Summerfield Church has a 160 year unbroken history of congregational worship. In serving thousands of people, it has remained a center for social justice and the birthplace of several community institutions.
Summerfield UMC began as a Mission Church of the Spring Street Church (First Church) for Methodists living East of the Milwaukee River.
It later began formal worship at 528 North Jackson Street.
The Universal Church at Broadway Street and Michigan Street was purchased and moved to Jackson Street, between Kilbourn (Biddle) Street and East State Street. It was dedicated December 1, 1852 by Rev. A. Hanson.
Members of the Summerfield congregation joined with the abolitionist Sherman Booth and broke into a Milwaukee jail to free escaped slave Joshua Glover. Their efforts also assisted his flight to Canada through the Underground Railroad.
A lot was purchased on North Van Buren Street and Biddle street. The Jackson Street property was sold and a new church was built in November 1856 for the growing congregation.
The congregation moved to the corner of Biddle (now Kilbourn) Street and Van Buren Street. It was officially renamed “Summerfield” after after Rev. John Summerfield, an Irish Methodist preacher.
Lucy Bethia Huntington, wife of Summerfield pastor and former Civil War general Samuel Fallows, helped to establish the Soldiers Aid Society and was a patron of Milwaukee’s Soldier Home. This was the birthplace of federal veteran care in America, one of the last legislative acts by President Lincoln before his assassination.
The first Women’s Foreign Missionary Society in Milwaukee and Wisconsin, and the second in the United States was organized at Summerfield. This later evolved into the United Methodist Women.
Mrs. R. W. Patterson, a Methodist member of the Summerfield Church and president of the “Women’s Working Band” founds a protestant, non-sectarian “Home for the Aged” on the Van Buren Street. This later became the Milwaukee Protestant Home for the Aged in 1892.
The old parsonage at 186 Biddle Street was sold to the Elmore family, who were members of Summerfield. It was used as a home for retired Deaconesses (“Elmore Home”). Years later, the Milwaukee Deaconess Home became the Methodist Manor.
Summerfield pastor, Dr. Sherman Young, saw the need to move the church to a location further north. The Metcalf Mansion, located on the corner of Cass Street and Juneau Avenue, was purchased by Summerfield and moved 60 feet north from Juneau Avenue to its present location, making room for what would eventually be Summerfield Church. The mansion was used as the Church parsonage for several years.
The present place of worship was built and dedicated.
The Christian Endeavor Society was organized at Summerfield the year it became an international organization for Christian young people. It was active at Summerfield for 35 years, and succeeded by the Epworth League, until that was superseded by the Methodist Youth Fellowship.
Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) worship was begun on Van Buren Street, among Milwaukee’s Italian population.
Pastor H.S. Anderson went to Boston to learn about the Goodwill Industries. He reported his findings to 50 members of the Adult Sunday School Class. They sponsored the work and foundation of Goodwill Industries in the basement of the Summerfield at 728 East Juneau Avenue. Some time later Oliver Friedman, a member of that Adult Sunday School Class, became the director of the citywide Goodwill Industries.
A new parsonage was built at 722 East Juneau Street, immediately west of the church.
A new church was built in the 1500 block of Astor Street for the EUB congregation.
First Community Church and Summerfield Church merged, forming the Summerfield United Methodist Church in the 728 East Juneau building.
Immanuel Methodist Church (Center Street) closed, and its congregation merged with Summerfield.
The national EUB and Methodist churches merged, and the Astor Street EUB congregation merged with Summerfield.
1970s – 2000s
Summerfield remained involved with various local initiatives that promoted social justice within the community. This included a church remodel to provide wheelchair access, and the monthly Open Doors program for seniors.
Summerfield began its weekly Meal Outreach program, feeding and supporting the homeless and poor of Milwaukee.