History of Immanuel Lutheran Church of Lebanon

Compiled by Marilyn Koepsell

The Pomeranians and Oderbruechers (from Brandenburg, Germany) who settled in Lebanon in the fall of 1843 left their native homelands for religious freedom. The Pomeranians were overwhelmingly Lutheran since the time of the Reformation. Johannes Bugenhagen, Martin Luther’s friend, was sent by Luther in 1536 to Pomerania to convert it to Lutheranism. Pomerania had been Catholic since 1124. Pomerainia followed the Peace of Augsburg of 1555 whereas the ruler of the country dictated the religion. Lutherans followed the writings of Martin Luther and the confessions of the Church as contained in the Book of Concord of 1580. Pomerania became a Duchy of Prussia after 1637 and the confessional Lutherans henceforth were directly affected by the reign of the King.

The Oderbuecher settlers of Lebanon were direct descendants of confessional Lutherans forced out of Catholic German areas in 1588 to Salzburg and other parts of Europe. Years later, the Catholic archbishop demanded emigration in 1731 for all those who refused to become Catholics. Again those confessional Lutherans moved; to Lithuania in the 1730’s, South Carolina in 1734, Georgia in 1741 and by invitation of King Frederick the Great in 1747, to the reclaimed Oder River lowlands. The area had been drained at the bend of the river and converted to farmland. “Bruch” in German signified lowlands, and these Salzburg exiles became farmers in the Oderbuch.

The Lutheran and Reformed (Zwingli and Calvin) churches existed side by side in Prussia. They dictated important civil responsibilities such as control of marriages, registration of births, and burials. Good standing in a congregation was important for every inhabitant of the country. Frederick the Great did not favor either of the two confessions. However, his descendant King Frederich Wilhelm III, forced the two to merge. By royal proclamation to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the reformation , on September 27, 1817, the King declared a Prussian State Church (Evangelical). The King was Calvanist and his wife was Lutheran. The reformed Calvanist Church has little use for Lutherans. The ministers of both churches were state officials and were bound to obey their king. All pastors and teachers were paid by the government. In 1821, a new order of service for both churches was issued and on June 25, 1830 it became a law.

The movement to adhere to the Bible and Lutheran Confessions began in Silesia. The opposition to the State Church was led in 1830 by Dr. Gottfried Scheibel, Professor at the University of Breslau, and continued by Dr. Philipp Huschke, a fellow church leader and Dr. of Laws at Breslau. Their followers held religious services in homes, withdrew their children from schools and called themselves “Old Lutherans”. By 1831, the Lutheran doctrine and practices became illegal.

Dr. Huschke in Breslau became the author of the constitution of the Independend Breslau Synod in Apirl 1834. This constitution set up a board (Oderkirshen-Collegium) with Dr. Huschke as Director to supervise pastors and congregations. This board would rule according to resolutions passed by the synod which met every four years. Rev. Wilhelm Ehrenstrom from the Oderbruch objected, stating that in matters pertaining to doctrine and life only the Word of God should decide. (This was the final reason Lebanon settlers came, in addition to the joining of the two churches).

Everyone who went to the April 1834, meeting was imprisioned and confessional Lutheran pastors were suspended from office. They moved from villages to villages at night using the password “Unknown and yet unknown” (Unbekann tund doch fekannt), and one step ahead of the police. Once the King sent 800 troops to stop a worship service. Later, forty pastors were imprisoned. People were fined, many losing all their earthly goods. By 1835, they started to emigrate, most of them of the lower classes in rural areas and small towns.

They needed exit permits from the authorities. They left in groups to settle together in the US. First in small numbers in 1835 from Silesia, then in 1837 from Pomerania to New York, in 1838 from Silesia, a few to America, many to Australia. In 1839 over 1200 left to America, settling in Buffalo, NY and Freistadt, WI, under the leadership of Captain Heinrich von Rohr (formerly in the Prussian army), Rev. Johann A.A. Grabau from Magdeburg, Province of Saxony, and Rev. Leberecht F.E. Krause from Silesia, Rev von Rohr and Rev. Grabau both had been imprisoned for their Lutheran beliefs.

By 1842, families from the Oderbruch wanted to emigrate because the Breslau Synod was forcing them to accept the new liturgy. By 1843, Wilhelm Woltmann and Wilhelm Setzkorn were sent to Pomerania to coordinate with Rev. Adolf Kindermann and Heinrich von Rohr the departures for America for over 1600 persons. Ships began leaving on May 28, 1843, from Pomerania and the Oderbruch. The group of Oderbruechers traveled at night to avoid being seen. Ships continued to leave at intervals in June and July and arrivals in NY were from July 22 to Sept. 12, 1843. Well-to-do families contributed to a fund used by poorer families.

