History of the Presbyterian Church of West Salem



The Beginning

McEldowneys, McKinleys and Browns were some of the pioneer families who came to this area from Pennsylvania in the 1850’s. Most of them lived on farms near the new little village of Neshonoc by the La Crosse River.

When an itinerant preacher came to the area in 1852, Andrew McEldowney invited him to stay at his  house, and arranged for a prayer service the next Sunday. The little group was interested in forming a church, but it wasn’t until 1856 that the first recorded meetings were held in a building owned by James McKinley.

In 1857 C.C.Howland was hired to build them a church on land in Neshonoc donated by the town’s founder, Monroe Palmer. Hard times made it difficult to pay him and when the building neared completion in 1860 Mr. Howland said he would have to sell it to someone else if he wasn’t paid. William McEldowney, who was so poor he was going barefoot, took a load of ripe oats to La Crosse to sell for money to buy shoes for his family, instead, he brought the entire $40.00 to Mr. Howland who said that would tide him over for awhile and he wouldn’t sell the church. That saved the church, but William went home without any shoes or money.

On Jan.7, 1858 they organized under the name Associated Presbyterian Church of Neshonoc (UP Presbytery of Wis.) with 13 charter  members. We have 2 descendents of charter members in our church today. Julie Harris is the great great great granddaughter of Andrew McEldowney, and Jim Leicht is the great great grandson of Elizabeth Brown.

When the railroad was built through West Salem many homes and businesses moved from Neshonoc to West Salem and the Village of Neshonoc died while West Salem grew.

The Presbyterian congregation moved to West Salem in 1886 and rented the vacant Baptist Church (part of what used to be Christ Lutheran Church on Youlon Street).  Their little church in Neshonoc was one of the last buildings moved from Neshonoc.  The Norwegian Lutherans purchased it in 1887 for $229.25 and moved it to their present location where they used it until 1920 when it was torn down and their present structure was built.

In 1890 a new Presbyterian Church was built on the southeast corner of Mill and Hamilton Street for $5,000.00.  The church was dedicated debt free on November 27, 1890 and celebrated with a Thanksgiving Dinner served by the ladies.

The church grew and was added onto several times before the congregation finally outgrew it and plans were made to replace the 110 year building with a new one at a new location. The house on the lot where the church was to be built was moved to the NW corner of Mill and Franklin Streets and used as a Parsonage.  (The minister’s home.)  In 1891 a new parsonage was built a block from the church on the NE corner of Mill and Franklin Streets with money donated by William McEldowney.

Twelve families lived there beginning with Rollo Branch in 1891 and ending with Ward Patton  (1979-1985).  After Rev. Patton left, the congregation voted to sell the parsonage and give future ministers a housing allowance so that they could choose their own home.  The house was sold to Scott Perry in March, 1987 for $42,183.00.