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Gateway to the Mountains

George Wireman

Chapter 14: St. John's Lutheran Church

Apple's Church has always been accepted by St. John's Lutheran Church of Thurmont as its mother church, and a daughter of the Monocacy Congregation. The Apple's Church was organized in 1760 and its ownership was joint between the Lutheran and Re-formed congregations.

Peter Apple, from whom the church derived its name, arrived here from Germany in 1717. He married Maria Catherine Henckle, a daughter of the eldest preacher in America, who also came over in 1717. A few years later he brought Conrad Matthews over as a redemptioner, who having earned his freedom, later married Apple's daughter. No later than 1729 they moved to Maryland and settled on the farm just east of the present Apple's church.

Mr. Apple owned a large tract of land containing 1800 acres, much of which he gradually sold. He gave his son-in-law, Conrad Matthews, the farm now known as the "Simmers farm" on which was built one of the first log houses. In this house, about 1750, the first worship services were held.

A great influx of Germans had arrived by this time and evidently some of these, together with others coming North from the divided Monocacy Congregation joined those worshipping in the log house.

Peter Apple, realizing the urgent need for an organized congregation, deeded an acre of land, March 19, 1760, to Matthias Ambrose, Jacob Matthews and Jacob Ambrose, trustees, for the use of a church, schoolhouse and cemetery. The school and a dwelling were the first buildings on these grounds, and the schoolmaster taught on weekdays and conducted worship services on Sundays. The first church building was of substantial log construction and was erected in 1770 slightly south of the present stone church.

A deed of trust for the lawful use of the church was given December 26, 1768 to Martin Dustman and Henry Feurure, trustees

of the Lutheran and Reformed congregations, respectively, and was to be used specifically for worship services of both churches. The church was not formally organized until April 15, 1770, and Jacob Weymer became the first Reformed minister, while Philip Mathews, one of Peter Apple's grandsons, was the first Lutheran pastor.

The congregation enjoyed a steady growth in membership as well as in spiritual edification. The church building had been enlarged and later repaired, but the time soon came when a new and larger structure was needed.

The cornerstone of the original stone church was inscribed, April 13, 1826, and the construction of this church had begun under the auspices of the Rev. J. G. Grubb. It was a one room structure and had a high pulpit, gallery and two tiers of windows.

Apple's was now one of the strongest churches in this section, and had some of the ablest preachers of the time. The sermons were preached solely in German until 1830, then alternated for a few years between German and English, then all English was adopted.

In the period from 1770 to 1857, Mechanicstown grew in population to such an extent that the Lutherans felt the need of building a church closer to their membership. Consequently, in 1857, the congregation left Apple's Church.

Lutheran Ministers who served the congregation at Apple's were: Rev. Rodenlaub, Rev. D. F. Schaffer, Rev. A. M. Haas, Rev. J. G. Grubb, Rev. Michael Wachter, Rev. S. W. Harkey, Rev. Reuben Weiser, Rev. J. J. Remensnyder, Rev. J. Richards, Rev. C. W. Anderson and Rev. William Hunt.

It was during the pastorate of Rev. Hunt, that the Lutherans built a splendid structure on their present location and dedicated the church in the spring of 1858.

The Mechanicstown Lutheran Church was of brick and stone and the peak of the roof was fifty feet high and supported an imposing tower of thirty feet located on the top of the front gable. The tower proved to be a landmark and was clearly visible from all approaches leading into town.

The lighting consisted of two large octagon shaped oil burning chandeliers suspended from the ceiling and mounted with 16 wide ornated frosted globes, always spotlessly clean and well filled ready for immediate service; thanks to the most conscientious sexton, Mr. Monza Stull. Wall bracket lamps were used on the side walls and

in the balcony where the choir was located. Later, the chandeliers were sold to the United Brethren Church at Lantz and replaced with electric lamps.

Rev. William Hunt, who accompanied the 215 members from Apple's Church to Mechanicstown, had begun his pastorate at Apple's in 1856 and apparently the new church project was his fore-most desire. His efforts were very effective in bringing the project to fruition. Much of the history of Pastor Hunt is not available, other than during his remaining years in Mechanicstown there were 80 infant baptisms, 25 marriages were solemnized and 49 members confirmed.

The first church council in Mechanicstown was elected on September 28, 1856 and included Washington A. Bennet, Henry Black, Peter Buzzard as Elders; and David Damuth and John S. Pennel, Deacons. These men were able and willing leaders and proved through succeeding years most valuable laymen. Others who served as councilmen during the pastorate of Rev. hint were Henry Richer. John Rouzer, Frederick White, John Gilbert, Joseph Webster, Mar-tin Rouzer and John H. Polly. These men were recognized as being outstanding businessmen and among the most prominent citizens of the community and of the country as well. In war and in peace, in social, political, civic affairs and in matters spiritual, theirs was a life of service.

Rev. Samuel Curtis succeeded Pastor Hunt. The new church was now completed, well organized, a new constitution adopted and the indebtedness on the church considerable reduced. Rev. Curtis spent four years in the charge and resigned in 1886.

He was succeeded by Rev. John Unruh who served the congregation well until September 27, 1870, when he tendered his resignation.

Rev. John J. Summers accepted the call to Mechanicstown in 1871 and found that the four parish charge was a strenuous assignment, and even though his parishioners were faithful and attentive and the relationship between pastor and people was good, certain circumstances occurred which led Rev. Summers to resign on January 1. 1877.

A call was then extended to Rev. W. C. Wire of Burkettsville, Maryland who preached on several occasions, but he declined the call. Later in the year a second call was extended to Rev. Wire

which he accepted. He became the minister of the Lutheran congregation on October 1, 1877 and served the charge well for ten years.

