History and Plans for the Methodist Church

With its gym and Sunday School Rooms, we see a "Discovery Center" for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math hands-on activities and displays.  Perfect for Robotics!  Tell us if you have other ideas!


The former Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Crookston, Minnesota is one of two magnificent neo-Gothic churches with three steeple towers in Minnesota.* The three-spired churches were the product of one dedicated man, Bishop Timothy Corbett and his dream of a Northern Minnesota Catholic mecca for the service to Native Americans, fur traders and Catholic settlers.    

 The Cathedral, along with its sister church in Duluth, Sacred Heart Music Center, still is spectacular with its three towers topped with spires and gilded crosses that catch the light and sparkle the town throughout the day. Built of red pressed brick, it was awarded a place on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. The 1912 construction has unusual antiphonal balconies built for alternating choir responses, on both the north and south sides of the Cathedral. Combined with the huge choir/organ loft balcony in the rear of the church, the Cathedral seated 700 people, making it one of the largest Cathedrals in the nation. Burt D. Keck, designed this Cathedral and its sister church in Duluth, Minnesota, not only for its gothic beauty, but also for amazing musical acoustics. . The contractor for the building was Edward Jackson of Bemidji who had also contracted the buildings of St. Joseph’s Academy, Cathedral School, St. Vincent’s Hospital all of which are torn down now.   

Built to serve the new Diocese of Crookston, it served the people of the oxcart fur trading days, steamboat trade and settlers that homesteaded here when James J. Hill built the railroad in 1878. Bishop Timothy Corbett was the rising star that organized the construction of the first Cathedral of the Diocese of Crookston. After four years of study in France in the college at Meximieux, the young priest was sent to Duluth to improve conditions in that frontier town, before being sent to Crookston to replicate his efforts with his typical indefatigable zeal. He worked to counteract the belief that the Church is a political organization under the control and direction of the Pope that the very active American Protective Association members in Duluth and throughout the nation were spreading to prejudice the people against the Catholic Church. The best way to oppose their propaganda, in his opinion, was by example. Despite fire, finances, and disbelief that Crookston could support the Episcopal dignity of newly created Diocese, he encouraged and developed the French Catholic culture that built stunning orphanages, hospitals, convents, schools, and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Crookston.

2. Current Condition

Vacant since 1990, this beautiful old cathedral is a solid brick structure. The former Cathedral was a victim of a two Catholic paradigm shifts: The trend to simplify ornate Catholic churches in the sixties led to painting over the hand painted angels in the ceiling and changing altars and lighting. The communion rail was removed in the seventies and in 1990, the Diocese built a new Cathedral of modern box style. The Diocese transferred ownership of the empty Cathedral to a nearby homeless shelter who desired the rectory next door for more shelter space. The stained glass windows were either given to Cathedral parish families as requested or were removed and sold to support the Diocese and the homeless shelter. See ‘Story of the Lost Stained Glass” on www.prairieskyline.blogspot.com. Yet, the glory of its former use shines through and demands restoration.  

    The storm glass remaining was severely damaged in a violent windstorm in April of 2001. Much of the remaining glass is loose from the frame, (frames are in need of significant repair and painting) and leaks air into the building. The hardwood floors have buckled, but structurally the building is sound as architects have testified. Two flat roofs over the two side sacristies are in desperate condition. These roofs are leaking badly and in one sacristy the entire roof and floor has given way. The north sacristy is so filled with pigeons and their droppings it had to be boarded up. In 2006 we replaced the hip shingles on the steeples with a grant from the Minnesota Historical Society, while surprisingly the original composite roof is almost entirely intact. Gutters are growing with weeds, and many of the downspouts have fallen apart, further adding to the disrepair. The mortar in the brick has worn away in some spots, but surprisingly very little tuck-pointing needs to be done. In 2013, at least 20 bricks along the gutter fell off. Prairie Skyline Foundation hired a mason experienced with historic masonry to repair the damage. He found that this event may have occurred in the past, as he found anchors meant to secure the red brick to the underlying brick. We suspect the gutters are simply not big enough to handle run-off from the steep main roof. 

The electrical panel was pulled from the wall in 1990. Also removed in that year was the components of the original steam boiler system housed in a shed between the Cathedral and the Care and share homeless shelter. This system heated both places. The building has not been heated since that time.

The bell from the central tower was put into the new cathedral and the netting over the louvers was left open to the pigeons. Everything of value was stripped, sold, or given away. Even the marble from the side altars was stolen out the door even as Care and Share Director, Jan Delage, told the individuals it could not be removed. One can tell that vandals broke in several times and spray painted on the plaster walls,and damaged the stairs leading to the balconies by breaking and knocking out all the balusters. One railing is actually removed! 

The original board members of Prairie Skyline Foundation fought a five year legal battle with Polk County to pay only a minimum of property tax on the sad, vacant building. They had to take their case to the Supreme Court of Minnesota where they won their case and made it possible for many non-profits to benefit from the ruling. With the amount of funds raised back in those years, along with the lost momentum, they never could afford to repair the sacristy roofs.

With age and untreated damage, the old beauty is continuing to deteriorate to the point of suffering structural damage in the sacristies. Although the air leaks through the windows, the main roof seems solid, and hasn't caused much interior damage, the open air has also prevented rot and mold. Closed to the public, and with boarded up windows, what was once the largest, busiest, stunning Cathedral in the nation is now rapidly deteriorating.

