It was in 1840 that the Evangelical Association first began its missionary labors as a church in Milwaukee and vicinity. Rev. John Lutz, still in the service of the Gospel. in the ranks of the Illinois Conference was at that time preacher of the Ohio Conference and served the Illinois Circuit. He was a man of youthful energy, courage and faith, and not afraid of the hardships incident to missionary work in the frontier regions. Toward the close of January, 1840, he. set out on horseback on his first trip to Milwaukee and vicinity. Upon investigation he became convinced of the desire of the German settlers to have the Gospel preached to them in the German language. He held services during the few weeks he stayed and then returned to Desplaines, Ill. At the session of the Ohio Conference in Walnut, Pickaway Co., Ohio, in May, 1840, at which Rev. J. Lutz reported the need of missionary work among the Germans of Wisconsin, he himself was appointed to the field. He undertook the long journey on horseback, safely reached his new sphere of activity and took up his labor as the first preacher of the Evangelical Association and perhaps also as the first German Protestant minister on Wisconsin soil. He found only a few members of his denomination in Milwaukee County. The family of James Martin from Pennsylvania lived in Granville Township, and a brother and sister from Canada resided in Milwaukee; one of the latter, Mrs. Stelloh, still lives in this city. In Milwaukee Rev. Lutz made the acquaintance of a well disposed American named Mr. Lowry, living on Wisconsin street, whose hospitality he shared on different occasions. Because of the want of a proper public hall in which to conduct divine services, he held them in private dwellings. The small salary did not permit the preacher to come often, or stay long in Milwaukee. Besides the church regulations required the minister to spend his time traveling, preaching, exhorting and visiting the people at their homes as much as possible. In this way he therefore spent most of his time in adjacent Townships of Greenfield, Lake and Granville, where he labored with considerable success among the German settlers to the close of the conference year.
At the Ohio Annual Conference session in May, 1841, Revs. Stroh and Christian Lintner were appointed as successors to Rev. J. Lutz in Illinois and Wisconsin. The work during the conference year as also that of the succeeding year by Rev. Frederick Wahl and G. A. Blank, was chiefly confined to country districts and praiseworthy progress is recorded in the history of the Evangelical Association in Wisconsin. In Milwaukee the work had to be confined to occasional services,. as the low ebb of the general missionary funds in the treasury did not permit the necessary appropriation of means, In order to enter upon a regular prosecution of the work.
At the Ohio Conference held in May, 1843, the Illinois district was formed, Rev. S. Baumgartner was appointed as its Presiding Elder and at the same time Milwaukee was taken up as a mission with adjoining Counties and suburbs, with Rev. Matthais Hauert, who served the field with good success, as did also Rev. Andrew Nicholai, who succeeded him the following year. Bishop John Seybert visited Milwaukee soon after this per horse and buggy. His great interest in the establishment and development of the Evangelical Association and his uninterrupted activity for its extension caused him also to give his attention to this new region. According to his good judgment he predicted a significant
future for Milwaukee.
The General Conference which met in October, 1843, formed the 11linois Annual Conference including the missionary territory of Wisconsin, and its connection with the Ohio Conference came to an end.
In Western and Central Wisconsin, the active missionary, Rev. J. G. Miller, labored in 1844 and 1845. In one of his journeys in December, 1844, he came to Milwaukee and after looking into his church needs, he soon saw the necessity of regular and continuous work in that district. Concerning this he writes, "Conditions of the many Germans in Milwaukee awakened in me serious thought as to what was to be done that we too might preach the Gospel to them. I tried to find a suitable place in which to preach, but did not succeed. I was a stranger and unknown without money and means. Through Brother Esslinger in Greenfield, I learned of a Mr. Gepfel in Milwaukee, who had been a neighbor to my father in Germany." This man an especially well known citizen among the Germans, kindly received Rev. J. G.. Miller and was helpful to him in other respects in beginning his regular church work. Thus Mr. Miller, though traveling one of the most extensive fields, from the beginning of 1845 to April, l846, visited Milwaukee pretty regularly to conduct divine services, which were held in Groening's and Gresmann's and the. Military halls, and likely at other places. At the close of the conference year he was sufficiently convinced that the Annual Conference should by all means send a preacher to Milwaukee for the furtherance of the interests of the Evangelical Association. As the Illinois Conference in its vast territory had a scarcity of men and could not fill the want in Milwaukee, Mr. Miller, with the consent of the preachers of his conference, went to the Ohio Conference on its behalf. From among the members of that body Rev. Nicholas Gehr resolved to accept the call. He was in every respect a thoroughly suitable man for the important post. In June, 1846, he came to Milwaukee with his family and entered upon his work. He held the services in a rented house, and likewise began a Sunday School which was attended by about 50 scholars. December 3rd, 1846, a society was organized and 33 members were received into church membership. To this society or congregation belonged the families Fishbach, Simon, Meinhard, Blendinger, Butzendauer, Eckhoff, Schmidt, Falkner, Zagel, Esch, Ballheimer and others. Rev. N. Gehr labored with much diligence and devotion wherein he was sympathizing assisted by his wife. Members of that time still living have to this day kept the self denying labors of that man in remembrance. The scanty salary not infrequently caused sore need for the preacher and his family. At the close of the conference year, he returned to his Ohio Conference.
