By Hilda Parks
“The Methodist have stolen and taken our church from Caroline … I say, stolen, and I mean stolen.” Thus wrote T.C. Nason in a letter to the Mankato Weekly Review for April 30, 1889.
This is just a piece of the history of Caroline Station, and four other very small communities built along the railroad between Mankato and Kasota. Mankato Junction, on the Chicago Northwestern Line, was 2 ½ miles northwest of Mankato. It was large enough to have its own post office. Stone, 3 miles north of Mankato on the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha Line, also had a post office. Bradley, four miles north on the same line, could boast of a post office and a school. The last built was Benning, in 1903, located between Stone and Bradley. At the northern edge of these communities was Caroline Station, named for either the wife or daughter of Conrad Smith who had built one of the first lime kilns in the area. Located on old Highway 5, below present day Thunderbird Hills Development, Caroline Station’s post office dated to 1878. Mail was picked up and delivered twice a day because of its location on the rail line. The post offices remained in service until Rural Free Delivery came to the area.
Although there is little information on these towns, whose main purpose was to serve the railroad, Caroline Station was large enough to have a church. Built in 1876, it not only served a Methodist congregation, but also served as the social center for the community, hosting ice cream socials, temperance meetings, and youth gatherings. However, by 1889, the membership of the congregation had dwindled, services were no longer being held in the building, and windows had been broken with contents perhaps having been taken.
Thus, when the Rev. William Copp passed by, he thought it would be the solution for the people of the nascent Methodist Church in Madison Lake who were trying to procure land and erect a building. He tried to find members to speak to in Caroline Station, but could only leave a note. Not receiving a reply, he thought the project had fallen through, until he received a letter from the presiding elder of the Methodist churches in the area, saying some individuals from Carolina Station had spoken to him. In early March he received a second letter, informing him that the quarterly conference of the Cleveland Charge, which had included the Caroline Station congregation, had voted to donate the building and its contents to the Madison Lake appointment.
Although Copp received permission to move the church in early March, land needed to be procured in Madison Lake. George Washington Allyn, a Madison Lake pioneer, donated two lots and $200, and with the donations of others, the church was almost debt free when it began to hold services.
Removal of the church in Caroline Station began on April 22, in the day time, not at night as Nason accused, and it was not until the second day of work that Rev. Copp learned some people were opposed to the removal, namely Mr. Nason. Even when shown the letter giving Copp permission to remove the building, Nason complained that he was a member of the church and had been told nothing of the decision. He said he would speak to E. P Hall, seeming to assume that Hall would put a stop to the move. However, the following day, Mr. Hall brought Copp the key to the church, said the communion table was presently at his house and the movers should come get it. He also shared that he and his wife were the only remaining members on the roll of the congregation, and he was very glad something was being done with the building before it was destroyed.
Nason’s letter of complaint not only accused the people of Madison Lake of taking the church without speaking to anyone who had contributed to its building, but removing it “like a thief in the night. Nason stated that the church had been paid for by the people of Caroline Station, the stove had been given by E.P Hull, and the chairs by R. L Nason, the writer’s brother. In closing, Nason wondered why they hadn’t taken the grave yard as well!
Rev. Copp’s reply, published on May 7, 1889, tried to explain the steps he had taken to acquire the building, and also offered some information on Methodist church governance in which buildings belong to the trustees, and when closed become the property of the larger charge, or conference, and not the community.
The building was moved to a hill near Duck Lake, thereafter referred to as “Christian Hill.” The congregation never grew to be very large, and was able to hold services only twice a month. However, it served the Madison Lake Methodist congregation until 1936. In 1941 the building was razed and replaced by a lake cottage. Allyn, who wrote a series of articles in 1919 entitled “When Blue Earth County was Young,” shared that the deed to the building contained an unusual stipulation that the building “can be used by any Christian denomination, when not occupied by the Methodists.” Having experience the dissension of a few, Copp wanted to make sure it did not happen again.
Ken Berg, editor of the Free Press, wrote a series of articles about Caroline Station and the church in 1982. Almost 100 years after the event, Francis O’Leary, who had grown up in the area, remembered being told by her elders of the church that was stolen from Caroline Station, and stolen at night.