Methodism has been a part of Richland County since the county’s inception. One of the earliest preachers in Methodism to live in the area was Rev. James Copus, who arrived in 1809 with his family, and settled along the Black Fork River in Mifflin Township. Three years later, Copus and three soldiers would be killed by Native Americans when they felt they had been double-crossed by Copus after their home, Greentown, was burned to the ground. From Copus and other traveling ministers, the seed of Methodism was planted in Richland County and many congregations would grow out of the movement.
One of the first preachers of any denomination to live in Mansfield was Rev. Dr. William B. James. James came to Mansfield in 1814 when the town consisted of only two block-houses and 22 cabins. One of these cabins was constructed by James at the northwest corner of East Third and Water (today North Adams) streets. James’ cabin stood for nearly one hundred years, being one of the last of the original cabins to survive. Many early services were held in James’ cabin. In 1816 James would lay out the town on Petersburg, today Mifflin, in Ashland County and later, after he remarried after the death of his first wife, move to Vermillion County, Indiana. James would die in 1826 of cholera while on a trip to New Orleans.
In 1818 construction began on the first church, located on lot 56, on what is today North Adams St. Matthias Day was hired as master carpenter and, since there was little cash, was paid in wheat, corn, flour, whisky, and even shoe-making. The congregation quickly outgrew this church and, in 1834, money was raised for the erection of a new church on lot 118, at the corner of what is today Park Ave East and North Adams Street. The church was completed and dedicated in the fall of 1836 and the previous church was sold to the German Reformed Church in 1840.
The congregation again outgrew their 45 by 60 feet, one-story church and it purchased a lot on the east side of Central Park in 1867. The work of collecting the $33,000 for the new two-story gothic structure began and the new church was dedicated on July 3, 1870. The structure was brick with a spire stretching 170 feet into the sky. The structure was 108 feet in length and 50 feet in width. Much of the finishing and plastering work done inside the church was completed by Mansfield citizen E. D. Lindsey. This church served the congregation until 1906 when the entire building was renovated. The old spire in the center of the church was removed and a tower was constructed on the southwest corner. The red brick was encased in Sandusky limestone and the structure was enlarged to 136 by 60 feet. The church was almost lost to fire on December 20, 1930. Firemen were able to contain the blaze and save the structure, but almost $16,000 of damage was done to the interior. The building was again renovated to repair the damage.
On July 1, 1956, the cornerstone was laid for a four-story education building containing a chapel, offices, classrooms, parlor, and kitchenette on the east side of the building. The new addition cost $144,000 and was made of Indiana limestone to match the present church. In 1973 a three-floor elevator tower was added and complete re-decoration of the Sanctuary was done at a cost of $186,000. In 1977 new stained glass windows were installed on the east side of the education building and, in 1980, Heritage Room was established to display some early church records.
- One Hundred Fifty Years of Methodism in Mansfield and Richland County. (1964)
- First United Methodist Church – 170 years. (1984)
- Mansfield Herald (Mansfield, Ohio). 7 July 1870
- The Mansfield News Journal (Mansfield, Ohio). 01 October 1967, p. 5D