This article is from History of Jones County, Iowa, Past and Present, Volume 1, R. M. Corbitt, S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., Chicago, 1910, pages 630-633.

See also:


from the 75th & 125th Anniversary Booklets.







The St. John's Evangelical Lutheran church on the old Military road in section one, in the extreme northeast part of Wayne township, is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, and one of the strongest, if not the strongest German church organizations in the county. Its history is the history of early Lutheranism in this part of the state. The church was organized on January 12, 1864. Its history, however, antedates its organization by several years.

The nucleus of the church is to be sought and found in a small German Lutheran colony, comprised of nine families and one single person who, in rapid succession, had established their homes in Jones county in the neighborhood of the present site of the church, all coming across the Mississippi from Dixon, Lee county, Illinois. The colony was formed when Mr. Jacob F. Matthiessen brought his family across the Father of Waters in May, 1857. He was accompanied by his brother-in-law, Gerhard Filers, who at the time was still an unmarried man. They were followed by the families of Anton Filers and Johann Hinrich Kleen in April, 1858; Nanne Hanken and Wessel B. Hanken in October, 1858; Heinrich Hanken in April, 1859, Gerhard Ahrend Zimmerman in May, 1859; Johann Jacobs in the fall of 1859 and Heinrich Jacobs in the spring of 1860.

For practically the entire triennial period of colonization, these early settlers were obliged to forego the blessing of public worship. When the year 1860 passed into history, they had been privileged a half a dozen times to hear a professedly Lutheran minister in their midst. Even this would have been denied them, had not a missionary by the name of Altmeyer discovered their settlement and preached for them and ministered over them as often and as much as his extensive travels through the vast area of thinly populated country permitted.

It was not until the dawn of 1861, that matters began to crystallize and take on shape towards the formation of a church body. In January of this year, the Rev. Robert Oswald, stationed at Marion, Linn county, Iowa, undertook an exploration trip into the field abandoned by Rev. Altmeyer. From this time on some degree of regularity was established, though services were not a frequent occurrence as yet by any means. In October of the same year, however, he too found himself compelled to abandon his missionary work at this place. After a lapse of more than twelve months, another minister, Rev. George Reinsch, arranged to look after the spiritual wants of the congregation and continued doing so from December, 1862, until some time in the fall of 1863.

By this time the German colony had grown to such an extent, that the question of organizing a church and calling a minister into its pastorate, was earnestly considered. A few deaths in the settlement about this time seemed to greatly emphasize the advisability, yes, the necessity of so doing. Therefore when the year 1864 had barely been ushered in, planning ceased, and action began. On January 12th, a meeting was called for the purpose of organizing, and considering the purchase of property for the church and cemetery purposes. A constitution was adopted, and the following twenty-two signatures were affixed thereto: Anton Eilers, A. H. Hanken, A. G. Zimmerman, N. A. Hanket., Ludwig Pause, Heinrich Heeren, W. H. Helgens, Michael Heeren, J. H. Heeren, Johann T. Mueller, August Schatz, H. A. B. Toel, Tobias Tobiasser., W. B. Hanken, Albert Siemers, Heinrich Vanderhamm, J. Null, Gerhard Eilers, Jacob F. Matthiessen, Hinrich Jacobs, Hinrich J. Jacobs, Christoph Scheer. The Messrs. Jacob F. Alatthiessen, Ludwig Pause and Anton Eilers were elected officers.

Several reasons, as the absence of a parsonage, and the like, confronted the congregation against the advisability of immediately extending a call for a local pastor, and so action in this matter was postponed until a later date. The Rev. Herman Rehwoldt of Dubuque, who had conducted the funeral services for Mrs. John Jacobs in December, 1863, seeing the plight of the congregation, consented to arrange his affairs in such a manner as to enable him to provide this congregation also with preaching at stated intervals until they should be able to call a pastor of their own.

