Roberts Park Church was organized as a Methodist class or society in 1821, the same year Indianapolis was founded. The congregation worshiped in log cabin homes from 1821 to 1823. In 1823, a log cabin church was constructed on Maryland Street just east of South Illinois Street and was the place of worship from 1823 to 1829. In 1829, the congregation moved into a new brick church on the southwest corner of monument circle. They remained there until 1842, when the growing congregation was divided into an eastern and western charge with Meridian Street as the dividing line. The eastern charge constructed a brick church at Pennsylvania and Market Street, adopting the name “Roberts Chapel”, and worshiped there until 1868. The church was named for Bishop Robert R. Roberts, the first Methodist Bishop to reside in Indiana.
Construction on the current stone church at Delaware and Vermont Streets began in 1869 and was completed in 1876. This new church was named “Roberts Park Church” in 1870. “Park” was included in the name because the new one acre lot with its grove of Walnut trees had a park-like appearance. The wood from these trees was used for the interior of the church. The cornerstone of the church was laid on May 14, 1870 and construction was completed in 1876. The dedication ceremony was held on August 27, 1876 and was led by Bishop Matthew Simpson, who had dedicated Roberts Chapel in 1846 and conducted funeral services for Abraham Lincoln in 1865. The church was patterned after the City Temple in London in the Romanesque style of architecture. The education unit, which today houses Shalom Daycare and church offices was added in 1927. The “Memorial Chapel” was completed in 1954. The education unit was completely renovated in 1959 and the sanctuary organ was replaced in 1973, although the walnut facade is the original. The church parking lot was purchased from Sears and Roebuck in 1984.
Throughout the second half of the 20th century, as many downtown churches closed or moved to the suburbs, Roberts Park retained its commitment to being “the heart of downtown.” Today Roberts Park’s members and regular worshipers come from throughout the Indianapolis metropolitan area – from the Old Northside to Fountain Square; from Carmel to Greenwood.
Some Events of Historical Interest:
- The church bell placed in Roberts Chapel in 1847 served as the fire bell for the small town of Indianapolis until 1868. A town clock was placed in the bell tower in 1853. The bell was transferred to the new Roberts Park Church in 1876 and is still used today to mark the beginning of Sunday worship services. It has been continually in use for 170 years!
- The funeral service for Oliver P. Morton, Indiana’s Civil War Governor was held at Roberts Park on Nov. 5, 1877. The procession to Crown Hill Cemetery was led by General Lew Wallace, author of Ben Hur.
- The Great Revival, March 28 to June 30, 1881, with 1,216 persons being converted.
- The Fourth International Epworth League Convention was held at Roberts Park from July 20 to July 23, 1899. Approximately $4,800 left over from the convention was donated as the initial gift for the construction of Methodist Hospital.
- James A. Allison, member of Roberts Park, along with three other men, formed the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1909. The Allison family renovated and electrified the church organ in 1915.
- The Service Men’s Center, one of six in Indianapolis, provided assistance to soldiers during World War II from 1942 until 1946.