Hyde Park People, Places, Things April 28, 2010
By the Hyde Park Historical Society
From Many, One – The United Church of Hyde Park
The United Church of Hyde Park is located at the corner of 53rd and Blackstone in a magnificent edifice designed by Gregory A. Vigeant in 1889. The church was originally founded as the Hyde Park Presbyterian Church in 1860 on land at 53rd and Lake Park Avenue donated by Paul Cornell, one of the founding members. In 1885 a Congregational church, later to become the Hyde Park Congregational Church, was founded at 56th and Dorchester to serve the southern section of the community. In 1889 the Methodist Episcopal Church was founded and built a church at 54th and Blackstone.
Collectively these congregations established local and foreign missions, had active women’s societies and in general contributed to the social fabric of the community.
During the winter of 1929-30 the idea of uniting the Presbyterian and Congregational churches began to develop. The churches were similar in theology and mission, and both were soon to be without pastors. Committees representing both groups met and worked out a plan for consolidation, which was adopted effective October 1, 1930. The first service of the United Church of Hyde Park was held on October 5, 1930, with Dr. Ozora Davis serving as interim pastor. Dr. Davis had recently retired as president of Chicago Theological Seminary, which had moved from the west side of Chicago to Hyde Park during his tenure.
The United Church and Methodist Church experienced declining membership and budgets in the late 1960s, prompting the congregations to consider a merger. It began with a shared facilities agreement and a joint Sunday school. The formal agreement for a “union church” representing all three denominations was completed in the fall of 1970.
In addition to Paul Cornell, a number of prominent individuals have been associated with these institutions. They include: Norman Judd, a prominent Republican, an attorney for the Illinois Central Railroad and ambassador to Prussia appointed by President Lincoln; William H. Ray, early principal of the Hyde Park High School and the namesake of the Ray School; Leslie Lewis, Principal of Kozminski School; Marquis Eaton, President of the Chicago Red Cross during World War I; and Noble Lee, prominent Republican member of Illinois State Legislature and Dean of John Marshall Law School.
The building at 53rd and Blackstone is noteworthy for the large stained glass windows, the beautiful painted ceiling and the twelve-sided dome inscribed with the names of the apostles. The building was extensively remodeled in 1924, adding new decor, pews and a cork floor. The cork floor provides excellent acoustics for the Skinner Organ, which was installed in 1923.
The United Church is a member congregation of three denominations, the Presbyterian Church
(U.S.A.), the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church. The church has continued its ministry of community outreach to address issues of crime, hunger, and homelessness through fundraising and youth organizations.