During his term many improvements were made the Sunday school room was enlarged, new pulpit and chancel, reading desk, baptismal font and new windows installed. The grounds in front of the church were improved and a fence erected. Various societies were organized, among them the Mite Society and the Missionary Society. Rev. Wire resigned on June 25, 1887 to accept a call to St. Paul's Church in Littlestown, Pennsylvania.

In 1887 Rev. J. H. Barb became pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church. In July 1889, a publication entitled "Church and Home" was published as a Lutheran monthly which set forth the events and helpful guidance for the two congregations, namely Mcchanicstown and Rocky Ridge.

Following the resignation of Rev. Barb in 1896, Rev. Arthur Bredenbeck accepted the call and remained for two years. He was succeeded by Rev. W. S. Metzger in 1899. Rev. Metzger was a sedate, diplomatic man, and worked patiently and hard to Liquidate a small indebtedness with which the congregation was encumbered prior to his arrival. Much was accomplished despite adverse conditions. The membership continued to increase, necessary repairs were made to the church roof, the indebtedness reduced, a new service hymnal adopted and efforts made to obtain the necessary funds to purchase the hymnals. These were but a few of the many benefits derived from his pastorate. It was during his pastorate that St. Mark's of Sabillasville was added to the Thurmont charge.

Rev. Charles E. Keller served the congregation from 1903 to 1906 and during his pastorate consideration was given to plans for rebuilding or remodeling the original church building.

In 1906, following a congregational meeting, a call was extended to Rev. Marlin Luther Beard of Middletown who accepted and began his duties on September 1, 1906. His pastorate was a very active one and as was mentioned before, a movement was already in process for rebuilding or remodeling the church.

Pastor Beard very ably took over the leadership in making the necessary arrangements. Committees were appointed, plans presented, finance considered and finally the congregation decided to remodel the existing structure and authorized the council to proceed with the work. The building committee was composed of Chambers I. Creeger, Col. John R. Rouzer, Peter N. Hammaker, Leonard R. Waesche, Grayson C. Weddle, and Lester S. Birely. The plans submitted by L. R. Waesche were accepted, and the remodeling program started immediately after Easter, 1909.

During the remodeling, services were held in the Town Hall. Work proceeded rapidly and the church was rededicated on Sun-day, September 4, 1910. Rev. Beard died in 1916 and he was succeeded by Rev. W. C. Waltemyer of Butler. Pennsylvania who was installed on April 30, 1916.

Rev. Waltemyer's ministry was brief and World War I brought an urgent appeal front the church to serve as a chaplain in the U. S. Army. He tendered his resignation but the council refused to accept it and issued a leave of absence instead, to be in effect as long as he remained in the military service.

During his absence, the church was fortunate in obtaining the services of Dr. A. R. Wentz of the Gettysburg Seminary as supply pastor.

Rev. Waltemyer returned to the church in 1918 and served it well until January 1, 1923 when he accepted a call to Epiphany Lutheran Church in Washington, D. C.

The Rev. James A. Brosius of Bedford, Pennsylvania became the next pastor. He was energetic, vital, friendly and possessed an abundance of that gift for group leadership which the growing congregation so desperately needed at the time. Rev. Brosius left St. John's in May 1927.

The aftermath of World War I was still keenly felt in the effect that it had on the economy of our country. The ravages of the years were beginning to show. For some time the church experienced deficits in the congregations finances. More than one third of the membership was unable to meet their obligations. It was during this period when the Rev. Charles H. Corbett came to Thurmont from Linthium Heights, Baltimore. He was installed on January 15, 1928.

In honor of the tenth anniversary of Rev. Corbett's ministry in Thurmont, special services were held on November 28, 1937. During this year, the exterior of the church was painted by several lay-men of the church. The work was done by George Fox, Newton

I. Fisher, Frank Weller, and Merle Saylor. With the exception of Mr. Saylor, these men were over 70 years old at the time and did a most remarkable job.

It was felt necessary in 1938 to provide additional space for the Sunday school and plans for expansion and its financing were approved by the congregation on May 10, 1939. The council was authorized to erect an educational building, adding it to the west end of the church building, which included four additional class-rooms for the Beginners, Primary and Junior Departments of the Sunday school, and a large basement. The kitchen was also renovated and re-equipped.

In 1940, the Corillonic tower chimes and amplifying system, donated in memory of Barbara Ellen and Grayson Curtis Weddle, by their children, were installed. The Westminster Chime Clock was installed in 1942, and was a gift from Miss Linnie McGuigan.

Rev. Corbett served the congregation for 29 years, and retired on November 31, 1956. In honor of his many faithful years of service, the congregation elected Rev. Corbett as Pastor Emeritus.

On November 18, 1956, Rev. Eugene R. McVicker became the Lutheran minister in Thurmont and served the church until September 30, 1959, when he resigned to take up duties in a specialized field.

Through the efforts of the pulpit committee, composed of Calvin Lohr, Howard R. Damuth, Samuel Birely and David Stirling, the congregation was able to obtain a young minister who had been out of Seminary only two years. Rev. William E. Ervin, Jr., who came to Thurmont from the North Carroll Parish of Lineboro, Maryland, took up his duties at St. John's and St. Mark's on May 1st, 1960.

Under the leadership of Rev. Ervin, conditions in the Sunday school were improved and the church has moved forward in many ways. Rev. Ervin feels that the church must now look to the future. This presents a great challenge to the youth of the congregation. To them is given the church which has been passed on to the present generation by our fathers. It is their heritage from the past. May it remain an inspiration throughout the years to come.

Today, St. John's Lutheran Church of Thurmont is a member of the Lutheran Church in America and has contributed much to community life in Thurmont.

Chapter Index | Chapter 15: Western Maryland Railway Company

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