FOUNDING OF THE CHURCH
A camp meeting was held in August, 1886 in Bartley and on August 28, 1886 the Methodist Episcopal Church was organized by P. C. Johnson, the presiding elder. Rev. W. S. Wheeler was appointed the first pastor and C. W. Beck was the Sunday School Superintendent. The congregation worshiped at first in the top floor of a store building on the corner south of the park. (This building, now known as the Rollins Building, was on the southeast corner of Commercial Avenue and Elm Street.)
History of Our Church
The history of the church and the founding of the town are inseparable since the man who founded the town also played a great part in the first history of the church.
Allen K. Bartley was born June 12, 1843 in Indiana. He served in the Civil War, studied law and the ministry. He served for ten years in the Illinois Conference and then was sent as a missionary to Nebraska in 1881. In 1883 he came with his wife and four children to Red Willow County and settled in a log house near Dry Creek. He traveled all over Red Willow and Frontier County by horse, mule and by foot to preach.
He had a dream of establishing a town, “free from vice and a place clean and wholesome and inspirational to youth and the country.” In 1884 he began buying up land from the Lincoln Land Company and on this land he plotted the town of Bartley with large lots, wide streets and alleys between the streets. And still he dreamed of Bartley becoming a University town and was greatly instrumental in the founding of Mallalieu University. It opened in the fall of 1886. It graduated one class in 1888 but the life of the university was short; the people did not flock to Bartley as had been hoped and the students didn’t come for the University either. In 1889 the Nebraska Conference decided to support Nebraska Wesleyan instead of Mallalieu and the university went out of existence. After ten years in the Western Nebraska Mission and Conference, Reverend Bartley went to the New Mexico Mission for three years, then spent one year in the Nevada Mission and eight years in the California Conference. He and his wife died in California and were buried in San Jose, California.
In September of the same year they moved to the Brick building, then known as University Hall. A revival was held in January 1887 and the membership increased to 120. This was a large group to gather in six months. Also in January, Rev. Wheeler performed the first wedding in the town of Bartley, population 305. In 1891 three country churches were added to the Bartley charge—Dry Creek, Prailand (Prairieland) and Mt. Zion, all north and west of Bartley. In June, 1899 Bartley was visited by a cyclone which took off the top floor of the store where the congregation had been worshiping. A sister church provided a place to worship for a short time, which was gladly accepted. A temporary tabernacle was erected and later the group moved to Fraternal Hall. A church building had been contemplated; now it became a necessity. Excavation for the new building was begun in September of 1899. The brick from the abandoned college building was salvaged and used to build the church. The cornerstone was laid on November 18, 1899 by the Rev. W. E. Hardaway, the presiding elder. By January 1900 the basement was finished, the Epworth League put in the floor for a cost of $60.00. Now the congregation worshiped in the basement until the sanctuary was finished in April 1900. On May 7, 1905 the church was dedicated free from debt. It was named Kemper Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church. A $250.00 gift from J. F. Kemper, a pastor in the Nebraska Conference was the reason for the name. The church was called “the most beautiful building of its kind in the Republican Valley.” Reports showed 204 members in 1904.
United Methodist Churches
The beautiful stained-glass window in the east wall was a gift from the students of Xenia College, Ohio, in appreciation of Professor W. F. Smith, who had left Ohio to come out to teach in Mallalieu University and when it disbanded he stayed on in Bartley. He edited the “Bartley Inter-Ocean” for a number of years until his death in 1899.