4. Reuse Study  

Before embarking on any project of this size, a feasibility study must be completed showing how much a proposed facility will pay for its costs. We hired “Artspace,” to visit Crookston and visit historic buildings, and later to write a reuse study for the old Cathedral based on a needs survey done by the City. Preliminary costs show that the building will cost $1.1 million to bring it back to a condition suitable for the proposed reuse: a family arts center. Preliminary cash flow projections indicate that a City subsidy will be necessary to pay for a director, along with grants and continual fundraising. The reuse study can be found on www.prairieskyline.com.

4. Proposed Stabilization work  

We have recently completed Architectural drawings with the aid of a Legacy grant. The Scope of Work includes:

1. Fill and Grading: removal of arborvitae on the North side which is causing lichen to build up on the masonry, and add fill and grading on the south and east sides to provide positive drainage away from the building. Memorial flower beds will be prepared under each window and in each alcove.

2. Gutters and Downspouts: These were undersized, and will be replaced.

3. Steps at the West Entrance: The steps to each of three doors will be lifted, new foundations poured where there were none, and reset. The main landing will be a place for memorial pavers.

4. Masonry: Masonry from the tops of windows to the gutters will be cleaned, repaired, and repointed. A stripe of masonry from the ground level up to four feet will be cleaned, repaired, and repointed. Masonry damaged from gutters overflowing and the disconnection from interior drains will also be treated.

5. North Sacristy Roof will be completely rebuilt

6. South Sacristy Roof will be repaired

7. North and South Sacristy floors will be repaired or completely rebuilt

8. Three Steeple Spires: will be cleaned of pigeon manure which built up after the bell was removed and the screen left open in 1991. Wooden parts will be sistered for support, and hip shingles will be removed, and reinstalled with a stronger fastening system

9. Front Doors will be resurfaced and stained redwood until such time as original gothic doors can be custom made.

10. Roof flashings will be inspected and repaired.

11. Main Roof Shingles: two flat shingles and several hip shingles will be replaced with salvaged originals.

12. Windows will be boarded up with ½" CDX stained redwood and secured with hurricane clips to avoid damage to the wood frames. Windows will be restored from the inside as a community project.

13. Belfry louvered windows: These will be removed, restored, and re-installed using today's fasteners.

14. Metal Crosses will be repaired by sheet metal artists and repainted metallic gold.

15. Clay tile coping: About 10 tiles are missing on the North and South Sacristies. These will be fabricated from sheet metal until such time as original salvage can be found.

16. Service Doors: The old service doors on the east side will be closed up permanently to protect from vandals and a new entrance to the basement crawl space will be built into the floor of the North Sacristy.

17. Ventilation: The small awning windows on the lower part of the windows on the north and south sides will be temporarily replaced with passive air vents with tamperproof fasteners. Leaving the hatches open to the steeples will provide hot air excape.

18. Painting: All trim, except for the exterior of windows will be restored, scraped, sanded, primed and painted ivory.

19. Electric Service: a new electric service will enter underground and a 400amp panel installed plus receptacles for temporary lighting and power tools.

20. Interior: The interior will be tested for asbestos and lead. Clean up includes the steeples, the attic, the basement, and the sacristies. The hardwood floor may be removed to allow clean up of the extended crawl space.

5. Proposed Future Work

We propose to bring the building back to a condition worthy of showing to potential donors. It will include the altar and sacristy space for performing artists.

Rehabilitation will consist of:

1. Clean and repoint the remainder of the Cathedral exterior.

2. Electrical wiring although grounded will all have to be replaced.

3. Restore wood windows

4. Install heating system, and energy saving systems: If we can get control of the lot to the south, we will install geothermal heat pump heating . Place electric heat storage units where the old radiaters used to be, plus a back- up gas forced air furnaces in the crawl space. This will qualify us to receive a dual-heat rebate from the utility company, a common practice in the north. Or with a heat pump heat we will be able to not only heat the building affordably, but cool it in the summer too for a cost around $2,000 per year. Although the heat pump costs more up front, it is the long range operating costs we have to be more concerned with to keep up the church after it is restored.

5. Install three handicapped accessible bathrooms and connect to existing sewer and water on Ash Street. We will most likely build bathrooms in the side entrances while saving room for one in the north sacristy for the performing artists.  

6. Restore original hex tile in altar area.

7. Level & restore hardwood floors.

8. Windows must be restored per the Minnesota Historical Society. The windows have only an expensive thick ribbed plate glass storm glass left. We will make the case for newer glass in our restoration efforts, while asking for members of the community to donate what stained glass they may have.

11. Interior plaster restoration: ¼ of the plaster has fallen off. Decorative finials have decayed, and wood moldings were removed from the windows when the stained glass was removed. Replace as needed with historic materials and historic methods.

12. Get permission from Care and Share to lease two handicapped accessible parking spaces. Change North Door to a wider accessible door.

Next Steps

1. Strengthen and enlarge leadership at Prairie Skyline Foundation

2. Raise $40,000 to leverage a larger Legacy Grant Application to stabilize and mothball the building. (Have $20,000)

3. Complete a Phase II Environmental Study about $1,000 for access to federal grants. (we have the Phase I)

4. Remove debris in sacristies, attic, steeples, and basement.

5. Request Otter Tail Power Company to donate energy design costs.

6. Apply for a commercial Otter Tail Power Grant for heating, later lighting.

7. Leverage an application to the US EPA “Brownfields” division for a grant total of $200,000 to mediate the pigeon damage.

8. Leverage an arts center planning grant to design interior space and estimate costs.

9. Leverage a McKnight Foundation grant for the proposed Young at Hart Center interiors.

10. Include exterior tuckpointing and windows in the next Small Cities Development Block grant application

*We have found several other three spired churches in the United States and Europe.

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