The Riverbend Church Congregation for several years promoted the idea of their church building being moved to the Historical Park.
In 1900 the Laguna Detache grant, of which the northeast portion lies two miles south of Kingsburg, California, was opened for settlement. The families who settled the area came from Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Minnesota and even Canada. The community became known as the Riverbend island district since two channels of the Kings river enclosed the acreage.
The Riverbend school district was organized in 1903 when it became evident that a school would have to be provided for the children. The following year a building was constructed.
On September 12, 1904, the school doors opened to the sound of the belfry bell, the very same bell hanging in our church bell tower today.
The new Riverbend school had one teacher and 22 pupils, with one of the students being Florence Myers who became Mrs. Otto Fink.
These pioneers, a number of whom came from churches in their home states, also saw the need for religious services. A Sunday school, under the auspices of the Methodist Episcopal south conference, was organized in 1905 using the schoolhouse for its meeting place on Sundays. The schoolhouse was heated with a wood burning stove, coal oil lamps hung on the walls provided light and pupils sat in old-fashioned desks.
The desire for a church building led the small group to canvass the community in 1911 which assured support for such an undertaking. A committee consisting of J S Estabrook, C W Mckinley and chaired by Gottlieb Fink, took a buggy ride to Traver where a building had been suggested that might be moved to Riverbend and used for the church.
While on the trip back home after inspecting the building and weighing the cost of moving it, the committee decided in favor of building a new building and most of the money needed was pledged “on the spot”.
With contributions from neighbors, the building was built on the property across the road from the schoolhouse which was bought from Levi Pearson for “one dollar in gold”.
Some of the building costs listed were:
Hauling of lumber: $191.35,
Paper and papering: $64.63.
Most of the labor was donated except for the plasterer. Mr. Oscar stokes built the chimney and Emil Swanson a church member built the pulpit furniture and two years later was hired by the ladies aid to build a communion table for $4.50.
The building was first lighted by acetylene gas and later by gas mantle lights.
Riverbend church was dedicated on January 14, 1912, debt free, at a cost of $1400.00. At the dedication, a second-hand organ was placed in the sanctuary and used until replaced in 1922 by a new piano.
Music was an integral part of the Riverbend worship services. They even had an enthusiastic group of young people that formed an orchestra and accompanied the congregational singing during the services.
Naomi Burris Fink and ray Pearson played clarinets,
Kenneth Fink the melophone,
Mamie Burris Kimes was on the saxophone,
Alan Fink made music on the trombone,
Vern Pearson was on the coronet,
A trumpet was played by John Snell,
And the violin was played by Mary Snell.
The ladies aid, founded in 1907 contributed $250.00 to help with the furnishing of the building. Over the years the ladies aide experienced several name changes. It is now simply called “Riverbend ladies.”
The “ladies” have had a big part in raising money for projects for the church. In 1915 they put on their first fundraiser for the building of the parsonage, with entertainment and refreshments – admission was charged at 10 and 15 cents netting $18.60.
Election day dinner of baked beans, salad, sandwiches, pie and coffee brought in $10.35. Then there were New Year’s eve oyster suppers for 25 cents. There were many entertainments such as musicals and plays. All these events over the years paid for many projects.
In the fall of 1916, the parsonage was built with Oscar Stokes building the chimney and the ladies aid gave $155.00 to help with the furnishings.
The Epworth league for the youth was also chartered in 1907 but disbanded in 1970 due to lack of attendance. But during the time it was active the leaguers had box socials, went miniature golfing, went caroling and on hayrides where the music and singing was provided by the members and the orchestra.
The ladies aid continued with their various fundraising events and in 1938 had enough finances to purchase furniture and furnishings for needed items for the church and parsonage.
For the church:
100 hymn books–$65.00,
Piano and stool–$100.00,
Electric desk lamp–$10.00
And 2 stoves–$30.00
Among things for the parsonage were:
A wood and oil stove–$20.00,
Hot water tank–$2.00,
6 chairs and dining room table–$20.00,
2 rocking chairs–$12.00
And bathtub and toilet–$30.00
The Sunday school received:
15 small chairs–$12.00,
2 bookcases–$6.00 as well as other needed items.
Over the years, services have been held continuously in the little white pioneer church since its incorporation in 1912. The membership has ranged from 40 to a peak attendance in 1929 of 89. The drastic decline in membership, now at 18, is a reflection of the changes in our society and the passing of our founding fathers. Even through the lean years and decline in membership, while refurbishing and maintaining both the inside and outside of the church and Sunday school buildings, the Riverbend church continued to honor their commitments to the charities and any special needs in the community.
The Methodist Episcopal South Conference joined with other denominations throughout the years finally becoming the United Methodist Church conference. In 1998 the Riverbend membership voted to separate from the United Methodist Conference to become independent and nondenominational.
Riverbend celebrated the 100th anniversary of the building of the church in 2012. Many pastors, teachers, and saints have passed through the years as God has blessed Riverbend.
But it was in 2012, after much prayer, that the congregation voted to join with the Kingsburg Historical Society to preserve, for future generations, the Riverbend church building as a monument and memorial of God’s faithfulness and of the Christian heritage of our community. It was proposed that the church building be moved from its original location to a new location in the Kingsburg Historical Park.
Once the church was moved to the Kingsburg Historical Park, extensive renovations were performed. New HVAC, ceiling and roof, lights and fans, flooring, exterior paint, shutters and a state of the art media system were installed. Additionally, the pews were completely refinished and new pads installed for comfortable seating. The old church retains much of its original appearance, is not completely modern. It is a great place to hold a wedding.
The estimated cost of the move was a seemingly impossible sum for the small dedicated group and was even more costly than anticipated by the time the renovation was completed….but “with God all things are possible”.
It may seem a long time ago when our area first began to be settled; we were a young community compared to east coast settlements. Though all the original pioneers are gone, some of their descendants still live on the acreage settled by their great-grandparents.
Today the Riverbend Church building stands as a symbol of the faith and dedicated labor of our ancestors but, above all, the faithfulness of our Lord, Jesus Christ.