Address: 330 First St SW, Elkader IA
Open to Public: Yes
Activities: Self-guided driving/walking tour
Few people driving past the St. Joseph’s Catholic Church grounds realize that they are looking at two churches, separated by only a few feet. The stone building parallel to First Street, which now serves as the parish hall, was the first Catholic church built in Elkader. According to early records it was not an easy task to raise the $4,000 required for its construction. During those pre-Civil War years Elkader was little more than a pioneer town. Legend relates that money was so scarce that some members of the community were reluctant to part with it. One bold church member sold the missionary priest’s bed at auction. The indignant, protesting priest looked at the offender and declared, “You will not die in bed!” A few years after this incident, the offender was found dead on the banks of the Turkey River. The prophetic priest died in Clinton, Iowa and if the legend were to have a proper ending, it would have been that the priest passed away peacefully, in bed.
The exterior of the first church was completed in 1858. The congregation had to stand or kneel during services until enough money was raised to install pews a few years later. Within forty years the original church building proved inadequate for the congregation. In 1897 plans were made for a new, larger church to be built a short distance from the old one. By this time the community was prospering and financing the church was a common goal. When the new Victorian Gothic structure was dedicated in 1898 the $19,000 cost had been met by donations from proud parishioners. This article is based upon information found in Old Elkader Facts and Food.
In January 1976 the State Preservation Program nominated this church to the National Register of Historic Places.