The German Lutheran Church
Photo taken during our research trip in April 2016
There are many instances in the history of the Lutheran Church in our country in which English congregations have been formed out of German congregations, but St. Luke's history is unique in that it was organized as a German congregation withdrawing from an English congregation.
St. Luke's Church was organized in January, 1838. For a decade previous to that the Germans had been settling in Cumberland in considerable numbers. As they were Germans they attached themselves to the only Lutheran Church in the city, which was St. Paul's. But all the services at St. Paul's at this time were in English. This language the newly arrived Germans did not understand. But the pastors of St. Paul's of that early period were more or less able to minister in the German language, and so they gave the German members of St. Paul's occasional services in German and performed ministerial acts for them in that language. This arrangement, it seems, was not always satisfactory to the English-speaking element in St. Paul's.
As the number of Germans increased they organized into a separate congregation in 1838 under the leadership of the Rev. John Kehler and held their services in St. Paul's Church but in the afternoons. In 1842 when the old log church became too small for St. Paul's the German congregation cooperated in the building of the new brick church. Two years later the Rev. Samuel Finkel held a confirmation service in German and confirmed a class of eighteen. But the next pastor of St. Paul's could not preach in the German language and the German congregation was obliged to call their own pastor. Rev. Peter Reizer of Somerset, Pennsylvania, accepted their call.
On New Year's Day, 1848, the German congregation was notified by the vestry of St. Paul's that they would no longer be permitted to conduct services in St. Paul's Church. This was a severe blow to the little flock; they now had their own shepherd but no place to worship. But it happened that the attention of the mayor of the city, the Hon. Thomas Shriver, was accidentally directed to the plight of his German citizens. He immediately called their leading men into his office, suggested to them that they build their own church, and offered to donate them the site for the church and the stones from his own quarry for its construction. The offer was accepted with enthusiasm and the new building was soon under construction.
The building was designed by Henry Smenner and is of Etruscan style. It is one hundred and thirty feet by fifty five feet with a steeple of one hundred and fifty feet high. The steeple extends one hundred feet above the roof.
Most of the work was done by the members of the congregation themselves. On June 1, 1848, less than five months after the separation from St. Paul's the corner stone of the new church was placed. The building was completed and dedicated March 17, 1850.
At the same time that this church was being built the German Roman Catholics were also engaged in the building of a church.
To encourage both operations the city council voted a town clock to the first to complete their church. This offer provoked a spirit of friendly rivalry. The Lutherans won the race. It is said that they won because the Lutheran women held lanterns at night so the men could work through the night.
Thus the German Lutheran Church came to be called the Town Clock Church.
A record of this church contains the following entry: "On the 10th of August, 1853, the cholera appeared in this town, and took away sixteen fathers of families and six mothers from this church. Many children also died, but, as the force of the epidemic was so great, the burials took place at night, and as I, myself, was for some time very ill, it was impossible to obtain names, ages, and dates of death." This record was made by the Rev. Mr. Bauman.
Rev. M. Kehler 1839
Rev. M. Winecoff 1846-1847
Rev. Samuel Finkle 1847-1849
Rev. Peter Reizer to 1849
Rev. Conrad Schwankoosky 1849-1852
Rev. Casimer Bauman 1852 to 1855
Rev. Daniel Meier 1855-1858
Rev. George H. Vosseler November 1, 1858 to December 1, 1866 (Improvements to the church, as well as the cemetery, as well as a set of chimes installed)
Rev. C.F. Heyer December, 1866 to June 1867 (He was here on furlough from his mission in India)
Rev. F. W. Conradi June. 1867 to April. 1885
Rev. C.V. Giese May 1885 to May 1891
Rev. Otto Rappolt 1891 to 1895
Rev. C.E. Raymond (called for the express purpose of introducing the services in English)
On June 1, 1901, the church became vacant once more. Rev. Professor E.J. Wolf of the Gettysburg Seminary filled in for several months.
Rev. J. Braren 1901 to 1911 (new stone steps erected and exterior of the church painted)
Rev. C.F. Bergner March 1912 to 1920
Rev. David Wright 2015
The 'Old Clock Church' did house another congregation until this year, 2016. On a recent visit, we found the church property 'for sale'. It is our understanding that the church contains one of the first Moller organs.
In 1914 the congregation purchased lots on the corner of Bedford and Columbia Streets for $18,500 as a building site. Plans were complete, however, the war prevented the beginning of the work until about 1920. The German language was used at St. Luke's until 1920.
On June 5, 1927, the Saint Luke's congregation moved to a new home at the corner of Bedford and Columbia Streets. That Gothic structure served as both a sanctuary and an education building. Because of lack of space at the Columbia Street location, the congregation decided not to expand at that site.
On Reformation Eve, October 30, 1957, the congregation voted to relocate to the present site on Frederick Street. The ground-breaking ceremonies on June 1, 1958 marked the 110th anniversary of the corner-stone laying of the original Town Clock Church. One year and one month later, on July 5, 1959, the corner-stone was laid. This handsome contemporary church was dedicated on May 1, 1960.
A beautiful photo of the old church from the distance. The clock still chimes on the hour!
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Church Location & Contact Information:
St. Luke's Lutheran Church
1601 Frederick Street
Cumberland, MD 21502
See also Maryland State Archives
Records at the Maryland Archives MSA S 1512-1842 (00/59/06/28)