Churches Around the Courthouse Square, Decorah, Iowa

The ensemble of buildings around the Winneshiek Courthouse in Decorah is extraordinary in that churches fill a full two dies of the square, and the remaining two are partially filled with civic buildings. Starting on the west side and working in a counter-clockwise direction, we see St Benedict’s Roman Catholic Church. As is common with so many buildings, there was an original church constructed in 1864, and it was replaced by the current structure in 1917 at a cost of $60,000. It is not purely Romanesque Revival in style but has an undercurrent of Baroque in its design. Interestingly, it was designed by the same architect as St. Paul’s and St. Mary’s co-cathedrals in the Twin Cities, Emmanuel Louis Masqueray.

Heading south but staying on the west side of the square, we next come to the First United Methodist Church of Decorah. Founded in 1851, the first building was replaced 1874 at a cost of $12,680. That wing off the side to the right is from the 1950s, obviously. Judging from photos of the congregation, apparently Kermit the Frog has attended church here.

Moving to the southeast to the south side of the square, we come to the Congregationalist United Church of Christ. This is now the second Congregationalist church I have stumbled upon in a month! Back in the 1950s a bunch of different denominations joined together into the United Church of Christ. Founded in 1854 (seeing a pattern among the churches in town?) and its first building being built in 1861, the current church was constructed in 1896 according to designs by the Minneapolis firm of Orff and Joralemon. There was originally an octagonal spire on the bell tower.

This final church on the eastern end of the south side of the square is obviously not from the Nineteenth Century. The Decorah Lutheran Church dates back to 1863, and there probably were at least two other churches before this one constructed in 1958-60. The congregation’s website provides nice interior shots, and I can’t help but think that while this is a very Modernist building, it still very much captures the feel of a Gothic church with its tall stained glass windows and soaring, vertical space.

The belfry is so tall that it is hard to get it in one photo.

Reflecting the stained glass window below, colorful panes shine in the sunlight. It is a very unique composition and works well overall.

Moving to the east side of the square is the public library, which interestingly enough is actually a former post office. Those small windows in the larger rounded arches hurt my eyes.

Back over to the northwest corner of the square is the former telephone exchange building, which once held the operators who connected callers in the Decorah area.

Heading to the southwest off the square is West Broadway, which is lined with mansions built by the city’s elite in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries.

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