The town of Patagonia was named for the surrounding Patagonia Mountains, which were named after a mine called the Patagonia Mine by a group of Army officers who bought the mine from Mexico in 1858. The Glory Years of the mines, with the shootings, fistfights, and taverns that never closed, had the Patagonia Christians longing for a house of worship.
In 1859 a circuit rider, Reverend Tuthill, arrived in the area and began preaching the gospel along the banks of Sonoita Creek, south of the town. As time went on, circuit riders were sent through southern Arizona on a regular schedule set up by the Mission Board of the Methodist Church seated in Philadelphia.
It was not until after World War I, when some civilization settled over southern Arizona, that the origin of today’s church began. R.R. Richardson, who is considered the founder of Patagonia, donated two lots in 1920 for a church building. The church was constructed over a period of about five years. The labor and workmanship for the church construction came from the members and their friends and neighbors.
In the early 1950s, Harold Thurber, a local rancher, spearheaded a drive with his time and finances to raise funds for an addition to the church building. Thurber Hall was dedicated in 1959 and serves as an educational and community-activity building.
In 1983, a home adjacent to the church was purchased. Modifications were made to add a Thrift Shop and Pre-School. However, it soon became apparent that the property should be demolished. The new extension from Thurber Hall was completed in 1991 and includes several classrooms, bathrooms, and the Thrift Shop. The Pre-School was closed in 1989.
For many years, the focal point of the church has been the Cross at the front of the sanctuary made by Lyle Allen, once a Mayor of Patagonia, from a black oak grown in the foothills of the nearby Santa Rita Mountains. The simple beauty of the Cross leaves a lasting impression on all who see and experience it.
The Patagonia Community UMC is often referred to as The Jewel Box Church for the magnificent stained- glass windows that are reminiscent of the Bible’s Holy City where even the walls are made of jewels. Most of the windows were crafted by Jean Burger, a member of the congregation. Installation began in 1988 and was completed in 1992.
In 2010, the whole town generously rallied together their resources in order to put on a new roof inside and out which also adds to the beauty of the whole church sanctuary. This generous support continued in 2020 as the community came together once again to help put a new outside roof on Thurber Hall.
As years went by, mines in the neighboring towns closed, leaving the town of Patagonia a quiet village with most outside activity created by bird watchers coming from all over the world to record sightings of rare birds along Sonoita Creek at the edge of Patagonia.
This country church with its stained-glass windows, black oak Cross, and dedicated Christians will stand to serve this community for decades and generations to come.