ST. PAUL’S LUTHERAN CHURCH
Undated but appears to be about 1953
LIST OF PASTORS THAT SERVED ST. PAUL’S
John Peter Muhlenburg (1772). No parish record, but other historical records indicate presence here.
John Christopher Hartwick, Itinerant Minister
Heinrich Muller (1775 – administered communion)
Carl Friederick Wildbahn (1776 – baptisms and communion)
Christian Streit (1785-1812)
Abraham Reck (1813-1824)
J. Nicholas Schmucher (1824-1854) German Pastor
William Godfrey Keil (1824-1826) English Pastor
John B. Davis (1834-1843) English Pastor
John F. Campbell (1843-1849)
Levi Keller (1849-1860)
J. A. Snyder (1860-1865)
William Rusmiesel (1866-1869)
George A. Long (1869-1871)
John F. Campbell (1872-1876) Second pastorate
James Willis (1877-1882)
Luther Leigh Smith (1822-1911)
John W. Link (1911-1918)
R. Homer Anderson (1919-1922)
George S. Bowden (1922-1929)
Charles F. Steck (1929-1930)
Floyd B. Lingle (1931-1949)
George M. Smith (1949- )
ENTERED THE MINISTRY FROM ST. PAUL’S
Young men who have entered the Ministry from St. Paul’s are as follows;
E. E. Sibole, D.D.
J. L. Sibole
L M. Sibole
Thurston O. Keister, D.D.
Wright Gatewood Campbell
Charles J. Smith, D.D.
G. Morris Smith, D.D.
John D. Keister
ST. PAUL’S CHRUCH PREPARES FOR GREATER SERVICE
For more than two centuries St. Paul’s Lutheran Church has served the people of Strasburg and community. Throughout these years the church has ministered to thousands of communicants and friends, and the Sunday school has thought the great Bible stores and the Christian way of life to thousands of children, youth and adults.
Our Church Planted by Early Settlers
The exact date of the organization of the Lutheran Church in Strasburg is not known. However, there was a church building in the village as early as 1747, which was apparently used by both the Lutheran and Reformed congregations. The area was sparsely settled at that early date and neither denomination could support a resident minister. Joist Hite had brought the first settler, consisting of 16 families, into the lower Shenandoah Valley just fifteen years earlier in 1732, so it is safe to say that our church came with the first settlers. Rev. John Casper Stoever, Jr., of this area, baptized sixteen grandchildren of Joist Hite during his nine annual journeys (1734-42) into the then Valley wilderness. At present there are a number of substantial homes in this area which were built by the sons, sons-in-law and grandsons of Joist Hite: “Springdale” north of Stephens City, “Long Meadows” and Belle Grove” just east and north of Strasburg. Three of Joist Hite’s daughters and sons-in-law also lived nearby: the Fromans at Marlboro, the Crismans at Valcluse, and the famous Bowman family at “Harmony Hall” on Cedar Creek just east of Strasburg. So it is not surprising that here were sixteen Hite grandchildren to be baptized by the Rev. Mr. Stoever.
Muhlenburg Among Early Minister to Serve Our Congregation
A second log church was erected in 1769 in the center of our lot not occupied by the west end of our new educational building. This structure was approximately 40 x 50 feet, and contained galleries at either end and on the south side. Just above the front door in the gallery was placed the pipe organ which tradition says, was purchased in Germany, and our records show was hauled form Baltimore to Strasburg by wagon. Numerous ministers from Pennsylvania, Hebron Church in Madison County, Winchester and other points ministered to the members of St. Paul’s from time to time, as did undoubtedly the patriot-preacher, Rev. John Peter Gabriel Muhlenburg, who resided at Woodstock and who delivered there just prior to the Revolutionary War his famous sermon, “There is a time to every purpose under Heaven, a time of war and a time of peace.”
