The rich and evolving history of Davis’ worship communities is chronicled in a new exhibit that opens Saturday at the Hattie Weber Museum of Davis. Merrily Dupree curated the exhibit, which showcases the growth of churches and other religious communities from just after the founding of Davisville to the present day.
Today, Davis offers opportunities to worship in more than 40 groups, including six different Buddhist organizations, a Coven in Draiogsffau tradition, an Islamic Center, a synagogue, a Davis Baha’i group and dozens of Christian denominations. It was not always so. Until the 1940s there were only two or three churches in town.
The Davis Presbyterian Church was authorized in 1869 and completed in 1870. In 1914 it was replaced by a larger structure on the corner of what is now Fourth and F streets. The original structure was moved in 1915 to the corner of Fourth and C, remodeled as a boarding house for students and later housed a fraternity. It was recently demolished and is now being rebuilt.
After a fire destroyed the second structure in 1914, a new Spanish-style church was built across Fourth Street from the remodeled original structure.
The Presbyterian Church was the only church in Davisville until 1874 when the Methodist Episcopal South congregation was formed. In 1875, a church was built at what is now the corner of Third and E streets. Later, the congregation merged with the Presbyterians. The old church building did not survive but its bell still hangs in the Newman Chapel at Fifth and C streets.
Also in 1875, St. James Catholic Church was built on the northeast corner of Third and I streets. A new brick building (now the Newman Chapel) was built in 1931 and dedicated in 1933. About this time, the original wooden church burned. In 1976, a new St. James complex was built at 14th and B streets.
For the 50 years between 1875 and 1925, the Presbyterian and Catholic churches were the only church buildings in town.
It was not until 1925 that construction began on The First Church of Christ Scientist at the southeast corner of Sixth and D streets.
These three churches served the community exclusively until 1946 when a broader representation of denominations began.
The exhibit shows additions to facilities and worship groups in the decades that followed the end of World War II and the population explosions of Davis and the university.
Additional exhibits at the museum feature the Lincoln Highway, items found in the well of the old Dresbach Mansion, penny postcards from 1900 to 1913 as well as exhibits on the history of UC Davis, the development of the Davis and Yolo County Branch Library and librarian Hattie Weber herself.
The museum is located at 445 C St. in the northeast corner of Central Park. It is open Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free but donations are accepted with gratitude.