenly, the upper middle class neighbors started flocking to the church, and Rev. Robinson gave sermons with titles including “The Potency of Heart Power in the Service of the Lord.” In 1889, Rev. W.K. Beans came to lead the congregation. He had preached in the 18th Street Methodist Church in Omaha in the 1870s before leaving to minister in New York City, and he was excited to come back. His sermon titles included “Spiritual Gymnastics” and “Checking Our Books.” Under Beans, the church held a weekly “Love Feast” before Sunday services, and evening services often focused on topics like “An Old Testament Revival,” among others. Several other pastors came and went in the next decade, including Rev. J.F. Robinson and Rev. F.H. Sanderson, D.D.
Because of the cost of lots and the upscale nature of the neighborhood, it didn’t fill in with houses quickly. Instead, high society church ladies, fanciful businessmen, debutantes and young gentlemen roamed through streets and down Florence Boulevard in their carriages without traffic or crowds. Trinity was one of the social pillars of the community, with youth fellowships, fundraising dinners, holiday services, and other special events all of the “right people” were expected to attend.
In 1894, the congregation had 200 members.
Transforming into Tranquility
All of that changed in 1898. That year, Herman Kountze provided land to civic boosters to host the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition. Creating a temporary wonderland of giant buildings and a grand lagoon, more than 2,500,000 visitors came over the course of six months. The next year in 1899, the same grounds hosted the Greater American Exposition played host to almost 1,000,000 visitors. Between these two events, the neighborhood became wildly popular and finished in-filling with homes and becoming surrounded by businesses within a few years.
In 1900, the congregation had declined to 109 members. Rev. Daniel Knowles Tindall was the minister then.
Rev. J.W. Jennings was the minister after the turn of the century. Going into the 20th century, Trinity grew with the neighborhood and between 1899 and 1912 they enlarged their fellowship hall, added schoolrooms, and further developed the church’s social standing and religious activities. The congregation kept its important social standing, too. For instance, in 1909 a group of people of Scottish decent called Clan Gordon gave a “Scottish concert” at Trinity. The program included “Scottish recitations, songs and airs and includes the best Scottish talent in the city.” Similarly showing the determination of the church, in 1911 the congregation hosted a lecture by the world-famous Lydia Mary Olive Marmeoff von Finklestein Mountford (1855-1917). “Madame Mountford” was born in Jerusalem in 1848 to parents of “noble Russian birth” Her lectures about Jesus and Jerusalem were noted for their flare and pizzazz, and hosting her was an honor for Trinity.
The congregation had 325 members in 1910.
Tranquility was sometimes tumultuous though. In 1913, the building was obliterated by the Easter Sunday tornado. Ravishing more than 100 houses nearby and killing dozens, the church lost a large section of the building, including their rose window and four-story tall tower. Despite the Omaha World-Herald calling it “a complete wreck,” the church was quickly rebuilt. Soon after, the congregation rebounded and started growing again soon after.
Rev. John F. Poucher (1873-1935) was the minister in 1914. He was formerly a captain in the Nebraska National Guard and was called “Omaha’s Fighting Parson” after he re-upped his service in 1917. In that term, he served as adjutant while on Mexican border service. Poucher went on to serve as the longtime leader of the Nebraska Humane Society, and was important in Masonic activities.
During the 1910s, Trinity started participating in “union services” held in Kountze Place, with churches like North Presbyterian, Hartford Memorial United Brethren, and others both swapping ministers and going to each others’ churches.
Showing its prominence among Omaha churches, the funerals of important early settlers of the city were frequently held at Trinity. It was 1916 when Mary McLain (1833-1916), a wealthy widow and one of the earliest Methodists in Omaha, was given a funeral at the church. Rev. Daniel Knowles Tindall (1853-1916) was a minister at the church who pastored at three other locations in the city. He lived in the neighborhood, and his funeral was held at Trinity the same year as McLain’s.
