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Short Dance Studio facility stands on lot of 'oldest' building in New Richmond

The new Short Dance Studios building now stands at the site of the former structure that for more than 100 years was utilized as a church, a school facility and dance studio. (Photo by Raymond T. Rivard)

By Mary Sather 

Short Dance Studios recently cut the ribbon on a new facility located at corner of South Arch Avenue and East Fourth Street in New Richmond.

Previously housed in the former church, the studio owners recognized a need for a new space, razed the old building and constructed their newest facility.

What was remarkable about the old church that was also owned and utilized by the New Richmond School District, was that it was known as the oldest building in the city - that is post-cyclone.

So, with that said, we thought it would be a good idea to take a spin back in time for a history of the building. Mary Sather, a columnist for this newspaper for several decades and a local historian, provides us with the narrative.

The Congregationalists were not the first church group organized in the little village of New Richmond, but they were the first to build a church building.  

The village had been founded on the banks of the Willow River in 1855 and the Methodists met in founder B.C.B. Foster’s home. The organization of the First Congregational Society was in 1864 and the congregation built its church in the spring and summer of 1867 on the southwest corner of what would become South Arch Avenue and East Fourth Street.  

According to an article written in the June 2, 1879, issue of the St. Croix Republican (forerunner to the New Richmond News), the church building itself was not formally dedicated “until a year ago last winter, after it had been thoroughly renovated and furnished at an expense of over $2,500, of which sum, between $800 and $900 were raised by the Ladies’ Centennial Circle – an organization now three years old.

“The growth of the church,” continued the article, “at first, was slow; at times, its continuance appeared quite doubtful. It has, however, continued on, having today a membership of 77.”  

Of the 101 people who had been connected with the church since its beginning, 53 had connected in the past three and one-half years, “which speaks louder than words of the interest, zeal, and faith the pastor (Rev. A. Livermore) has brought into the work.”  

The original congregation had a membership of 14 or 15 members. During that 15 years, the pastorate was vacant for period of five years, and another time for one year, speaking to the struggle for survival by the little congregation.  

The Congregationalists and the Methodists had a close relationship from the beginning. From 1863 to 1857 Congregational services were held in the schoolhouse two Sundays a month and Methodist services on the other two Sundays. A Union Sunday School was maintained during that time.

After the church was built, the pews of the church were sold. According to a history written by Lovilla Mosher, an example is given in a document dated Jan. 23, 1868, which was a contract between the church and Luther A. Humphey, “who for the sum of $35 bought the use of pew No. 4 for 100 years. The document was signed by seven church trustees (is it possible that the old practice of buying a pew in one’s church carries down in the habit of people usually voluntarily sitting in the same place in church Sunday after Sunday?).

In 1892 a 30-by-60-foot addition with a basement was put on the west side of the church, which connected with the main “audience room” of the church by folding doors at a cost of $1,300. This supplied a small kitchen and a Sunday school room, also used as a dining room for social gatherings.

At the time of the New Richmond cyclone in 1899, Rev. A.D. Adams, then pastor of the church, told of his experience in Anna Hoyt Epley’s history of the cyclone, A Modern Herculaneum.  

Recalled Rev. Adams, “The parsonage was not in the immediate track of the tornado, and trees concealed the storm center from view.”  After the storm passed, “I stopped at the Congregational Church, which had been only partially destroyed and which had already been appropriated to receive the dead and injured.  Here I placed myself under the direction of the surgeon, Dr. F. Epley, and proceeded to care for the injured.  The pews of the church were promptly torn up and room was made, till the vestibule and more than half of the floor space of the auditorium were filled with dead and injured. The awfulness of that night of June 12, 1899, and of the next day, within our sanctuary will never be forgotten. Physicians and nurses  from neighboring cities soon joined efforts with those of our city, under the direction of Dr. Epley, at the church.”

Anna Epley wrote, “It was announced that services would be held at the remaining churches on the Sabbath. The Congregational Church showed very plainly its shaking up and the damage sustained on account of being broken and twisted by the storm. This was the only Protestant American church left in the city, and here a goodly number of people assembled, forgetting fine differences in doctrine and in thankful mood for life and limb.”

In 1914 cement sidewalks were laid and a parsonage installed on West Second Street and Dakota Avenue.  A landscape artist from Minneapolis submitted plans in 1919 for landscaping around the church. In the next two years an extensive remodeling of the building was undertaken.  

The church received 98 new members in one year and attendance doubled. In 1926 the church was used for school purposes as a result of the school building fire which resulted in complete destruction. During that same year, serious budgeting problems developed for the Congregational Church and it became very difficult to get leaders and secure and retain pastors.  

At the Union Thanksgiving service in 1929 the idea of federating churches was brought up. The idea was explored and in September 1930 federation of the Methodist and Congregational churches took place, services and functions to be held in the larger Methodist Church.  

Mae Duer, a member of the Methodist Church, recalled standing at the door of that church and watching on the Sunday morning when the entire congregation of the Congregational Church, led by the Sunday School children, came walking up the street to join with the Methodists at their building. The church union would then be known as the Federated Church, eventually joining with the Evangelical United Brethren Church and known as the United Methodist Church.

The former Congregational Church building was sold to St, Luke’s Lutheran Church in 1945 and completely remodeled by that congregation in 1947. St. Luke’s, in turn, sold the building to the New Richmond School District in 1969 when the congregation built its new building in the Country Club Park addition.  

The bell tower of the old Congregational Church was removed and the bells moved to the new St. Luke’s Church building.

The Fourth Street church building was again remodeled, this time by the school district for classroom space and then for administration purposes until its new administration building was built in 2000.  

It was used for a time for a community education office and then sold to the Short Dance Studio.

First located in New Richmond on Industrial Boulevard, the Short Dance Studio was established in 1996 by Wade and Jessica Short.  

Both had extensive credentials in performance and teaching dance. Classes were offered in tap, ballet, lyrical, hip hop/funk, acrobatics. swing and more,  

The couple started out with 12 students and by the time they bought the church building in 2002, student numbers had increased to about 200. At that time there were 16 separate rooms used for offices in the building. These were renovated into three larger rooms for the dance studio purposes. The old hardwood floors on the main level were refinished, but the very old fir floors in the basement were too soft for dance shoes, so they had to be covered.  

The old building became very busy.

In its amazing career, New Richmond’s first church building served its community well.