History of Wesley United Methodist Church in Winona, Minnesota

On May 23, 2010 the congregations of McKinley UMC and Central UMC came together to worship at Windom Park in Winona, MN.  It was their first worship together to begin the merging of the two congregations into one new “reborn” congregation.  Over the next two years the mission statement of “Love God. Love People.” was formed and then on May 6 2012 the new name “Wesley United Methodist Church” was chosen for this reborn congregation.

We are in the midst of discovering who God is calling us to be and we invite you to come join us in this discovery as we worship God together.


Read More About the History of Wesley UMC

John Bally’s Sunday School

In the spring of 1855 the First Methodist Episcopal Congregation was formed in Winona with five members.  By the end of the first year it had 54.  It was known as First Methodist for many years before being called Central Methodist and now Wesley.

On June 9, 1867 John Bally and a group of fourteen concerned people met to found a Sabbath school for children in the west end of Winona.  The children lived too far away to walk to the downtown churches.  The first year there were 29 scholars and the second there were 41.  The school was held in five locations during the first two years.  A new chapel dedicated in December 1869 cost $1300.  They had 190 enrolled at that time.  It was paid for by the YMCA and several other churches.

One Sunday snow drifts were too deep for the children to come, so Bally persuaded a father to send out men and teams and ploughs to bring the children to the chapel.  Reverend McKinley mentioned in his 1914 church dedication: For their service Mr. Bally with characteristic candor and good will said, “Since you have made a way for the children to get to Sunday School, I will promise that the Lord won’t send you to hell for working on Sunday.”

John Bally owned a book store on Second Street.  He had many ads in the Winona paper letting people know he sold stationery, wall paper, window curtain rollers, and special attention to furnishing Sunday School Books.  In 1873 the Winona Bible Society moved their books into his store.

In 1868 John organized the first meeting of the Winona County Sunday School Association.  It was held in St. Charles and all who attended returned on the railroad for free.  He continued to be secretary of the organization for the next decade.

At a temperance meeting in 1875 at the Presbyterian Church, John made a characteristic earnest speech.  He considered himself honored on being called to be the mouthpiece of all temperance women in Minnesota.  He urged everyone to activity in the cause to close the 75 saloons in Winona.

In 1874 the people were poor on the west end and they could not pay the mortgage.  At that time First Methodist Episcopal church paid the bills and put them under their wing as a “mission” church.  Then in 1877 the deed was handed over and Olive Branch Methodist Church (later McKinley) was independent.

Later when the new McKinley Methodist Church was dedicated in 1914 Rev. McKinley spoke highly of John Bally, the real founder of Olive Branch. He said he was a bachelor who loved all children.  McKinley said he wasn’t consulted about naming the new church; he said the honor belonged to John Bally, not him.   John trampled all over the county organizing Sunday School in neglected neighborhoods; a missionary who knew the Master’s word.

Whatever happened to John Bally?  The February 9, 1901 Winona paper had this notice.  “John Bally, former Winona resident, is now at St. Peter Asylum, is in very critical condition and is not expected to live.”  He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, Winona.  The gravestone dates are 1822-1901.

Compiled by Charlotte Litchy from reading the online newspapers of Winona Republican Herald and the early history of McKinley Methodist Church 2008 booklet.

Olive Branch Methodist Church 1877-1915

In 1874 First Methodist built a chapel at the corner of Broadway and Sioux and called it Olive Branch Mission. Olive Branch Methodist Church was organized April 4, 1877 with 47 members.  First Methodist (Central) handed them the deed.  An unknown donor gave a large pulpit Bible.

By March 1882 they raised $700 to enlarge the parlor.  Within a month they decided to build a new church similar to Wesley that was built in 1881.  W. Gage & Co. was paid $3,265 and had 90 days to build it.  The old church sold for $325 and was moved to Dr. L.A. Kelly’s lot near the Plow Factory.  The new church was dedicated October 15, 1882.