At the third session of the Illinois Conference in June, 1847, held at Naperville, Ill., Rev. J. G. Miller was appointed to Milwaukee and the most important undertaking of the conference was the building of a church here.
A committee appointed by the Conference was entrusted with the erection of the structure. Most of the labor in connection with it, however, fell to the lot of the preacher stationed in Milwaukee, Rev. J. G. Miller. The acquaintance which he had formerly made greatly aided him in carrying on this work. The choice of the building lot, the southeast corner of Fourth and Cedar Streets, which by the assistance of Mr. Kilbourn, he secured for $250.00 must, according to the conditions of that time, be considered quite suitable. When the society was incorporated July, 1847, it took the name ZION CONGREGATION OF THE EVANGELICAL ASSOCIATION OF NORTH AMERICA. Its first trustees were Christian Simon, Anton Fishback, and John Esch. It was resolved to erect a brick structure 32 by 46 feet. The building contract was let and after three months and twenty days, Nov. 28, 1847, the first divine service was held in it. Lack of means by the small society, the uncommonly high rate of interest charged on borrowed money (in one case it was 33%) and other things made the progress and completion of the structure difficult. With the help of God, however, the work consummated so that Rev. J. G. Miller wrote, "The bird has found a nest."
Of the total cost of $1,400.00 scarcely one-half could be paid. Rev. J. Harlacher collected money later in other parts of the association to lift this debt, especially in Canada and the State of New York. Other succeeding ministers collected funds until the entire debt was wiped out.
January, 1848, Rev. J. G. Miller began a protracted meeting in the newly erected church, which was attended with visible results and at the close of which 34 persons united with the church. An increasing attendance upon the church services could be reported as a favorable sign of the growth of the society. In June, 1848, the year's work came to a close. Many recollections, joyful, but also sad, remained to Rev. T. G. Miller of his arduous labors in Milwaukee. On one occasion Mr. Gepfel, and he very nearly lost their lives in the Menomonee river, falling into the river with horse and buggy while crossing the bridge from Reed Street to West Water Street.
At the fourth Conference session in June, 1848, Rev. T. J. Escher was appointed to the Zion congregation. He was 25 years of age - one of the youngest men of his conference. Because of his excellent talents and adaptability to the ,office of the ministry this difficult and important charge could be entrusted to him. After a lapse of a few years, he served as Presiding Elder in the Illinois Conference, then as Editor in the Publishing House at Cleveland, Ohio, and for 38 years was Bishop of his church. He passed to his eternal reward April 16, 1901, after a very successful career.
C. A. Schnake, one of its first members later entered the itinerancy and was one of the first fruits of the Zion Congregation as a candidate for the ministry. Rev. C. A. Schnake became one of the most successful, popular, influential ministers of the Wisconsin Conference, who, uninterruptedly and with model faithfulness served for 28 years. During that time he was also Presiding Elder for several years and rendered the church valuable service in other important offices.