In 1921, the congregation signed onto a protest against Father Flanagan. Apparently, the board of the Omaha Presbyterian Theological Seminary approved the sale of their facility at North 21st and Locust Streets in Kountze Place to Catholics so it could become the new Father Flanagan’s Home for Boys. Other neighborhood churches, including North Side Presbyterian, Covenant Presbyterian, Good Shepherd, United Brethren, and Plymouth Congregational all signed on with Trinity. Among other things written, the churches commented “we very much deplore the contemplated action of the Presbyterian seminary board in the sale of the Kountze Place property to the Catholic people to be used for a boys’ refuge and reformatory.” The sale was not completed, and the seminary stayed intact for another 20 years.
Rev. Fay C. Mills became the pastor of Trinity in 1924. A graduate of Nebraska Wesleyan University, he came back to the state from Boston. He served there until 1940. In 1927, the Florence Methodist Church was merged into Trinity with its tiny congregation of 30 people; opened in 1854, it brought a long history with it though.
The winds of change began sweeping the neighborhood around Trinity in the 1930s. By that decade, it had become unfashionable to live in the Kountze Place neighborhood. Older homes were showing their dated styles, and there were few lots to build new homes on. Additionally, aggressive sales efforts by real estate agents were drawing away the once wealthy and successful management class living there to new neighborhoods in west Omaha, including Dundee, Underwood, and Fairview. The church celebrated its 45 anniversary in 1932. Rev. William A. Albright was the pastor, and led a celebration with more than a dozen former pastors of the church that year.
In 1940, not long after the United States’ entry into World War II, integration efforts began discreetly in North Omaha. That May, Trinity joined with the African American congregations at Zion Baptist and Hillside Presbyterian for a “choir fete.” This celebration allowed church members of different races to interact, and flagged the beginning of the end of Kountze Place’s strict color line. In 1942, Rev. E.F. Ridley, the pastor of St. John’s AME Church, spoke at Trinity for “Race Relations Sunday.” According to the Omaha Star, he exhorted that all races of Christians “must dare to do the unusual and the unexpected to help the needy, regardless of race, creed or color.” Race Relations Sunday had been observed annually in a variety of ways in various Omaha churches including Trinity since 1923. As far as I can find, 1940 was the first time a Black minister spoke at a white church, Trinity.
Dr. Edward Werner, the Minister of State from Poland exiled by the Nazis, came to Omaha spoke at the church in 1941, along with two others.
The church celebrated its 50 anniversary in 1942 with a banquet for 1,000 attendees. Rev. Richard E. Carlyon was the minister that year. He also served as president of the Omaha Ministerial Union.
In 1945, Rev. Evert H. Unvert, minister of Trinity, joined in a citywide protest of the opening of the Railroad Men’s Benevolent and Social Clubs, Inc. new facility at North 24th and Miami that year. Ostensibly a night club, the Interdenominational Alliance of Omaha and Council Bluffs led the protest. That organization was made of every African American church in the two cities. Rev. Unvert was the only white minister to sign on. The Omaha City Council denied a liquor and dance license for the location, which eventually became Mildred Brown’s Carnation Ballroom.
In 1948, Rev. Unvert led the construction of a $5,500 addition to the church building to add a kitchen and office. The next year in 1949, Rev. C.L. Van Metre claimed “the devil was at work” when the parsonage was broken into during a church service. A jar containing $4 in pennies was stolen, and Rev. Van Metre said, “and we spoke of honesty during the service.” The money was never recovered. A month after, a parsonage filing cabinet was robbed of $22 by a thief that “overlooked funds kept elsewhere” and scattered papers around the room.
White Flight Strikes Trinity
Then in 1953, the Kountze Place church building was put up for sale. Advertised as seating 450, the ad said the building featured “new colored windows, organ with new chimes, also office, spacious new kitchen and dining room, second floor, 2 large rooms, oil heat.” In the preceding years, the neighborhood was targeted for blockbusting as real estate agents lulled longtime residents into moving. White flight struck, and within a decade the Kountze Place neighborhood was primarily African American. Rather than integrate, Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church decided to move west with its white congregants.
