“Let’s give this church a home,” said Rich Ranft of United Country Beloit Auction & Realty Inc., as he attempted to auction off the First Presbyterian Church, 501 Prospect St., on Saturday morning.
Before the 106-year-old place of worship was awarded to the highest bidder, Jody Wittnebel for $20,000, emotions were stirred. Both loyal church members and complete strangers expressed concerns for the fate of the building.
And before the bidding even got started, the church bell belted out a ring and the Henry Pitcher’s Sons pipe organ roared out moving Broadway tunes such as “Tomorrow.”
“You just think of the thousands of people who worshipped here, and the church weddings and pageants here,” said Blake Scharine, auction attendee from Whitewater.
Scharine, along with friend Bob Comstock were at the auction to find items for their new ministry called Living Word Worship. The two men had discussed how sad it was to see a church leaving, especially after they noticed the newer additions built onto it.
“You could see the church was growing at some point. Now it’s apparent people are looking for something different in life, which is really a shame,” Scharine said.
In the front of the sanctuary, items to be auctioned were displayed including the piano, and 1850s chairs that the original church elders sat in. Throughout the church, bidders could view the church’s commercial gas stoves, refrigerators, dishes, pots, pans, glassware, kitchen supplies as well as tablecloths and half-used boxes of tissue. Even the church pews and bell were put up on the auction block.
Crowds roamed through the church eyeing items ranging from nativity manger scenes and stock pots, to Sunday school chairs, candlestick holders and more.
“There’s so many nooks and crannies in this place,” said Katy Katzman of Whitewater.
She and her 9-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, were looking at the vintage glassware and items in the church basement.
“I hope to find something and make it cool again,” Katzman said.
Katzman was hoping the church would be bought, noting it would be sad if it had to be torn town. Although she couldn’t buy the church, Katzman said she was interested in a short pew which she could decorate and provide with a good home. She texted information about interesting items to her friends, such as a metal folder holder to her school secretary.
On Palm Sunday, April 1, First Presbyterian held its last regular Sunday Service, On Easter, April 8, First Presbyterian and Second Congregational came together as one congregation at Second Congregational. The congregation has been renamed United Church of Beloit.
Throughout the summer, church members, including Stephanie Dobson, put most of their energy into sorting the items in preparation for the auction. Dobson said she couldn’t believe the day had finally arrived, and felt some relief there was an end in sight. Dobson said there weren’t all the members sitting at the auction on Saturday, noting they have “already turned that page.”
She was keeping her happy memories of the congregation alive. She said she joined it in 1969, after being a Baptist from California. After she and her husband moved to Beloit, they were invited by a Beloit College professor to the church.
“I said ‘this is the right place for me,’” she said.