Church by the Side of the Road....
a wedding chapel

History

This historic roadside Church conducted its first service on Easter Sunday 1964. The Church was erected by Walt Williamson, the founder of the famous Wagon Wheel Resort. Walt Williamson spent almost a decade concentrating on building a Gothic style chapel with antiques collected from all over the United State to accomplish the 19th century effect. Mr. Williamson was well known for never buying anything new! The truss design was fashioned from the 1876 Church of Reflection located in the center of the Knott’s Berry Farm Resort in California. The end result was one of the most beautiful and quaint chapels in the United States which has become famous as the site of literally thousands of weddings. The late 1800’s elegant wrought iron Archway at the Chapel entrance came from the former estate of the 19th century industrialist J.L. Clark in Rockford, IL. The Archway is constructed with no welding, and it is estimated that it would take a craftsman a whole day to shape only one of the scrolls. The Pews come from a church in German Valley, IL. As the story goes, they originated from a pre-Civil War era church in South Dakota that once sat the family of the infamous outlaw Jesse James prior to their moving to Missouri. One of the pews had the letter “J” carved one Sunday in the bottom of the seat by an impatient young Jesse James. Even if the story was to be fiction, it does make one wonder which pew it is and only a few know! The Altar, Baptismal Font and Pulpit came from a Lutheran Church in Minnesota built in 1870. The Bennett Company Electric Pipe Organ was made in Moline, IL. in 1934 and came from the Trinity Stateline Lutheran Church in Stephenson County, IL. and was reported to be the last one made of its type. The ornate wood trim and stairway columns and rails came from the 1894 mansion of the 19th century industrialist Jacob Haish of DeKalb County IL. who invented and patented barb wire. The railings at the Altar come from the late 1887 Winnebago County IL. courthouse. The Lion Paw Table in the lobby, the Lord’s Prayer picture with real gold inlay, the four Velvet Throne chairs, and the 26 stained glass windows totaling up to 550 sq. ft. are dated from the 1800’s. The 8-foot diameter Round Stained Glass Window over the front door, the Majestic Alter Window, and the Lobby Windows came from the 1800’s Cargill Methodist Church in Janesville WI. Windows from this church can also be seen at the China Palace (formerly the Wagon Wheel Junior) across the road. The front and side doors also came from here. The Stained Glass Windows on the sides of the sanctuary came from the old St. Anthony Hospital Chapel in Rockford built in the 1890’s. Walt Williamson told the operators of the Hospital his dream of building a chapel for his mother and were so touched that they donated these windows to him. A number of similar windows from the hospital were also used to construct a chapel at the Boy’s Farm School in Durand, IL. The Stained Glass Wall Lamps and Chandeliers come from the old Palace Theatre constructed in 1915 in Rockford, IL. The two White Angels in the chancel were a gift offered in the memory of the mother of Gayle Manners, a vice president of the Wagon Wheel Resort and good friend of Walt Williamson. The ceiling wood beams and trusses are the trestle of an abandoned railroad bridge. The brick used to make the window wells inside the church are from the early 1900’s and were reclaimed from the streets of Rockford. The cedar Barn Board Siding came from either Walt’s on-site Sawmill (which is now the Woodlands Subdivision) or an old tobacco shed near Edgerton, WI. The six antique folding theatre chairs made in 1926 in the bride’s reception area came from the old Turner Hall in Galena, IL. The stained glass window above them is late 1800’s and came from a church in Des Moines, IA. New to the church in 1994 is the Angel Gabriel to welcome guests as they enter the chapel. This ceramic art piece, along with the Mirror of Angels and the Organ Angels, are works from the nationally renowned Galena, IL. artist, Josephine Mead. Adjacent to the Church is the oldest school house in Winnebago County and a log cabin on this 2 acre plot of land. The Old Stone School House was built of limestone in 1854 and was known as the Lincoln Park School and moved to its present site in the 1960’s from West State Street in Rockford where it now functions as a pre-school. It is believed to be the oldest functioning school house in Illinois. The Log Cabin was built in the late 1800’s and removed from the Winnebago County IL. farm of the 19th century industrialist Greenlee and reconstructed in the 1960’s.
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