“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Near Madison in Lake County, South Dakota — The American Midwest (Upper Plains)

Chapel Car Emmanuel

Chapel Car Emmanuel Marker image. Click for full size.
August 29, 2022
1. Chapel Car Emmanuel Marker
Inscription.  Beginning in 1893, the "Emmanuel" served as a church on wheels throughout much of the western United States. Only thirteen total chapel cars were built and commissioned: seven Baptist, three Episcopalian, and three Catholic.

As communities were born and grew quickly with the westward expansion of the railroads, they were often wild and lawless places, commonly void of churches to serve their burgeoning populations. These cars provided a much-needed venue for worship, Sunday school, weddings, funerals, baptisms, and counseling. Emmanuel was attended by people of all denominations and is credited with starting 51 congregations and the baptism of more than 4000 people.

The car's chapel area seated 80-100 people, with as many as 150 children sometimes crowded in for Sunday school. The missionaries who traveled with Emmanuel lived in the cramped 9' x 18' front quarters with few amenities: an upper and lower berth for sleeping, a desk, a fold-down table, a closet-sized kitchen with overhead water tank, and a toilet opening to the tracks below.

The second of the Baptist cars built at a cost of $7500.00, Emmanuel traveled
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the rails for 49 years, pulled by the railroads and parked in sidings to serve for a period before being moved to the next town. Emmanuel spent time in many states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming, prior to coming to rest in South Dakota.

After its final church service in 1942, Emmanuel's ownership changed several times, with the car utilized as a storage shed, a meeting site, and briefly in youth ministry. Emmanuel was moved to Prairie Village in 1972 and was subsequently restored. One of only a few chapel cars remaining in existence, her very survival is quite remarkable. Emmanuel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and represents an important and uncommon chapter of the settling of the American West.

Emmanuel's Timeline
April 1893   The newly constructed Chapel Car Emmanuel, built by Barney and Smith Car Company, leaves their Dayton, Ohio plant and is displayed at a local fair.

May 1893   Emmanuel is dedicated at the annual Baptist convention in Denver, Colorado. It then sets out immediately for California, commencing a 49-year missionary journey of the West.

August 1895   While Emmanuel undergoes repairs in Sacramento, California, its first pastor, Rev. E.G. Wheeler, is killed in
Chapel Car Emmanuel Marker image. Click for full size.
August 29, 2022
2. Chapel Car Emmanuel Marker
a separate train accident as he travels home to Minnesota.

August 1930   Emmanuel is struck by lightning in Colorado, resulting in a fire which seriously damages its interior and requires extensive repairs.

February 1942   Emmanuel's final church service is held in South Fork, Colorado.

July 1942   Emmanuel is moved to the South Dakota Bible Camp at Swan Lake near Viborg, South Dakota, where it eventually serves as space for meetings, services, and missionary lodging.

August 1942   Emmanuel is officially retired.

January 1943   Emmanuel is sold to the South Dakota Baptist Convention for one dollar.

October 1972   Emmanuel is moved to Prairie Village.

September 1976   Emmanuel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

May 1983   Governor William Janklow declares May 22 "Chapel Car Emmanuel Day" in South Dakota.

July 2018   Historic marker is unveiled and dedicated as Emmanuel turns 125 years old.
Erected 2018.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Churches & ReligionRailroads & Streetcars. A significant historical month for this entry is April 1893.
Location. 44° 0.335′ N, 97° 10.192′ W. Marker is near
Chapel Car Emmanuel, from the east image. Click for full size.
August 29, 2022
3. Chapel Car Emmanuel, from the east
Madison, South Dakota, in Lake County. Marker is at the intersection of West Street and Main Street, on the right when traveling south on West Street. Located in Prairie Village just west of Madison. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 45205 SD-34, Madison SD 57042, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 6 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Ash Grove Seventh-Day Adventist Church (about 600 feet away, measured in a direct line); Thormodsgaard Log Home (about 700 feet away); Historic Cabin (approx. one mile away); The 37-Star Flag (approx. one mile away); Luce Historic Cabin Restoration Project (approx. one mile away); Wm. H.H. Beadle (approx. 2.9 miles away); Madison State Normal School The Great War Honor Roll (approx. 2.9 miles away); Old Madison – First County Seat (approx. 5.8 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Madison.
Also see . . .  Chapel Car Emmanuel – Historic Prairie Village. (Submitted on September 5, 2022.)
Chapel Car Emmanuel, from the west image. Click for full size.
August 29, 2022
4. Chapel Car Emmanuel, from the west
Inside Chapel Car Emmanuel image. Click for full size.
August 29, 2022
5. Inside Chapel Car Emmanuel
Credits. This page was last revised on September 5, 2022. It was originally submitted on September 4, 2022. This page has been viewed 87 times since then and 47 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5. submitted on September 4, 2022.

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Nov. 28, 2023