Memories from the church of straw

The baled straw church in Arthur still draws visitors from around the country, even though it stopped operating as a church in 1967.

The building is notable for many reasons. For one, the church was built in 1928 out of straw bales, because of a lack of trees in the area. "It is the oldest baled straw structure in Nebraska, and probably one of the oldest in the United States," church caretaker Ruth Jageler said. The bales are held together with mud. "You can see it inside," Jageler said. "There's the straw which is rice straw, which was baled north of town, and then they hauled it in. They put the black, goopy mud out of some of our lakes over the straw, and then they put plaster on the outside of the mud."

Shelley Knott remembers going to church in the building. "When I was young I went to church and Sunday school here every Sunday, and we had a woman minister, and I guess I didn't think that was unique, but later I realized maybe it was a little unique for the time," Knott said. "My mom's parents were pastors here for a short time in the 1940's, and that's how my mom ended up in this country and married my dad."

The church was small, but the congregation made it work. Even the living quarters in the back where the pastors lived, had multiple purposes. "We would have our Sunday School in their living room, or their kitchen. Sometimes during Bible school we would use the bedrooms for classrooms," Knott said.

Those who attended this church, still have fond memories of it. "I just can still see all of the people still sitting in the pews. There were a lot of older folks," Knott said. "I'm a musician myself, and this last fall we had a revival in there, and one of the things that struck us was when we all started singing. There's no carpet, so we just filled the hall with our voices."

"This was a Pilgrim Holiness church," Jageler said. "The original sign has a Mayflower on it, and I have learned that the Pilgrim Holiness religion was a branch of the original pilgrims."

The church closed it's doors in 1967. In about 1985, the local historical society renovated it, and in 1989, it was added to the National Historic Register. Tourists still come to see it. One woman sought it out after seeing it in a magazine. "She came to see the church from Florida," Jageler said.

While some consider the church a tourism attraction now, others still remember it when there was a congregation inside. "We really like the church. It's got great memories. It's just something that we need to preserve, because it is so unique," Jageler said.