The route from New York was: 150 miles on steamboats up the Hudson River to Albany NY; then on packet boats on the Erie Canal to Buffalo, NY, for the next 350 miles. Some stayed in Buffalo and the others went on sailing ships through the Great Lakes to Milwaukee, Territory of Wisconsin. The Pomeranians came early to Milwaukee about August 15, 1843 and waited for three weeks for the first group of Oderbruechers who arrived September 6 & 7, 1843. The men in these early groups left their families in Milwaukee and walked to Lebanon on an Indian Trail through dense forest. Von Rohr had already made arrangements for land purchases in this area. The first group left Milwaukee on September 21 and arrived seven days later on Sept. 28, 1843, traveling through Pipersville to Lebanon. The second group arrived in Lebanon October 6, 1843. The third group arrived in Milwaukee on Oct. 5, 1843 and didn’t get to Lebanon until November of 1843. 

The early arrivals slept out in the open until with the help of the Indians, they built wigwams and log huts. The men who came first went back a month later to bring the rest of their families out to Lebanon. The third and last group did not retrieve their families from Milwaukee until December of 1843.

According to Johann H. Moldenhauer, Sr. who was twelve in 1843, the first church service was held outside under the oak trees in a field west of Rock Hill. Six miles away in Watertown, English speaking residents came to see who was singing so loud and found the German speaking settlers. They showed them the road to Watertown. At that time Watertown had about 200 persons.

The Pomeranians settled around old Lebanon, and Oderbruechers went to the east of Lebanon to the marshland called Sugar Island (Zucker Insel). It was so named because of the sugar maple trees there. They paid for the land with gold and silver. In October, on Reformation Day, Rev Kindermann preached the first sermon, also under the oak trees in the open air. Another early worship service was held in the home of Joachim Krueger and then for a whole year in the home of Johann Korth by laymen. Every six weeks Rev. Kindermann was picked up and taken back to Cedarburg by ox team. 

Rev. Kindermann served Immanuel until September 1844. The first funeral was in 1844 for Sophie Moldenhauer, age 12, the twin of Johann H. Moldenhauer, Sr., and the daughter of Johann R. Moldenhauer. The congregation borrowed $100.00 and purchased an 80 acre tract. It included a church building site, allotment for pastor and teacher, and a portion for the cemetery. In June 1844, Rev. Kindermann confirmed the first class. They were: Johann Heinrick Moldenhauer, Sr., Wilhelm Krueger, Franz Eduard Krueger, Eduard Milow, Friedrich Schulze, August Christian, Friedrich Pieritz, Karoline Froemming, Karoline Krueger and Luise Krueger. The first child was born in 1843, a son to Wilhelm Woltmann, who died soon after. The second child was born August 6, 1844, a son to Johann R. Moldenhauer. The first wedding was Carl F.W. Setzkorn and Dorothea L. Moldenhauer in September 1844, performed by Rev. Kindermann.

Rev. Kindermann joined the Buffalo Synod whose leader was Rev. Grabau. Rev. Grabau had just published his pastoral letter which contained the same demands as the constitution of Dr. Huschke in Breslau. The members of Immanuel heard of Lutheran ministers at St. Louis who came from Saxony and did not agree with Rev. Grabau at Buffalo, NY on matters of church doctrine. Rev. Kindermann was following the Buffalo Synod teachings and Rev. Hoeckendorf took offense and led the congregation of about thirty families to call candidate Ludwig Geyer of St. Louis, MO. He was installed November 24, 1844. The congregation made arrangements to build a log church with parsonage attached. It was dedicated in 1845. The first wedding performed in this new log church was Ludwig Wagner and Sophie W. Moldenhauer.

At first, layman Herman Braasch and Carl Ludwig conducted school in their homes, and then in 1845 when Rev. Geyer came the school became official. In 1846, the first schoolhouse was built with living quarters for a teacher. Erdmann Pankow was installed as teacher. On April 7, 1846, at the home of Christian Dornfeld, the township voters organized their government. The name Lebanon was chosen by Christian Dornfeld, Wilhelm Setzkorn and Wilhelm Woltmann.

The congregation lived in peace for one year. In the fall of 1844, a fight began between two neighbors, Hermann Grube and Carl B. Lettow over a line fence placement. The issue was disputed in front of the congregation from the fall of 1844 to 1847. They did not reconcile (in 1848, Hermann Grube joined the Pankow church). Rev. Hoeckendorf was on the side of H. Grube in the dispute. When the two pastors attended the organizational meeting for the Missouri Synod in Chicago in 1847 as delegates, they disagreed on the issue of forming a ‘synod”. Soon Rev. Hoeckendorf left and formed his own church, St. Paul’s in Ixonia, with other families who were against synods.

In 1846, about twelve families were drawn away and in 1849, formed a Baptist Church with Rev. W.E. Grimm, one mile south of Immanuel.