In 1850 Christian Hall succeeded Rev. J. J. Escher. At the seventh session in 1851 the Illinois Conference formed the Wisconsin Presiding Elder's district and the Wisconsin work was included in it. At the same session Rev. C. Augenstein was sent to the Zion Congregation where he remained one year. Rev. William Kolb succeeded him in 1852 and served likewise for one year. Cholera and small pox raged at that time and the little congregation felt the depressing effects of the epidemic. Rev; H. Ragatz had charge of the congregation in 1853 and was followed by O. Ragatz in 1854. Although young in years in the ministry, yet he was a valiant worker and attended to the duties of his office, in the pulpit, in pastoral visitation and private intercourse with the decision and fearlessness. After him in 1855 came Rev. L. Von Wald, likewise a young man, who served the congregation one year. After two years of depressive effects, the church membership again increased. In 1855 Rev. G. A. Blank was appointed Presiding Elder and served for four years. As pulpit speaker in German arid English he was considered one of the foremost in the Evangelical Association. Early, however, he had to leave the spheres of his activity, he died at the age of 42 years of typhoid fever at his home in Waukesha.
At its session in October in 1855 the General Conference organized the Wisconsin Conference, which branched off from the Illinois Conference at its twelfth session in May, 1856. At that time Rev. I. Kuter was appointed to the Milwaukee Zion Congregation and labored with much success in increasing the membership. In 1858 he was succeeded by G. Schaefer. He served the congregation till 1860 and raised the membership to 136. Until this time the congregation received aid from the General Missionary Society of the church. At the Conference in May, 1860, it was created a station, having from that time defrayed its own expenses. Rev. J. G. Escher was elected Presiding Elder for the Milwaukee district and W. F. Schneider was appointed preacher of the Zion congregation. During his one year of service, he brought the membership up to 147. Rev. Schneider later served as Agent of the Plainfield (now Northwestern College) College, then he became General Agent of the Publishing House at Cleveland, Ohio, which under his management was especially prosperous. It was deplored that he was called hence so soon. In the years 1861 to 1863 Rev. H. Huelster served the Zion congregation. Under his active and able supervision the membership was increased. Following his election to the Presiding Eldership of the Milwaukee district in 1863, Rev. Aug Huelster was appointed to serve the congregation, who after the expiration of one year was sent as Presiding Elder to the Madison district. Rev. C. F. Finger next labored one year in the congregation and was succeeded by Rev. C. H. Schnake. The latter was its preacher from 1865 to 1867 and at the close of his term of service the membership had reached 187.
The establishment of the mission at the so-called Walker's Point where some of the members of the Zion congregation resided which have early been ordered at the Conference two years previous, was carried out before the close of the conference year. A lot and chapel were purchased and a class of the Zion congregation located there. The annual session of the Wisconsin Conference in April, 1867, appointed Rev. Aug. Huelster as Presiding Elder of the Milwaukee district which he served one year. Rev. F. Huelster was sent to Jabor in the Zion congregation where he continued until 1869. They were years of joyful growth. Preparations were already made for a new enterprise-it was the erection of a new church. It was a difficult undertaking for the Wisconsin Conference, as well as for the Zion congregation and Rev. F. Kurtz had been appointed to gather funds for this purpose within the bounds of the conference district. A committee had been appointed consisting of Rev. C. A. Schnake, P. E. Henry Huelster, Peter Massueger and Fred. Huelster. To this committee were added a board of trustees of the congregation.. A lot, 50x150 was purchased on the southwest corner of Fifth and Walnut Streets, and a church edifice 4Ox75 was erected, the dedication of which was conducted by Bishop J. J. Escher on Oct. 11th, 1868. The last of the debt, however, was not liquidated until 1880. The old church property on the southeast corner of Cedar, and Fourth Streets was sold later to the A. M. E. Congregation, the funds so realized being sufficient in wiping out almost entirely the debt which had hitherto burdened the church. At the 23rd Annual Conference in 1879 Milwaukee district was supplied by Rev. L. Buehler, P. E. and at the same time Rev; T. Umbreit was sent to the Zion congregation where he served three years. At the close of his term of service, the society numbered 357 members, 114 of whom were received during the last year, through Rev. Umbreit's efforts. The Sunday School numbered 410; arrangements were made to found another mission Congregation on the corner of Twenty-first and Cherry Streets under the supervision of Rev. Umbreit. A parsonage was erected during his first year of service at the cost of $1,277.00, however, a serious accident befell the congregation Jan. 26th, 1881, by the partial burning of the church edifice causing a loss amounting to $3,000.00 which fortunately, however, was covered by insurance; so that the church was at once rebuilt and could again be opened for divine service on May 8th, 1881. By the end of October, the same year, the erection of the tower was also completed, the entire cost of which amounting to $3,565.00. Rev. Umbreit had the satisfaction at the close of his term of service, of seeing the property of the congregation entirely .free of encumbrance. A catechetical class of 22 members was organized with a Y. P. A. of 52 which organizations foster the religious life among the youth of the congregations. The conference at its 9th Annual Session in May, 1865, held at Menomonee Falls, established a mission at the so-called Walker's Point, but on account of a scarcity of men could not supply it, and it was left in charge of the preacher of the Zion congregation for a period of two years. A committee that had been appointed. consisting of Rev. C. A. Schnake, Christopher Kassner, Gustav Kassner, Julia and Adam Schnell on Nov. 28th, 1866, bought a lot on the northeast corner of Sixth Avenue and Scott Street for $625.00. On the same day they also purchased a small church edifice from the Lutheran St. Peter's Congregation for $410.00 which they moved on that lot.
