The new Le Sueur County Historical Society is ready to reignite an old tradition.
On Sunday, Sept. 15, the society, with the help of the Ottawa Historians, will host the 160th anniversary celebration of the Ottawa United Methodist historic stone church. The anniversary celebration has continued to take place every year, along with the Fall Harvest Picnic in Ottawa, a small community located between St. Peter and Le Sueur, but this will be the first time in a decade that the celebration will include a prayer service inside the church.
Kathleen Peterson, an Ottawa community resident and a member of the Ottawa Historians, was joined by about six other people, cleaning up the church and getting it ready for visitors on the 15th.
“We’re very excited,” Peterson said. “We’ve been waiting. The sad part is that some of the people that were vital to restoring this church are now gone, and they didn’t have the chance to be in here the last 10 years. We feel bad about that.”
Over the last 10 years, the church was under control of the Le Sueur County Historical Society, and it was not opened up for the annual celebration. There was disagreement among LSCHS leadership and the Ottawa group who had maintained the church. The premises fell under the control of the Historical Society, and according to locals, the building was rarely ever opened to the public.
Some work on the roof and steeple of the church was accompanied by an open house in 2015, but overall, the historic building has been largely closed. According to Peterson, Ottawa caretakers didn’t even have access to the grounds, as former LSCHS leadership had changed the locks.
There has since been an upheaval of the Historical Society Board and leadership, and the new front is hoping to show the work its doing, starting with opening the church back up.
“The goal is to make the Society viable again; we have to do things like Ottawa is doing — have functions like this, have it open for individual perusal,” LSCHS Board President Bill Strangler said.
The Ottawa stone church is now 160 years old and was last celebrated on its 150th birthday.
“It’s a beautiful place. It’s there for the people to see,” Strangler said. “There is an old altar in there, a pump organ, which is just about functional. There is a big pot bellied stove in the middle of the place that we’re hoping will still work. There is a beautiful chandelier with kerosene lanterns and on the walls; there are sconces with kerosene lanterns. There is room for about 120 people to sit in there comfortably.”
He added, “It’s so close to everyone around here; everyone should really take the time to see it.”
The church isn’t the only property owned by the Historical Society. Before new leadership took over, the old museum in Le Sueur was sold, and the new group finished vacating that building in the summer, putting the rest in storage, as the board eyes a potential new home. A house in Waterville, originally purchased in 2017 for $34,000, was also sold (at a loss) by the new board.
But the society already has the Genealogy Center and an old schoolhouse in Elysian, with the former serving as the society’s current home base. It also owns the former United Methodist Church in Cleveland and the stone church in Ottawa. All of the buildings could use repair, some at a likely cost in the hundreds of thousands, according to Strangler.
A big part of the Historical Society’s work in the near future will be applying for grants and finding a way to fix up what the society already owns. But another big part is simply reminding the people of Le Sueur County and surrounding areas that the society is here and has something to offer.
New leadership has gotten off to a good start, adding close to 30 members to bring the total back up to 220. But there is a long way to go to match the original 600 members of 1967.
The Sept. 15 celebration at the stone church is one way to start getting people interested again.
“The Historical Society is basically to preserve history and preserve what went on in the past, not necessarily always to show it,” Strangler said. “But we have an opportunity here to show the faith of these people that came into this country 160 or 170 years ago. It’s worth showing.”