The Niles Church was originally organized as the First Presbyterian Church of Eaton on November 26, 1858 and continued until the mid-1860s. It was during the years of the Civil War (1861-1865) that interest lagged and services became infrequent. In 1869 another Presbyterian Church was established at Cato. It did not have a regular pastor, however, until 1893 when the Reverend A. Rederus was called from Sioux City, Iowa. Two years later, Reverend Rederus revived the church at Niles.
On March 9, 1896, Wells Tyler, President of the Board of Trustees of the First Presbyterian Church at Niles, Wisconsin and J.M. Johnson, Clerk to the Board of Trustees took out a mortgage from the Board of the Church Erection Fund of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America “to erect or possess a House of Worship” and the Niles Church building project began that same year.
Reverend Rederus continued to serve both the Niles and Cato churches until his resignation in 1898. Once again, the Niles Church was left without a regular pastor. The families of the church kept records of the hard-earned contributions given to the church, built wood fires to warm the building in winter, and scrubbed the floors and furniture each spring. They continued to meet to play hymns on the pump organ, entertain visiting ministers, to celebrate baptisms and marriages, and comfort each other at funerals.
In 1932, Esra Vornholt, a student at The Mission House near Sheboygan, Wisconsin (now known as Lakeland College) came to fill the pulpit at the Niles Church. In late 1932, Arthur M. Krueger, also a student at the Mission House, replaced Vornholt and under his guidance
the church experienced new growth. Sunday School was established and met at 9:30 a.m. with the Worship Service at 10:30 a.m. During the summer months, Krueger lived at the home of member families. The Church held an annual Strawberry Festival that was always well attended. There was also a “summer school” that was held for three weeks at the church. One year, a Miss Catherine Morneweek of Wadsworth, Ohio was asked to come and assist with the summer school session. It was at that time that she met, and later became the wife of Pastor Krueger. Arthur Krueger was ordained and installed at the Niles Church on October 1, 1934. Church dues at that time were 50 cents per week. It was suggested that the Pastor’s salary of $25 per month with the provision that if pledges could be increased the pastor would receive a raise.
Other ministers to serve the Niles Church included: the Reverend J.M. Ayers of Gilman, Wisconsin (1936 – January, 1943); the Reverend William H. Bos from Iowa (September, 1943 – 1954) and the Reverand Allen Bowe (1954-1960). From 1960-1963 a retired pastor, whose name is not recorded, served the congregation. When there wasn’t a full time minister, the church was served by students from the Mission House. In 1963, the Niles congregation asked the Milwaukee Presbytery to dissolve the congregation. There were about 25 members when the church closed.
On November 5, 1964 a letter was sent by J.D. Watson, Board of trustees, Presbyterian Church Milwaukee Presbytery to the Manitowoc County Historical Society inquiring “whether or not organization has any interest in acquiring the Presbyterian Church of Niles, Manitowoc County, Wisconsin.” The letter went on to say “This congregation was dissolved more than a year ago and the Presbyterian denomination feels that this building, in its present location, cannot be put to good use at this time in their work in this area.” The Society responded that they were interested in the building and made certain that the Milwaukee Presbytery had no objections to the building being moved to become part of a historical village.
In the spring of 1968, an agreement was drawn up “ involving the sale of the building known as the Niles Church, located near Valders, Wisconsin, including the contents, for the sum of $300.00” --- the remaining debt outstanding on the building. The agreement called for “an earnest money payment of $100.00 and the privilege of removing said building in a period of three years, depending upon the ability of the Society to acquire a new site for said building.” The Society was also required to provide liability and fire insurance as soon as the offer was accepted.
Funding and sponsorship was received from the First Kiwanis Club of Manitowoc and the Niles Church was moved to Pinecrest Historical Village in March of 1972. The building was transported in three sections: steeple, fellowship area and sanctuary. The building was moved 16 miles from its original location on Highway 151, west of Valders. Considered a prime example of Gothic Revival architecture, the Niles Church continues to play a prominent role in the activities at Pinecrest as it did in the Niles community.
A bell was obtained for the Niles Church through the efforts of Henry and Melinda Bubolz of rural Reedsville in the 1980s. According to Melinda, “We had gone to the German church service at Pinecrest Historical Village and my husband kept waiting for the bell to ring.” One day, while speaking to an antique dealer in Chilton, Wisconsin, Henry asked if he, by chance, had a church bell. He did, and Henry and Melinda purchased the 800 pound bell and donated it to the Manitowoc County Historical Society for the Village church. The bell, it was learned, was from an old Lutheran Church at Phlox, Wisconsin located on Highway 47, east of Antigo. The cost of installing the bell was paid by the First Kiwanis Club of Manitowoc. Members of the club had the privilege of ringing the bell for the first time on Tuesday, July 21, 1987 following a volunteer “work night” at the Village.
The cemetery next to the Niles Church at Pinecrest Historical Village is not an actual cemetery. There are no burials at the Village. Many of the headstones have been donated by persons replacing their family’s grave markers. A number of the inscriptions are in German or Czech. The Niles Church cemetery represents a typical churchyard cemetery. It was the J.O. Tyler Cemetery that was associated with the Niles Church. An 1885 Warranty Deed on file at the Manitowoc County Register of Deeds Office describes the conveyance of land by Jedidiah Osborn Tyler to “the J.O. Tyler Cemetery Association” of the Town of Eaton. A Warranty Deed dated December 5, 1985 conveyed the land “beginning at the south west corner of what is known and called the Niles Cemetery” to the First Presbyterian Church Niles, Wisconsin. The deed was signed by Henry Head and “Dora, his wife”.
The J.O. Tyler Cemetery has always been owned and operated by a separate organization from the Church and is still maintained today.