On Jan. 14th, 1867, the congregation of 36 members incorporated under the name of Salem Congregation. The following were elected Trustees: Christopher Kassner, Nicholas Juliar and Gustav Kassner. On March 3, 1867, the church was dedicated by Rev. Henry Huelster, P. E., the entire cost of the enterprise amounting to $1,189.00. Soon after a parsonage was also erected at the cost of $872.00. After the expiration of seven years, the congregation had increased to such an extent that the erection of a larger church was necessary. They proceeded with the permission of conference and purchased a lot on the northwest corner of Sixth Avenue and Washington Street. They then ventured upon the building operations with the assistance of the conference, the cost of which when completed aggregated $6,849.00. Bishop J. J. Escher dedicated the church and in 1875 the old church property was sold for the sum of $1,200.00, which was used toward the erection of a parsonage. In 1887 the congregation was made self-supporting and has ever since been prosperous.
Rev. H. Uphoff became the pastor of the Zion congregation in 1888; succeeding the Rev. J. L. Runkel, and served the congregation for three years, and during this period the establishment of a new mission and the erecting of a new church on the corner of Center and Twenty-fifth Streets was planned and begun. This congregation has been a success, an today in view of the fact that the population during the last several years has been moving westward, the Ebenezer congregation is contemplating the erection of a beautiful church on the corner of Fortieth and Center Streets.
At the fifteenth Annual Session of the Wisconsin Conference, April 18th, 1871, which convened at Racine, Wis., the class on the "Green Bay Road," was detached from the Zion congregation and formed into a mission called the North Milwaukee Mission. Rev. A. Kammerer, a young man who especially distinguished himself by his eloquence took charge of the work, and on June 20th, 1871, an organization of the congregation was affected in the home of Fred, Loeffler on the Green Bay Road, and the name of Friedens Congregation of the Evangelical Association" was adopted. A building lot on the northeast corner of Green Bay Avenue and Ring Street was secured in the course of the summer under the supervision of the building committee, consisting of Rev. Adam Kammerer, Rev. Aug. Huelster, Helmuth Lichtfeld, J. Krauss and Fred Loeffler. A church edifice 28x42 feet was erected, costing $1,600.00, and was dedicated by Prof, Aug. Huelster on Oct. 23rd, 1871. The congregation progressed so rapidly, that in 1899, it became necessary to erect a more adequate structure in order to accommodate the ever growing membership, This work was carried out under the pastorate of Rev. Peter Speich, and the building was erected on the northwest corner of Third Street and Concordia Avenue at a cost of $9.,727.00, including lot. The parsonage adjoining likewise", as erected at a cost of $3,419.00, both projects free of encumbrance.
On March 17th, 1886, the Bethel congregation was incorporated, a lot was purchased at a cost of $500.00 and a building erected costing $805.00. The church was dedicated May 11th, 1884, by Bishop J. J. Escher. The congregation progressed nicely, and in 1897 it became necessary to erect a more modern building to provide more adequate quarters. The present church building was then erected at a cost of $7,002.00.
In 1908 the Wisconsin Conference saw the advisability of locating a mission at Layton Park, for this community was growing rapidly. A neat little church building was erected at the cost of $4,431.00 toward which the conference contributed $2,000.00. This work was begun under the leadership of Rev. C. W. Schlueter. This locality is proving to be a fruitful field and is presently under the experienced leadership of Rev. John Nickel.See also the History of the Evangelical Church
See also Freiden's Church History
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