SHELL LAKE, WI -- In 1970, Joni Mitchell recorded a song whose lyrics included, "You don't know what you've got until it's gone, they've paved paradise and put up a parking lot." This all came true recently when the St. Stephens Episcopal Church, built in 1882, was demolished to make room for additional parking for the Courthouse, Sheriff’s Office, and Government Center.
According to Al Stouffer in his Story of Shell Lake book, "After the building of the huge sawmill, and the mill-row houses in 1881, the laborers sent for their wives and children. Whenever families gathered, schools and churches were their first consideration. The "Box-car" two-room schoolhouse that was used as a school during the week became a place of worship by differing religious organizations on Sunday. There was also a Swedish Church building occupying a site on a hill north of town in the company's pasture. The Baptist Society was organized in June 1882 and re-organized in 1889.
"The St. Stephens Episcopal Church was organized in 1881 with 75 members. They built their church at the corner of Third Avenue and First Street in 1883 in the Gothic Revival style.
“Soon to follow was the Catholic Church in 1888 and the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church, who had abandoned their church on the pasture hill and built a church on Eighth Avenue and Second Street in 1884.
“St. John's Lutheran Church followed in 1888. Now Shell Lake had 5 churches. It also had:1 lumber mfg plant, 1 cigar factory, 1 hardware store, 3 hotels, 3 doctors, 2 blacksmith shops, 1 dry good store, 2 newspapers, 1 repair shop, 1 tailor shop, 1 tin shop, 2 livery stables, 5 lawyers, 2 land agency's, 1 coffin factory, 2 meat markets, 1 harness shop, 1 shoe shop, 1 shoe store, 5 general stores, 2 millinery stores, 1 dentist, 1 bank, and 9 saloons.”
Shell Lake was a bustling place. It was a friendly place too as Stouffer continues, "A delightful spirit of friendship exists between the different denominations. They assist in celebrating each other's festivals, homecomings, and holidays, patronizing each other's food sales, and contribute to each other's fund drives.
“On August 15, 1889: Sunday was a pleasant day and a large audience, 400 to 500, was by the lake, which made a splendid baptistery, to witness the beautiful ordinance of baptism of 6 people.”
The April 1894 church information included, "the Episcopal Society have purchased a bell for their church and it will be in place in a few days, Tomorrow being Arbor Day, the Episcopalians are going to plant four dozen trees around their church lot. It is desired that each tree shall bear a name, either the name of the planter, or the name of a bishop, president, statesman, etc. The name of the planter and the name of the tree by the planter will be fastened to the tree, and also registered in the parish register. For the privilege of planting and naming a tree, there will be a charge of fifty cents."
Times change, and during the past 138 years, the church had grown in attendance and enlarged. Then it declined and was absorbed into the St. Alban's Episcopal congregation in Spooner, stained glass windows and all. The empty building was then sold to a private party in 2000 who used it as a residence until it was recently torn down.
According to Kiko Murphy, Facility Operations Director for Washburn County, the county purchased the building in order to tear it down and extend the Courthouse, Sheriff’s Office, and Government Center parking lot by 22 spaces. The existing lot has 45 spaces and after losing 3 spaces in the exiting lot to connect a driveway, it brings the total spaces to 64. The entire old lot, and the new space, will be dug up and resurfaced this year, creating four exits to the west, creating ease of access and traffic flow.
Long-term conceptual plans for the Sheriff’s Office include expanding into the current parking lot just south of the building, the additional space providing much-needed parking for employees.
This building razing joins another residential property, this one on Fifth Avenue, purchased by the Shell Lake Hospital for their employee parking needs due to the addition of a new emergency room.
Out with the old, in with the new. Shell Lake is growing again.