On Tuesday, June 6th 1871, a group of some of the earliest Minnesota pioneer families met for the purpose of forming a congregation. Only five people signed the register that day but several more were soon to follow. With a congregation organized the need for a proper building was next to be addressed. The most logical place for a church, it was thought, was adjacent to the cemetery on the northeast side of Bass Lake. Thomas Blair, the first settler to homestead in Delavan Township, donated the land for a cemetery in 1866. Thomas was approached with the idea of donating more land for the church as well and he readily agreed. The deed, dated June 28 1872, made the provision that the church was to be free for the use of all orthodox churches or denominations for religious purposes, effectively laying the groundwork for one of the first Community Churches in the State of Minnesota.
The first know photograph of the Bass Lake Community Church taken in 1900.
With the deed for the property in hand, the small congregation hired Linas Reed to build a wood frame church, facing south, so that the east facing windows would light the church for morning services. With the church completed the congregation decided that the Bass Lake Church needed a manse. The land next to the church was also part of Thomas Blair’s original claim but he had sold it for a woodlot. J.F. Winship and Paul McKinstry owned the property jointly and offered it for the manse. The property was deeded through the Church Trustees thus preserving the property for the use of the Church. Today the manse and adjoining land is still owned by direct descendants of the territorial pioneer Thomas Blair. The Historic Bass Lake Church, manse, and Blair home are among the oldest structures in Delavan Township.
The Bass Lake Church after the West Wing and Bell Tower addition in 1917.
Throughout the rest of the 19th century the Bass Lake community and the congregation continued to grow despite prairie fires, blizzards and a four-year grasshopper plague. The village of Delavan was founded in 1872, the Bass Lake School District #111 was organized in 1879 and on July 25, 1899 the Delavan Telephone Company connected its line to both Winnebago and Delavan. In August 1898 Mrs. Millie Snare became the first female to be licensed to preach by the trustees. Shortly after the turn of the new century the Rev. Nancy D. Whitehead became the first female ordained minister to fill the pulpit as pastor at the Bass Lake Church. In 1905 arrangements were made with the Presbyterian Church in Winnebago to occasionally supply pastors beginning a relationship that has endured throughout the years and continues to this day
The Bass Lake Church after the basement addition in 1948.
By 1916 Sunday School classes were being held in the four corners of the Church while the adult classes met in the center pews. It was decided that an addition to the west side of the building would solve the crowding problem. The Blair family contributed to the new construction and discussed the possibility of adding a bell tower in honor of their parents. Thomas Blair, the original benefactor of the Church and cemetery, died in 1908 but his wife Agnes continued to live on the family farm. The congregation agreed and in October of 1917 a document was signed stating that the bell was a gift as long as the building was used for church services. If the church was no longer used, the bell was to be returned to the heirs of the benefactors. The tin and copper bell, pitched in “B”, weighs 640 pounds and has rung sweetly through the woods, over the fields and across the lake for nearly 100 years. By 1925 all of the pioneers of the Settlement Association and original founders of the Church had passed into history. Their children and grandchildren had picked up the responsibility for keeping their Christian faith alive and cherished at Bass Lake.
Christmas at The Bass Lake Community Church.
In 1926 the Church purchased new songbooks. Among the songs was “The Church in the Wildwood” that celebrated the little brown country church in Nashua, Iowa. It occurred to two women, Lizzie Blair Hart and Meta Allen that Bass Lake ought to have its own song. Their collaboration produced “The Bass Lake Church” sung to the tune of “The Touch of his Hand on Mine”. The song has been sung at least monthly for nearly 90 years. Throughout the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s the Church by-laws had been extensively revised and re-written but the congregation continued to define itself as a community Church that would serve the people living near it. In 1942 the Rural Electrification Administration brought electric lights to the church. The gas and kerosene lamps were extinguished for the last time.
The Bass Lake Community Church in 1950.
When the men came back from service in the Second World War the time seemed right to at last put a basement under the church. The work was finished in the spring of 1948 at a cost of just over $8,000. After the dedication ceremony the Church made the new facility available to community groups for meetings including 4-H, Farm Bureau, Township Board meetings, elections, suppers and socials. These ‘events, as many as 155 in a single year, attracted large crowds. In 1947 the parking lot was expanded and graveled to eliminate the problems of springtime mud. The last addition to the building was made in 1954 when a new entryway was added giving the Church its present appearance. In 1956, when the Catholic Church in Fairmont was taken down, the stained glass windows salvaged and cut down to fit in the sanctuary. Later, in 1962, when the United Church of Mapleton was taken down, the trustees purchased the pews for $200 and cut them down to accommodate a center isle.
The Bass Lake Community Church today.
As the new decade began in 1970 the trustees began to make plans to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Church. Over 200 people were in attendance at the July 25th 1971 event. The exterior of the Church was covered in vinyl siding in 1984 eliminating the need for regular painting. During the 1980’s the cleaning of the Church was assigned to 16 member families on a rotating basis eliminating the expense of a janitor. In 1996 the congregation celebrated 125 years of continuous life drawing another enormous crowd to what was now recognized as the Oldest County Community Church in the State of Minnesota.
The Bass Lake Community Church - Serving the Next Generation.
Repairs, maintenance and upgrades continue into the 21st century including the installation of central air conditioning and a new Church sign in 2002. For 135 years the doors to the Bass Lake Community Church were never locked, allowing any and all who wished to visit the sacred and historic building access at any time. But events in 2005, including the theft of items from the Church, prompted the trustees to install a state of the art security system for protection of the building and its effects. The Church also entered the new century by adding their presence to the Internet when a website was introduced in 2008. In 2011 the massive Red Oak Tree that had shaded the Church for over 140 years and recognized as the largest Red Oak in the State of Minnesota by the Isaac Walton League in 1962, had to be removed as it posed a risk of falling on the Church. Today the 4th and 5th generations of pioneer families continue to guide the affairs of the Bass Lake Community Church. The immigrant ancestors of the community in and around Bass Lake would have every reason to be proud of the stewardship of their descendants who love and cherish the Bass Lake Community Church.