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image of church todayM.E. Historic Church in Placerville

The Past

During the Gold Rush years, among the miners there were preachers. A Methodist, the Reverend Hosford, preached in Hangtown in 1848. After Reverend Joseph Meek organized Methodist churches in Coloma and Hangtown, Reverend Bateman began a building program in 1851. A great debt is owed to a layman, Frank Goyan, Sr., who donated five acres of land for a church and cemetery. The Reverend traveled to San Francisco to purchase finished siding that was brought around the Horn from the East coast. Beams and studs were hand adzed from local timber ... and so the little church was built and dedicated.

It served the community well for 10 years, sitting up on the hill, escaping the fires that were so devastating to the town. The church was a beacon of hope to the early settlers through the fires, epidemics, and other difficult and challenging times.

In 1852, John H. Clark of Cincinnati, Ohio and a neighbor organized an overland expedition to Sacramento. John Clark's diary tells of their arrival in Placerville on September 1, 1852, putting up at the Ohio House. He was surprised at the size of the town "full of life, full of people, full of business." After fulfilling his contract to deliver his passengers to Sacramento, he returned to Placerville, helping to rebuild the town after the 1856 fire. He had little luck in mining and returned to Ohio in 1857. They moved later to Kansas and his grandson presented his papers to the Historical Society. Among his photographs is one of the church on the hillside.

image of old postcardIn 1861, as the community had grown, so rapidly, a large brick church replaced the small structure which was sold. The new owner built a one-story stone foundation on Cedar Ravine and slid the building down the hill onto this foundation. It was used as living quarters.

In the late 1920's Mr. and Mrs. Charles Schaeppi, semi-retired and devoted to the work of the church, purchased the building and returned it to the original owner, now Federated Church. With donated labor and material, it was completely refinished and served as classrooms, office, Pastor's study and Youth Center.

In 1953 the current Federated Church building was dedicated on the hilltop next to the cemetery. The older buildings on Main Street and Cedar Ravine continued to be used until 1957 when the buildings were sold to provide funds for an Education building. By this time, the origin of the second story of the small building had been forgotten.

From the Mountain Democrat, Thursday, July 7, 1961

"....Sam Evans, meanwhile, had commenced the destruction of the two-story building next door...." (to the brick church) " ....After removing all the interior partitions, Evans started taking down the siding on the exterior of the walls. He suddenly came upon a startling discovery--there was a separate small building inside the one he was tearing down! A little more investigation determined the origin of the was the original wooden Methodist church, built in Hangtown in 1851."

Mr. John Hassler, church member and president of the El Dorado County Historical Society, spearheaded the effort to save the building. It was taken apart, each piece marked, and rebuilt on its current site, next to the old cemetery. Many of the hand-hewn beams are from the original church. With funds donated by the Methodist Shrines Commission, a fireplace was added using bricks from the 1861 brick church. At the dedication of the building in 1961, plaques were placed to mark the event by the County Chamber of Commerce and Marguerite Parlor #12, Native Daughters of the Golden West, and by Dr. Frank Gerbode, member of a pioneer family. Dr. Gerbode, born and raised in Placerville, assisted with funds as well as finding the bell which was believed to have been used in the original rustic church, a ship's bell from the sailing ship Staffordshire. In 1976 the El Dorado County Historical Society presented the building to Federated Church. It was named the Gerbode Memorial Church.

image of M.E. Church graveyardThe building had no interior walls, and over the years it suffered from insect and water damage. The Historical Committee of Federated Church had wanted for years to improve the appearance of the deteriorating building, and finally brought the project to completion.

The Present

With the assistance of Denis Witcher of the County Historical Museum and a work crew from Federated Church and friends, they restored the building to its appearance in John Claik's photos, found in the Root Collection of the Kansas State Historical Society archives. Changes had to be made to satisfy current building codes, but restored the look and feel of the original church as much as possible. Many of the hand-hewn beams remain and are visible inside the church.

The building has served the church and the community well, as a small chapel, meeting and classroom space, and as an historical stop on the tourist trail in Placerville.

Source: El Dorado County Federated Church
1031 Thompson Way, Placerville, CA