RICHMOND — An old-fashioned ice cream social will take place Sunday, July 28, at the historic Heart Prairie Norwegian Methodist-Episcopal Church, a few miles south of the City of Whitewater near Whitewater Lake in the Town of Richmond.
Sitting atop the bluff at N7273 Walworth County Highway P, the church was built in the early 1850s. It only opens for visitors a few times a year, including for this Sunday’s social from 2 to 4 p.m.
In addition to ice cream, there will be popular music from 1850-80 and children’s games from the 1800s.
There is limited parking near the church, so attendees are encouraged to arrive early.
Several years ago, after decades of abandonment and neglect, one of the descendents of the church’s founders made it her mission to restore and recondition the former place of worship.
Georgia Kestol-Bauer’s great-grandparents were Norwegian immigrants to Wisconsin in the early 19th Century. Peder and Anna Kjostolsen (who would Anglicize their name to Kestol) were one of five Norwegian families, about 32 people in all, who relocated to the Richmond area. One of the other immigrants, Christopher Steeson, donated part of his farmland so the church could be built there.
While the Richmond-based building fell into disrepair, the adjacent East Richmond Cemetery has been maintained by the township. There are both new and century-old graves on the grounds.
Kestol-Bauer resides on Peder’s original farm, which is close to the cemetery. In fact, she started taking over the cemetery in the 1990s for a few years while her uncle was ill before he passed away. In 1992, her family had a historical plaque installed just outside the church to remind people of the church’s past.
Eventually, the Town of Richmond Board of Supervisors was considering tearing down the structure for safety reasons before Kestol-Bauer undertook the reconstruction process.
While a lot of the details about the church have been lost through the ages, Kestol-Bauer still has at least two “minister books” that give some historical clues about the congregation. Early congregants’ names, baptisms and funerals are listed in the hand-written tomes.
The first entry is dated 1852, written in Norwegian, with later entries in English. Kestol-Bauer’s’ Great-Uncle James’ birth is listed in one of the books. There are also names that have been crossed out, indicating that members left the Richmond church for other congregations or, as listed in some cases, journeyed farther westward to other states.
One entry, dated June 1853, clearly states that the cemetery and church were built on Steenson’s farm “on the road to Whitewater, where the Norwegian Church now stands.”
That might have referred to the Rev. Christopher Steenson and his son, the Rev. Steen Steenson, who became a missionary to Norway.
To get to the church from Whitewater, take East Milwaukee Street to U.S. Highway 12. Cross Highway 12 and continue on Highway P. From Interstate 90, take the State Highway 59 exit 163 toward Milton/Edgerton. Turn right on East State Road 59, left on County Highway N, right onto Highway 12/89 and then right onto Highway P.
For more information, visit http://namech.org/.