Burlington United Methodist Church was founded in 1857, shortly after the town of Burlington was laid out, and some 3+ years prior to Kansas being granted statehood. The first service was held in an unfinished hotel, and succeeding services in other locations including private homes, until the first building was completed on Hudson Street. The congregation continued to grow and a new church building was erected in 1870 on 6th Street in Burlington. The Kansas Annual Conference was held at this site in March, 1882. The congregation had grown to 1050 members by 1927 and movement to construct a larger facility was begun. This movement was unsuccessful until 1954, at which time a new site had been donated and enough money found to proceed. The first structure that was built on the new site was an educational wing, now known as Garst Hall, completed in 1956. A sanctuary addition was completed in December 1960. This building, with some remodeling in the interim, continues to serve the Burlington congregation. Should you be interested in more information about our rich history, please call the church office.
Gene Merry researched, interviewed, and now has shared this interesting story to add to our BUMC heritage:
I'm writing this story today so many will know the facts about a family's generosity many years ago. They were down-to-earth people who wanted to improve their community. They were new to the community in the 1920's so at the time they were considered "outsiders." It is important that this proud and giving family have their story told:
Once upon a time, a gentleman in Franklin, Pennsylvania grew up in a family with 14 siblings. The family lived at 828 Liberty in Franklin. William Lewis Shaffer was a very successful oilman, Methodist Church Trustee, and served as a bugler in the Civil War on the North side. The Shaffer family home can be picked out on 828 Liberty by seeing W.L. Shaffer's name imprinted in the entry.
The genteleman I'm talking about was not William Lewis Shaffer, it was Walter Louis (Lou) Shaffer. Lou Shaffer, as he was fondly known, son of William Lewis Shaffer, was making a trip west to Burlington, Kansas to seek fame and fortune. This story would not be complete if not for the excellent memory of his proud daughter, Helena Shaffer Nelson. W.L. Shaffer had a rough start as many did coming to Burlington in 1920. It didn't take long for Lou to find his business nitch in oil discovery in the Gridley area. Two children, Junior and Helena, were born in 1912 and 1917 respectively. The family home was located at 701 N. 3rd Street.
The late 20's came along and Lou and wife Bertha needed to bale out several of Lou's brothers and sisters from margin calls of the 1929 crash. Helena's father was a caretaker of many family members during these times. As Lou and Bertha were more successful, Lou had made a commitment early on to his father to establish a new Methodist Church in Burlington.
In the 1920's Lou and Bertha purchased a half block of ground where the current Methodist Church at 207 S. 6th Street is located. Lou had to keep the taxes up and maintain the property as the church was unable to keep up this obligation. Son Junior Shaffer operated a miniature golf course on the property in the 1930's. It was later used as a football practice field for Burlington High School. The high school was across the street to the west.
Max Curtis Nelson proposed marriage to Helena Shaffer in the fall of 1938, and mom and dad knew they would have lots of guests coming from Pennsylvania for the wedding (having 14 brothers and sisters). Lou paid for a new organ for the event at the Methodist Church. This was going to be a major celebration and the piano wasn't going to cut it for his daughter's wedding.
The Methodist Church piano player, Mrs. T.T. Kelley, didn't play the organ, so Reno May Harrington played the organ for the June 16, 1939 occasion. Mrs. Harrington was a Barker, one of the upper crust families at the time, and many will remember in later years she gave piano lessons at her apartment above 308 Neosho in downtown Burlington.
Lou and Bertha kept paying the taxes and maintaining the property through the late 40's. Lou had a lifelong passionate dream to fulfill his father's challenge to take an active part and financially commit to build the new Burlington United Methodist Church. W.L. Shaffer had an offer from the U.S. Postal Service to buy the half block for a new post office, but Lou said it was not for sale; we're bulidng a new church there.
In the 1940's Lou and Bertha Shaffer built their dream home on the hill overlooking the Neosho River, a magnificient house for the time, complete with their own outdoor watering systems, orchard, gardens, long drive through the trees, a butler, maid, and several workers to maintain yard and grounds. Later they purchased a 9-acre orchard that ran near the front of the property next to Highway 75. All totaled, the estate had 89 acres. The property is currently owned by Glenn German.
The dream lived on as the old church was getting close to seeing its final days at the northeast corner of 6th and Des Moines. Committees were put together and plans finally emerged to build Garst Memorial Hall. Many members didn't know that each dime that was raised or donated was matched by W.L. and Bertha Shaffer. The hall was dedicated November 18, 1956 and the centennial of Burlington and the Burlington United Methodist Church was celebrated in 1957.
In 1946 W.L. Shaffer suffered a massive heart attack. Near death, a nurse at the hospital remarked that it was a miracle he lived through this. "God must have had more work for you to accomplsh." Lou's response was, "Yes, I have a directive from my father to finish the new Methodist Church in Burlington.
There were those naysayers who didn't think we needed Garst Hall or the new church sanctuary. Thank goodness members moved forward to design and build the new sanctuary. Plans were completed by Kiene & Bradley of Topeka on January 15, 1959. Members of the committee were: Beal Brownfield, William A. Buckles, W.L. Shaffer, Ruth Lawrence, Ann Douglass, Don Jones, Floyd S. Ecord, and W.A. Thompson. H.E. Douglass was Treasurer, and M.I. Wood was financial secretary.
The finished project in sight, fund were easier to raise and W.L. Shaffer was pushing harder to raise those funds, again providing 50% of the funds as if he knew his time was limited to fulfill his dream and his father's challenge.
Initial services in the new sanctuary were held December 18, 1960. The dedication of the new sanctuary was held April 23, 1961. Lou was still active in finishing up the details. As there were limited sidewalks and landscaping, they were soon finsihed. W.L. "Lou" Shaffer passed away in May, 1961. His was the first funeral in the new dedicated church, and yes, he did accomplish his dream and fulfilled his dad's challenge: "Lou, you should help your community and build a church."
Thank you, W.L. and Bertha Shaffer, a proud business family who really didn't want the public to know that they dedicated their life and resources to fulfill a dream. Thanks are also in order for Helena Shaffer Nelson, long-time secretary for her father, verifying the story and showing me how proud she and her family are of her parents' accomplishments.
Believe me, this is only one project they donated to. One would wonder how many other projects they sponsored anonymously. Sometimes it was difficult for anyone other than a native to become a true partner in the community. Hopefully today, whether you are new to the community or have been here for generations, we can acept all who share their gifts of talent and resources to improve the community.