Yet Another Sandstone Church

After studying the topic of Copper Country churches a few months back I came to a stark generalization based on their construction – the Catholics were rich while the Lutherans were not-so-much. This isn’t in any way meant to disparage the religions themselves, but only to illustrate the difference in size and scope of their construction. The region’s Catholic houses of worship were often grand and illustrious examples of architecture, built with towering spires, coursed sandstone walls and rows and rows of gothic inspired windows. (Think St. Anne’s, or St. Joseph’s for instance) However, on the Lutheran side, churches were comparatively plain wood-framed affairs, with modest tower and only a few stained glass windows.

Wide Angle

That being said there is always an exception to any rule, and in Calumet that exception is the Carmel Evangelical Swedish Lutheran Church. Easily the finest and most grand of all the churches that call Temple Square their home, this Lutheran congregation had decided to buck the developed trends and build themselves a church with a genuine sandstone structure. It was such a stunning move that for years I had always just assumed that the building was a Catholic church – it just looked Catholic.

Like most other churches built in the Copper Country, the Swedish Lutheran was apparently built in the Gothic Revival style. This style heavily utilized the pointed arch, as seen framing the bell tower openings in the photo above. This motif is repeated throughout the building, atop of every window or door opening.

Here’s a look at the church’s southern wall, showcasing a line of narrow windows all of which are topped by the same pointed arch. However this photo also brings to light the building’s shortcoming when it comes to true Gothic design: the emphasis of the vertical element. Though the windows are helpful, the rest of this facade actually strengthens the horizontal elements. Consider the coursed stone work and the very prominent belt course running above the lower floor. Instead of a feeling of height the building seems to be stretched horizontally, creating a feeling of girth instead.

Here’s a closer look at one of those windows, which brings to light a few more tidbits. Looking closely at the sandstone and how its set seems to invoke a feeling of “cheapness”. The courses don’t seem anywhere as straight and uniform a they do at St. Joseph’s and the point work seems sloppy. While the church may appear similar to the soaring ambitions of the nearby Catholic churches, the truth may be in the details.

This view of the church tower also seems a little ragged, though that could also be related to its age and current abandonment. Interesting to note in this photo is the wire leading down from the spire on the left side. Could that be a lighting rod ground? Or perhaps something more sinister?

Coming back down to earth we take a closer look at a design problem that was not the original builder’s fault. The concrete block here is obviously a late add-on, but more interesting is how the original sandstone stairway seems to have been cut in half. Due to the fact that I was standing in the road to take this photo, it would appear that it is the culprit here. When 6th Street was extended this gal was obviously in the way and got chopped to make room. A brilliant move.

Besides the sandstone construction, probably the second most Catholic looking feature would be the symmetric steeple as seen above. Most other Lutheran style churches utilized an off-set squared off steeple. This style looks very similar to that used by nearby St. Mary’s.

Of course this church’s catholic tendencies could be more easily explained by the Lutheran faith’s Catholic background and influence. But looking at the other Lutheran churches in town (most notably those of Finnish descent) this one is one-of-a-kind.

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  1. Nice… I was hoping you’d feature this one! I see what you mean about the distinction between Catholic and Lutheran churches. I suppose the difference might also reflect the religions’ different philosophies about salvation — by grace vs. by faith, perhaps — which show up as different emphases on inside vs. outward expressions of glory.

    Anyhow, just my idea. Glad to see a new post. :) Oh, and… a sinister lightning rod?! Or maybe part of an old C&H listening post to spy on the… oh never mind.

  2. Apparently this Lutheran subtlety is an Americanized condition, since it would appear that European Lutheran churches are built just as elaborately as their Catholic counterparts (full goth if you will). Here these churches took a more plain approach to their architecture. This could possible be a similar situation to the Gothic style being more subtle here as well in comparison to its European fore fathers.

    Of course it could all boil down to money. As for St. Joseph’s (St. Pauls), the congregation had in its midsts some rather rich and powerful families (think Ruppe, Vertin and Curto) that I’m sure were able to donate handsomely to the construction of a church. The scandinavians (including the Finnish and Swedish) were late settlers to the region and often were from poor farm communities. Thus less money.

    Perhaps this church benefited from some rich Swedes?

  3. Oh and I have no idea how much their asking for, but since its been on the market forever I can only assume the answer is “a lot”.

  4. a couple churches in Detroit similarly had their front porches chopped off if you will in 1936 when Woodward Avenue was widened. but many were also moved back.

  5. Adam… Its a shame that his was done, but the expense of moving the church was probably out of the question in this case.

    Its sad to see the results of such careless and desperate actions taken by short-thinking village elders after the mines closed down here. In a rush to create jobs and housing a lot of this area’s own heritage and beauty was cut apart and scarred for the sake of expediency.

    You just have to look at what’s left of Agassiz Park to see what I mean.

  6. Drove by the church today. The for sale sign is gone and there were a few trucks parked in the lot. It appears that someone purchased it and is working on it.