The March 1888 revival meetings were held for a week at Olive Branch.  Many came to the altar seeking the “pearl of great price.”  Services were held at 2:30 and 7:00 daily; Tuesday 7:00 was for women only.  The April 1909 revival was held in a large tabernacle constructed for the event and it was torn down afterwards.  Of the 4000 who attended, 954 converted and put their church choice on a paper.  Olive Branch gained 50-60 members that year.

A variety of social events were held: apron fair, cap social, music and literary social, ribbon social, handkerchief sale, gypsy social, and basket weight social.  Most were ways for the young people to meet.  For example, the young ladies brought baskets containing supper and young men bought their partners for supper by paying so much per pound of their weight.  For the apron social each girl made an apron and necktie.  She wore her apron.  The neckties were in sealed envelopes and sold to a boy for 25 cents.  Each boy found the girl and took her to supper.  People came to the gypsy social in gypsy costumes.  There were fortune tellers, witchcraft, solos, duets, and instrumental music.

Because housing was a huge problem for the pastors, many left their families behind and boarded.  Rev. Hambly began a parsonage program and in 1895 he moved into the parsonage at 610 West Broadway.

By 1896 attendance was so large that chairs were placed in the aisles and parlor doors thrown open.

Martha McCarl was one of the old members who spent her life in service to God.  Her obituary read, “To converse with her for a short time was to be admitted to an antechamber of God.”

However, by January 1900 Central received a plea from Olive Branch to help with their finances.  Due to decreased membership, money was scarce for the $500 parsonage mortgage and needed repairs, resulting in a debt of $1300.  Like a parent, Central paid the debts.  It was largely due to their pastor, Rev. McKinley.  When he burned the mortgage all the debts of all Winona Methodist churches were paid.  While it burned the people sang the long doxology.

1902 was the Silver Jubilee memorial service led by Rev. McKinley.  In those 25 years they had 900 members, no scandal, loyal workers, and 13 pastors.  Olive Branch also had the only choir of children.  The 32 in the choir were led by Mrs. Beyerstedt.

Pastors as a rule did not get paid well. For example, Rev. Russell received a salary of $750 with a rent allowance of $250 per annum in 1909.  That same year he made the newspaper headlines when he was preaching as usual on August 17.  During the sermon he discarded his cuffs and coat due to the heat.  So catching was the move for comfort that the men in the pews did the same!

In 1913 plans were made for a new church at a new location: the corner of Broadway and High.  It was to be a brick Tudor style building 50’x80’ and could seat 600.  It needed to be an ornament and provide utility to the West End. A gym, kitchen, and dining room were to be in the basement.  The budgeted cost was $25,000. On March 16, 1914 Bishop Quayle gave a sermon and within 20 minutes $21,185 was pledged for the new church.

On January 21, 1915 the Olive Branch Church was sold.  The deed stipulated that the property never be used for anything except residences.  A merchant tailor bought it for $2,200.  He was to tear it down and use the material to erect two residences.

The last function of the old church was when seventeen youth performed “The Merchant of Venice Modernized.”  It had five acts and lasted two hours.  Afterwards the church pews were removed and put in the basement of the new McKinley Church.

On April 13, 1915, while the church was being torn down, worker J.W. Freer dropped 45’ and broke his sacrum bone, separated thigh bones from vertebrae and had possible internal injuries.  He fell heavily and just at the place where he struck the floor there was an opening into the basement and through this his lower limbs were forced.  His upper body remained above the floor line and his head fell forward and got a bad gash.  He was unconscious when the doctors arrived.  He recovered at home and in June his body cast was removed; he had healed well.

Olive Branch had 18 pastors in 37 years.  Rev. McKinley (1900-1903) and Rev. Thomas Hambly (1894-1897) were the favorites.  Hambly’s bible class of 60 gave him a large farewell attended by over 300 people.  Hambly was said to be a man of push and vigor.

Compiled by Charlotte Litchy from the Winona Republican-Herald newspaper, Winona Daily Republican newspaper, and the 2008 history booklet of McKinley United Methodist Church.