Erdman Pankow in 1846 was the teacher at Immanuel and used the violin to teach music to the children. Rev. Geyer did not approve. Soon a dispute occurred when two church members who were being reprimanded at the same time, demanded E. Pankow be disciplined for playing the violin. One day, three men had been digging a well nearby and two of the men at the bottom of the well danced about to the violin music. This came to Rev. Geyer’s attention. The church conflict lasted from 1846 to 1848 when Pankow and his followers left the church. Pankow became their pastor on July 20, 1849. Controversial hearings continued until 1861. The Pankow congregation built their own church, Evangelical Lutheran, St. Paul’s of Lebanon in 1854 at the north end of Old Lebanon. It was the first brick church in Lebanon.

The next controversy occurred in 1856 when the teacher Philipp Wetzel and other members objected to private confession that Rev. Geyer insisted on. One hundred members broke away and formed St. Matthew’s congregation and built their own church on the south end of Old Lebanon. It disbanded in 1926.

After 16 years of service Rev. Geyer left. Rev. George Link was installed on October 31, 1860. In November 1860 the congregation voted to build a brick church 35 x 55 with a steeple and balcony. The cornerstone was laid June 9, 1861. In 1862 a new brick parsonage was built. In 1863 a new North school house with teachers rooms was built three miles north of the church with H. Falk as teacher. In 1864 a new brick school house with a dwelling for the teacher was erected at the south site. Rev. Link moved to St. Louis MO in 1873 and Rev. Heinrich Allwardt from Crystal Lake, WI was installed on New Year’s Day 1874.

Rev. Allwardt served the congregation for 36 years. During this time, there was a controversy over Predestination. Rev. Allwardt disagreed with Dr. Walther and the Missouri Synod, who favored Predestination, and he left the Missouri Synod. He kept the church building and the congregation and helped form the Ohio Synod. Two teachers and 43 families left to form St. Peters Lutheran Church in 1881. Another school was built to the North dedicated in 1885 and Louis Krueger was the first teacher in 1883, remaining 23 years until he died in 1906. 

In 1890, a peaceful dismissal was given to 13 families to join Cross congregation closer to their homes in Ixonia. In 1897, a new southern school was built. In 1905, Rev. Pankow retired and St. Paul’s congregation dissolved. The remaining members joined Immanuel, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church and St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Sugar Island.

Immanuel’s Southern school from 1845 had the following teachers: E. Pankow, P. Wetzel, Mr. Kirchner, Mr. Bodemer, Mr. Mueller and Mr. Henry F. Seeger (1885-1929) and O. Blasé. They taught six grades in both schools. O. Blasé was in the Northern school and came to the Southern school from 1929 – 1947. From 1940 – 1968 the Southern school had two teachers Otto Blasé and Margaret Weber. The Northern school had these teachers: H. Falk, Louis Krueger, (1883–1906), H. Luehring, Mr. Grube, F. Huber, Mr. Schuetz, L. Eickmeyer, Otto Blasé (1920-1929), and F. Lutz (1929-1938). In 1938, when Teacher F. Lutz died, the Northern school closed and a second teacher, Miss Margaret Weber, (1940-1968) came to the Southern school, which was rebuilt into a two room school of eight grades.

In 1910, upon the death of Rev. Allwardt, Rev. William Lange was called and served until 1937. A new church was voted on, the last service in the old church was held on March 15, 1925. Then it was taken down. The cornerstone of the new brick church, today’s present church, was laid May 24, 1925 and dedicated October 25, 1925. The cost was $44,528.86. In 1830, the interior was decorated at a cost of $2,470.00. Rev. Lange died on March 17, 1937 and in April Pastor Ferdinand E. Bloede came. He was installed July 25, 1937. In Feb. 1942, a new pipe organ was purchased for $3,150.00 including the old organ and dedicated July 5, 1942.

In 1944, Rev. F.E. Bloede left and Rev. George Diemer was called to Immanuel. He served from 1944 to 1965. Other pastors were: Rev. James E. Janke (1965-1967) Rev. Alfred J. Wittmann (1968-1985), Rev. Arthur Kentopp (1986–1993), Rev. Milo Ken Anderson (1993-1994), Rev. James O’Reilly-Christensen.

In 1947 there was a land exchange with Elmer Christian and then a two room addition was added to the old school at a cost of $49,158.58. It was dedicated in 1950. In the Southern and now only school, Otto Blasé served 27 years (1929 -1947), Margaret Weber (1940-1968), Walter Meyer (1947-1958), Waldo Kruse (1958-1961), Richard Schuenke (1961-1962), Curtis Peter (1962-1967), Duane Pries (1968-1970), Gerald Dament (1970-1976), then John Rothisberg, June Bahr (-1990), Joel Lindstrom (1990-1992), Wesley Wrucke (1992-1996), Christopher Baxter (1996-1997), Laurie Balstad and Amy Gromowski, interim (1997-1998), Wesley Wrucke (1998-2001), Gordon Ammon/Victor Jungkuntz (2001-2002), Peter Bauer (2002-2003), Peter Bauer/Walter Haas (2003-2004), Donna Gerndt (2005-present). In 1986, Immanuel and St. Peter’s combined their schools into one.