This is the history of our church as taken from a document written in the late 1930’s
A congregation of Lutherans existed as early as 1828, served by Rev. John Wint€];’ ot the Smithfield Charge. This congregation worshipped in the Old Free Church, which was subsequently burned, and a Protestant Episcopal Church was built on its site. This little band having no church property of their own and no shepherd to guide and protect them dissolved.
The Rev. T.P. Smeltzer, by recommendation of the Maryland Synod on October 12, 1848, came to Harpers Ferry “in search of the scattered of our Lutheran Zion.” Mrs. Susannah Wentzel was the only remaining member of this little flock when he arrived. (The Rev. LA. Geiss of Shepherdstown was invited in 1843 to form a congregation, but did not accept.)
On January 14, 1849, in the Presbyterian Church on Shenandoah Street (the old bakery), Rev. Smeltzer preached his first sermon and invited all Lutherans to remaIn after the service, but no one remained. On two occasions his appeal to organize met with the same result. However, it was after Rev. Smeltzer’s stirring message from Jeremiah 8:22 on February 18, 1849, in a crowded schoolroom (Nunemaker place, later the Holmes property) in Bolivar that the Lutherans remained and the congregation was organized. Its first officers were Martin Eichelberger, George W. Berry, Henry Rhul, and Thomas Landerkin. Within three weeks its membership reached thirty, principally those already confirmed by Lutheran pastors.
Since the schoolroom was very inadequate for their needs they resolved /I to build for the service of God, a house of worship to be called The Evangelical Lutheran Christ’s Church of Harpers Ferry, Virginia.” Many difficulties faced them, but in spite of these, plans were made for the erection of the church edifice. The corner stone WClS laid on April 30, 1850. The Odd Fellows, Sons of Temperance, and the Red Men were present in full regalia. Rev. G.c. Culler offered prayer, Rev. S.W. Harkey delivered the address, and Rev. Smeltzer laid the stone and deposited the names of the officers and members, a hymn book containing the constitution, a U.s. coin, and constitutions of the different Orders presen.f. The collection lifted on the occasion amounted to $214.50. The church edifice was completed at the cost of $3692 and dedicated on August 1, 1852 by T.G.
Morris of Baltimore, Maryland.
The land upon which the church was built and a lot adjoining were given by the Federal Government (the deed was signed February 21, 1850 by William Bellknap, Secretary of War), but at no time was it financially possible to build a parsonage. As early as 1854 the council asked Jefferson Davis, then Secretary of War, permission to use the parsonage lot as a congregational cemetery, but the request was refused. Eventually the land for the cemetery was purchased from Messrs. Cavalier and Froggert.
It was hardly a decade after the dedication of the new church until services were discontinued due to the Civil War, and the building was taken over by the U.S. Government and used as a hospital. The marks can still be seen where the walls were shattered by a canon ball fired troIn Maryland Heights. As a result of the war, services were not held in the church until 1869. Even then the congregation could not support a pastor and make the necessary repairs, so the council agreed to finish the basement as a schoolroom, and the money from the same was to be applied to the pastor’s salary.
The congregation had its good and its bad season. Several times it was impossible to support itself and had to depend on the Home Mission Board. In calling pastors from time to time, the congregation united with other congregations, namely St. Paul’ 8, Loudon County, Locust Grove, Weverton, and Brunswick.
Toward the close of the century, the congregation flourished and became one of the strongest in the town with a growing Sunday school, an active ladies organization, and a full choir (in the balcony) consisting of about twenty members. On many occasions the church was filled to the doors, but in the early part of the present century a division grew in the congregation and the church was closed (1908). It remained closed for twenty years and many of its members drifted away or united with other churches.
What seemed to be a hopeless situation to many, was to a faithful few, a season of growing anxiety for the old church that led eventually to the re-opening of her doors. Rev. Hesse, a former pastor, suggested the reopening of the church, and urged Mrs. Mina J. Rau to call the Lutherans together. Rev. Hesse volunteered to conduct the services, which were held in the home of Mrs. Rau and later in the Jonadab Hall (now the morgue). Due to the courage and determination of the few remaining Lutherans the congregation was re-organized and the church edifice re-opened on July 8, 1928. Those who were members at the time of the re-opening were Julia Ruhl, Mina J. Rau, Mrs. Roeder, Goldie Noland, Catherine Myers, Bertha Jones, Daisy Show, Julia Sponseller, Mamie Marquette, Allen Dinkle, Richard Loman, Chas. Rau, and Chas. B. Wentzell.
The Lutheran Church was liThe Mother Church” to many people who cooperated in the re-opening. It was necessary to borrow $1100 to repair and renovate the building, which had fallen into decay.
The ministers present at the re-opening and re-dedication services were: Rev. Byers, D.D., Pres. of Synod; Rev. William A. Wade, D.D., Sec. of Synod; Rev. Frederick R. Wagner, pastor at Martinsburg; and Rev. Fred R. Seibel, student pastor of the congregation. Those baptized at the service were Anna Oram, Peggy Oram, and Joseph K. Mauzy.
The congregation was served six years by student pastors, who remained with the congregation during the summers, and supplied the pulpit on Sundays, only, during the other seasons of the year. In May 1934, st. John’s Trinity near Martinsburg, and St. Paul’s at Neersville, Virginia, became one charge by consent of the Maryland Synod, and extended a call to the present pastor, Rev. E. Koontz Helwig.
For the past ten years the Sunday school and congregation have been steadily growing and enlarging their field of endeavor. The Sunday school, which was organized by Rev. Speck in 1929, with about one dozen members, now numbers eighty. The congregation of thirteen has gradually increased to twenty-nine. The Luther League, organized in September 1934, consisting of twenty young people, played a very active role for two years. This year appears to be a record breaking year for attendance in both the Sunday school and the cngregation, which can be partly attributed to Class organizations and the Honor Roll System used in the Sunday school. With the increase in numbers it is felt that the congregation had manifested an active spiritual life.
Surely it is fitting to recall the enduring Grace and Inspiration of God, the early efforts of the founders, and the courage and faith of those who have taken up the work so nobly begun ninety years ago. “Other men labored, and ye are entered into their labors”.
PASTORS OF THE CONGREGATION
Rev. T.P. Smeltzer 1848-1859
Rev. L.J. Bell 1860
Rev. J.I. Miller 1861
Rev. Wm. S. McClanahan 1869
Rev. Webster Eichelberger 1869-1873
Rev. J.M. Friday 1873-1877
Rev. Martin L. Young 1877
Rev. George W. Crist 1877-1879
Rev. Isaac W. Bobst 1879-1880
Rev. Charles S. Trump 1881-1883
Rev. JS. Heilig 1884-1885
Rev. L.P. Scherer 1885-1888
Rev. William Hesse 1889-1890
Rev. C.H. Rockey 1895-1899
Rev. C.W. Hess 1899-1905
Rev. William Hesse 1928
Rev. Fred R. Seibel 1928
Rev. Paul DeLauter 1929
Rev. J.E. Mauer 1930
Rev. Bradley T. Gaver 1931
Rev. Harold L. Harm 1932,1933
Rev. E. Koontz Helwig 1934 –