Crumbling stone pillars, stained glass windows and ornate, vaulted arches, the City Methodist Church in Gary, Indiana transports you straight back to medieval England. Once a religious oasis in the heart of the town, the massive Gothic edifice now lies abandoned and exposed, with plants creeping through shattered windows and graffiti sprayed across the walls- the only remains of a building stuck in time. 

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The ruins have fallen victim to disrepair and vandalism, but still, continue to capture the attention of urban explorers and film directors alike. Over the years, it has become the backdrop for several movies including ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ and ‘Transformers 3’.

Lost in time: Methodist church in Gary, Indiana - Sheet1
Methodist church _©Chris Miller
Lost in time: Methodist church in Gary, Indiana - Sheet2
Methodist church _©Tbohall
Lost in time: Methodist church in Gary, Indiana - Sheet3
Methodist church _©Richard Drew

History

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Founded in 1906, Gary was an industrial town for the US Steel industry. The rapidly expanding markets encouraged settlers, and for the next twenty years, the population grew as immigrants from Europe, Mexico and America flocked there in large numbers. In 1916, Pastor William Grant Seaman approached the US steel company to build the Methodist church. He felt that the city needed a sense of traditional community and religious order that could be achieved through this project. 

In 1926, this dream was realized, and the city church was built, complete with a cathedral, educational unit, rooftop garden, community hall, sermon area, theatre, retail store and cafeteria. By 1927, the church was catering to almost 2,000 congregants and staff. 

The church, catering to the needs of a polarized city, had to deal with racism among the people. Seamon welcomed Swedes, Mexicans, and Croatians and anyone else who wanted to gather at City Church. Though the African American-American community was not allowed to worship here, they were allowed to use the amenities. However, Pastor Seamons views and tolerance for cultural diversity made him unpopular and by 1929 he was driven out of the city. He returned only after his death when his ashes were brought to be scattered in the church as he requested.

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Lost in time: Methodist church in Gary, Indiana - Sheet4
Methodist church _©Courtsey of sometimes interesting https://sometimes-interesting.com/2013/06/16/city-united-methodist-church-of-gary-indiana/
Lost in time: Methodist church in Gary, Indiana - Sheet5
Methodist church _©freaktography

Reason behind the abandonment 

During the Great Depression, the church struggled financially. Maintenance costs were high, and by the 1970s, the population had dwindled as people began to leave the city due to increasing crime rates. As white, upper-middle-class citizens- who constituted a large part of the congregation fled, its membership fell to almost a third of what it originally was. 

Eventually, the upkeep for the ageing structure became too much, and it was rented to local universities. In 1975, it was closed for good and sold to Indiana University. The University used Seaman hall for functions and gatherings, but nothing was done to the church itself, and it soon fell to disrepair and neglect. 

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Lost in time: Methodist church in Gary, Indiana - Sheet6
Methodist church _©RiddimRyder

State the area has been left in

In 1994, the City Methodist Church was added to the National Register of Historic Places and attempts were made to renovate it. However, in 1997 a fire broke out in the church, making repairs unaffordable. The fire engulfed the whole building, collapsing parts of the ceilings, floors and towers. Most of the gardens and rooms were destroyed, parts of the roof caved in and the rest of the church was left to deteriorate. Though the complex has been declared structurally safe, most of the building is beyond repair. 

The interior is currently exposed to the elements and several of the elements like the glass windows have been stolen. Now, all that remains of the once majestic establishment are dilapidated bricks, crumbling plaster and graffiti splayed across the walls. Despite this, it remains a hauntingly beautiful instance of Gothic architecture in the state of Indiana. 

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Lost in time: Methodist church in Gary, Indiana - Sheet7
Methodist church_©freaktography

Funding, Preservation and Plans for Revival in the future 

Though in the past most revival attempts have been unsuccessful, there is currently a redevelopment project underway.  In 2019, The church was granted the status of a historical marker, and there are currently plans to redevelop and transform the surrounding area into a ‘ruins garden’ with an amphitheatre for events like weddings. The grant of about 160,000 dollars was awarded to the redevelopment commission by John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and work is currently being done to ensure its preservation in the long run. 

Though the church is only a shell of what it once was, it is still a beautiful, historic piece of Architecture and a building of cultural significance for the townspeople. One can only hope it continues to be so and that future generations can continue to enjoy it. 

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References

Poletika, N (May 13 2019) “City Church: Spirituality and Segregation in Gary,” Indiana History Blog, https://blog.history.in.gov/city-church-spirituality-and-segregation-in-gary/

“Gary Methodist Church,” Digital Civil Rights Museum,
accessed October 3, 2021,
https://www.digitalresearch.bsu.edu/digitalcivilrightsmuseum/items/show/80.

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City United Methodist Church of Gary, Indiana,”
Sometimes Interesting, last modified June 16, 2013,
https://sometimes-interesting.com/2013/06/16/city-united-methodist-church-of-gary-indiana/

Author

Zoeanna is an architecture student, currently pursuing her bachelor of architecture. In her free time, she can be found curled up in a corner with a cup of coffee and a good book. She loves travelling, sketching, doing yoga, daydreaming and exploring new ideas through writing.

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