Early Community School Conducted by Our Congregation
There is much evidence that the first community school in Strasburg was organized and conducted by our church. Our records show that, bills for the operation of the school were paid by the congregational treasurer, and that the school was housed in a stone building constructed on a lot owned by the church. The old stone building is long since gone but it is known that it stood on the site of the colored Methodist Church on Queen Street, which was then the main street of the village. In 1847 Rev. John F. Campbell and Councilmen Isaac Hurn, George J. Grove, Peter Darr, John Supinger, John F. Balthis and George M. Sonner sold the old school property to one Jacob Miller for $187.50. For a time Miller used the stone building for a carpenter or wagon shop. The deed to Miller describes the property as adjoining the Old Graveyard and the plantation of Abraham Crabill and near the Joseph Stover plantation. The deed to the trustees of the colored congregation states that the property conveyed was known as the “Old School House” lot.
Simon Harr, Schoolmaster and Active Churchman
There are numerous references in our records in the 1770-90 period to the parish and community school; and one of the early, if not the first schoolmaster, as teachers were know in those days, was Simon Harr. It is of record that Harr taught school in Strasburg as early as 1763. During the long period when Staufferstadt (Stovertown now Strasburg) was very small, when the church could not acquire nor afford a resident minister, and was served occasionally by itinerant pastors, Harr, besides teaching school, was responsible for much of the spiritual life and growth of our congregation. He was an authorized catechist; the historian Wayland gives him credit for performing 368 weddings between March 1781 and august 1796. He buried the dead, and he read many sermons to the congregation. Harr kept in close contact with Rev. Henry Melchoir Muhenburg of Philadelphia, the patriarch of the Lutheran Church in America and father of Rev. John Peter Gabriel Muhlenburg of Woodstock. Some of Marr’s letters to the elder Muhlenburg are extant.
Some Early Church Records Were Controversial.
The known records of St. Paul’s Church date back to 1769 and for fifty-five years these records were inscribed in German, as that was the common language of the early settlers of this section of the Valley. The historian Kercheval says German was the common language in this are as late as 1833. Many of the early entries are most interesting and some of them controversial. They tell of members being tried by the Church Council and then disciplined or suspended for misconduct. They tell of financial dealings with J. Heit and Peter Stauffer (Stover), the latter the founder of Strasburg. They tell of a division in the congregation when some members wanted the services conducted in English and others wanted the German language used exclusively, and later tell of a reconciliation by the two groups. For a number of years two ministers were employed; one served the German element in the congregation and the other conducted services in English.
Lord Fairfax Gave Farm Land to Congregation
In 1771 Lord Fairfax gave by grant 200 acres of land to the elders of St. Paul’s Church, namely Heironomus Baker, Martin Roller, Laurence Snapp and Henry Felkner. This property then became known as the “glebe” or church farm and was operated as such until 1843. At that time the congregation authorized three of its elder, Isaac Hurn, Isaac Baker and Adam Keister, Sr. to sell the property. This required a special act of the Virginia Legislature. The farm was sold for $1,570.34 ˝ to the Hon. Wright Gatewood then owner of the property now known as the Campbell farm at Capon Road. However, Gatewood wanted only the water from three springs on the “glebe” so he soon sold the church property retaining the water rights. The “glebe” has since changed hands numerous times and most of it is now owned by Mr. And Mrs. Curtis Vann. At this time water is still piped from the “glebe” springs to the Campbell home. (The Wright Gatewood – Campbell house was located at the south bound I-81 and route 55 exit and was torn down about 1985).
First Brick Church Erected in 1844
In 1844 the third structure used by the congregation was erected while Rev. John F. Campbell was serving his first pastorate. The money secured from the sale of the farm represented a considerable part of the cost of the new church. This was a brick building and was located on the site of our present church home. However, the appointments and appearance of the original brick church must have been quite different from that of today. In front there was a long and wide porch with steps the full length of the porch. On the inside was the inevitable balcony of the early churches. The windows much have been of plain glass. Miss Lucy Ludwig, long time Sunday school teacher and organist in our church and now eighty-three years old, remembers the first brick church. She says each end of the porch was enclosed. A stairway in the enclosure on the right led to interior balcony, and in the enclosure on the left was kept the funeral bier. Mr. James H. Campbell, son of the Rev. Mr. Campbell mentioned above, in writing the author of this sketch, described the interior of the first brick church. Mr. Campbell is not in his eight-fourth year and retains a very remarkable memory. He says the earlier brick structure had two front doors and two aisles. There was a center block of pews with a low partition running down the middle of the church. It was the custom then for the women to sit on one side of this partition and the men of the other. Then there was a row of short pews against the wall on either side, but these were broken in the middle of the auditorium to make room for two large wood stoves. On either side of the chancel there were four long pews placed at right angel to the other pews, which were known as the Amen Corner.” In the rear of the church, between the two doors, there was a platform about three feet high for the organ and choir and above it the balcony.