It was the first of several congregations in Kountze Place to close or move away. Eventually, churches joining Trinity included Calvin Memorial Presbyterian, Hartford Memorial Evangelical United Brethren, Covenant Presbyterian, Northside Christian, Immanuel Baptist, and Plymouth Congregational.
In 1954, Rev. Merton D. Wyatt moved the congregation officially to the new parsonage at 6023 Fontenelle Boulevard. Located in the Belvedere neighborhood, the new church site was among newly in-filled homes, the coming North Side Junior High School, an expanding elementary school nearby, and more. A Lincoln-based architect named Harold C. Potter designed a $600,000 building for the southeast corner of Fontenelle Boulevard and Crown Point Avenue. The congregation bought bonds to finance the construction of the New Colonial style building of stone, brick, and stone trim at 6001 Fontenelle Boulevard.
The next year, the Church of the Living God, C.W.F.F. (“Christian Workers for Fellowship”), moved into the former Trinity at North 21st and Binney Street. That Pentacostal congregation was founded in Omaha as early as 1928, and had been at North 25th and Erskine Street before moving. As of 2022, the temple continues on now there more than 67 years later.
Two years later, the congregation claimed 75 new members had joined in the previous 12 months, and that its Sunday School and church membership doubled. Apparently the new church building and location worked, and the congregation continued. The church continued to grow and flourish for the next decade, and in 1968 they planned to build a new education wing worth $200,000, including remodeling for the building. A 13,000-square foot building of rough-hewn limestone, it included a kitchen, fellowship hall, 12 classrooms and offices.
In the succeeding decades though, the congregation slowly dissipated, similar to other churches in the region of North Omaha.
Becoming New Again
As the pastor of Pearl Memorial and Asbury United Methodist Churches, in 2007 Rev. Charlotte Abram became the uniter of three churches when these congregations banded together with Trinity United Methodist Church to establish the Tri-Community United Methodist Church. While originally trying to co-exist, the building of Pearl at 2319 Ogden Street and the building of Asbury at 5226 North 15th Street were closed. Trinity’s building was used for the new church, and today Tri-Community United Methodist Church continues to serve the community from its location on Fontenelle Boulevard. In July 2022, Rev. Andrew Finch began his ministry at the church.
Neither the 67-year-old current building at Fontenelle Boulevard and Crown Point Avenue or the original 133-year-old location of Trinity at North 21st and Binney Streets has been acknowledged for their historic significance to the neighborhoods where they’re located, or the city of Omaha at large.
You Might Like…
- A History of the Kountze Place Neighborhood in North Omaha
- History of Fontenelle Boulevard
- A History of North Omaha’s Belvedere Point Neighborhood
- A History of McMillan Magnet Center
MY ARTICLES ABOUT THE HISTORY OF KOUNTZE PLACE
General: Kountze Place | Kountze Park | Omaha University | North 16th Street | North 24th Street | Florence Boulevard | Wirt Street | Binney Street | 16th and Locust Historic District
Houses: Charles Storz House | Anna Wilson’s Mansion | McCreary Mansion | McLain Mansion | Redick Mansion | John E. Reagan House | George F. Shepard House
Churches: First UPC/Faith Temple COGIC | St. Paul Lutheran Church | Hartford Memorial UBC/Rising Star Baptist Church | Immanuel Baptist Church | Calvin Memorial Presbyterian Church | Omaha Presbyterian Theological Seminary | Trinity Methodist Episcopal
Hospitals: Salvation Army Hospital | Swedish Hospital | Kountze Place Hospital
Events: Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition | Greater America Exposition | Riots
Businesses: Hash House | 3006 Building | Grand Theater | 2936 North 24th Street | Corby Theater
Listen to the North Omaha History Podcast show #4 about the history of the Kountze Place neighborhood »
- Tri-Community Church official website
- Church of the Living God C.W.F.F. National Brotherhood official website