Sharpsburg had three Lutheran churches within three blocks. One was English (that one is still going), and two were German, and the two German ones have a curiously intertwined history. Father Pitt will try to piece it together, but anyone from Sharpsburg who can correct his reconstruction is earnestly requested to do so.
The First German Evangelical Lutheran Church (above), which looks like a building from the 1870s or so, was founded by German-speaking immigrants in 1863:(1) Sharpsburg had a large German community in the 1800s. (Old Pa Pitt apologizes, by the way, for the more than usually lush growth of utility cables in these pictures: Sharpsburg is like that.)
The tower originally had a steeple, now vanished, as steeples often do.
The pastor or council of First German alienated a number of members by “enforcement of rules pertaining to association with fraternal organizations.”(2) In 1888, the discontented members left to form their own congregation, St. John’s. They ended up building a fine Romanesque church just a block away from the church they had left.
This has the look of a we’ll-show-them building: it probably dates from the early 1890s,(3) and it was in the most fashionable style the congregation could afford. The tower is quite tall, and originally supported a tall steeple that was hit by lightning and removed in 1930.
The entrance arch is designed to be impressive.
St. John’s had a troubled history. “In the 1930s the Evangelical Church merged with the Reformed Church, and when the recommended type service of the joint church was adopted by St. John’s, we lost members who opposed the change in services.” A church founded by members who walked out of another church may perhaps expect some of them to keep up the old tradition. In the 1936 flood, the church was badly damaged; it suffered a fire in 1956, a month after expensive redecorations. By the time the church closed, it was a member of the United Churches of Christ.
The original First German is also gone now; it closed about fifteen years ago. Now that the congregations are gone, the buildings can be friendly; they both belong to the Sharpsburg Family Worship Center, an Assemblies of God congregation.
- It celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 1913. (↩)
- Most of our information comes from a ninetieth anniversary bulletin for St. John’s Church, transcribed by Carolyn McQuaid Thomas. (↩)
- It shows up on an 1891 map as a “foundation,” suggesting that it was under construction; on the 1896 map it is marked as a church. (↩)