War Brought Almost Total Destruction to Church
Then came the War Between the States.
Then came the War Between the States. In those dread years there must have been little activity and few services in the church. For a time it was used as an army hospital, then as a Federal arsenal, and after the pews were converted into coffins and the windows were out, it served as a stable for army horses. There was no basement under the building. In 1866 the congregation was reorganized and the renovation of the church discussed. Following the rededication service held on May 12, 1867, this revealing entry appears in the church minutes:
“This being the day set apart for rededicating the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Strasburg, it having been torn to pieces and defaced by the fiendish hand of the Union Army, rendering it necessary to have it entirely made new, so far as the woodwork was concerned.”
Mr. Ward Keller says that his grandparents, the late Mr. And Mrs. Thomas Fitzsimmons, who for years were prominent members of our church, told him that at least a hundred soldiers died in our church while it was used as an army hospital and that these soldiers were buried in the graveyard nearby, most of them in individual graves each with wooden markers. After the war many of the bodies were moved to distant points by relatives.
Present Church with Tower and Cross Erected in 1893
As the individuals, years were required for the congregation to recuperate from the ravages of war. By 1893 the need was great for a more inspiring and lager house of worship. Our present church was then erected under the leadership of Dr. L. Smith then pastor. It is the fourth building used by the congregation since it was organized. It is known that Dr. Smith was instrumental in getting indemnity from the Federal Government for war damage to our church, but the records are not clear as to the amount. Some of the older people think the sum received was $1500, but, whatever the amount, the money was used in the erection of our present house of worship. Miss Lucy Ludwig says Dr. Smith, in making his claim for indemnity, used as witnesses several of the then elderly ladies of the town who had served as nurses during the war. No doubt many of the women of the community served as nurses, as both the Presbyterian and Lutheran churches were used as hospitals, but Miss Lucy remembers three serving as war damage witnesses, namely; Mrs. John (Catherine Yost) Rogers, Sr., Mrs. John M. (Rebecca Hurn) Spengler, and Miss Annette Borum. In 1921 a sizable addition with balcony was built to the rear of our church and has since been used by the Primary Department of the Sunday School. In 1928 the basement under the church auditorium was excavated and has since been used for occasional social gatherings and for Sunday school classes. At the same time a steam heating plant was installed. From early days and up until about the turn of the last century, it was the custom to toll our church bell as soon as news was received of the death of a member. Each stroke of the bell represents a year in the age of the deceased.
Blest with Ability to Meet Financial Obligations
St. Paul’s has indeed had a rich past – rich in history, rich in association with the church at large, and rich in usefulness and service to its members, its friends, and the community of Strasburg. Our congregation is perhaps the strongest in any of the small towns in the Lutheran Synod of Virginia. Our Sunday school is one of the largest of any denomination in Shenandoah County. In recent years we have met in full every financial request made by the Synod or by the United Lutheran Church, including a greatly increased benevolent apportionment, Lutheran World Action, Christian Higher Education Appeal, etc., etc. Our average attendance at Sunday worship service per Sunday for the year 1952 was 240, and the average Sunday school attendance for the same period was 248. Our total collection for all purposes during 1952 were $20,211,68, which is approximately four times the total amount given by the members of the congregation fifteen years ago. On of our greatest blessings has been a wholesome spirit of cooperation and loyalty. Free from divisions and rivalries, our members have displayed a desire to accept their congregational responsibilities and at the same time prepare for the future.
And What of Our Obligation to Present and Future!