Being thus temporarily provided for, the newly organized congregation began immediately to arrange matters for a permanent and local ministry. The question of providing a church and a parsonage confronted them. Thus far, a small country school house, situated on what was known as the George McKeever farm, provided ample accommodations for all. This particular schoolhouse, by the way, is still being used for school purposes today. In later years it was moved to the extreme southeast corner of Monticello township, and is now known as schoolhouse No. 6 of Lovell township.

During the summer of 1865, a building plan was carried into execution which brought church and parsonage under one roof. The larger part of today's parsonage was the result. The upper story was arranged for holding services, and the lower story, plus the cellar, furnished a place of habitation for the pastor and his family. After all preliminary arrangements had been completed, Rev. Rehwoldt withdrew, and on December 1, 1865, the first resident pastor, Rev. G. H. Brecht was installed.

The next six years passed by without anything particularly noteworthy happening, with probably this one exception, that when Rev. Brecht had resigned his pastorate in March, 1869, and his successor, Rev. Franz B. Cunz had also handed in his resignation during the summer of 1870, both being called to another field of labor, the congregation, under the guidance of Rev. L. Osterhus. of Dubuque, who had preached here during the vacancy, extended a call for the first time to a minister of the Synod which has furnished the congregation with pastors ever since, and in which the congregation holds membership today This new minister from the Synod, was the Rev. Lorenz Fraub, a member of the German Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio and other states. He was installed in office on June 18, 1871, and remained at the head of the congregation until October 6, 1872.

The summer of 1872 brought about a change of vital importance for the future and this change also accounts for the fact why St. John's congregation today is no larger numerically than will be stated hereinafter. During this summer, the congregation was split because of dissatisfaction in some quarters over the location of the church property, some claiming that it should have been more centrally located. The members living toward the southwest of the church branched off, organizing a new congregation under the name of Zion's church, and built a church of their own. This was the beginning of what is today known as Zion's church of Wayne Center. This separation was a most lamentable move, for it proved a fruitful source of bitter controversies between the two congregations in later years, although it had not been thus designed.

When Rev. Fraub accepted a different call shortly after this separation had taken place, the two congregations, in good harmony, jointly called a minister to take charge of both congregations, with the expressed understanding, that he was to change his location annually, living at Sand Hill in the midst of St. John's congregation one year, and at Wayne Center in the midst of Zion's congregation, the next. The purpose thereof was the presumably better end gained in the catechetical instruction of the children at both places. The man thus doomed to perpetual motion was the Rev. J. H. Oetjen, who entered upon his pastoral and educational duties in April, 1873, and continued therein until July, 1879, during the last year, however, ministering over St. John's congregation only. During his ministry, in 1877, a church proper, thirty by forty-five feet was erected by St. John's congregation and the upper story of the parsonage given over to school purposes.

In 1878, Zion's church struck the final blow which completely severed all bonds that had thus far united the two congregations. On April 17th of this year, Zion's church ousted Rev. Oetjen from his pastorate, and during the same year it extended a call to its present pastor, Rev. C. C. Mardorf, a member of the Iowa Synod, which is at variance in its doctrines from the teachings of the Synodical Conference of which the Missouri Synod is a leading factor. Thus the harmony of spirit between the two congregations was lastingly destroyed.

In 1879, when Rev. Oetjen left for his new field in Wisconsin, the congregation called a young man, who had just finished his studies in the Concordia Theological Seminary at St. Louis, Missouri. This was the Rev. Fritz von Strohe. He was installed in September, 1879, and accepted a call to Collinsville, Illinois, June 10, 1900, after almost twenty-one years of untiring and successful labor. Rev. von Strohe was a man of more than ordinary tact and ability.

In 1880, the congregation voted to join the Synod of Missouri, Ohio and other states. In the same year, a resolution to incorporate was passed, and the Messrs. Christ Scheer, Henry Heeren and Henry Hanken were elected trustees. In 1884, a schoolhouse was built, and the entire parsonage turned over to the private use of the pastor.

On August 19, 1900, the present pastor, Rev. Wm. H. L. Schultz, was installed to succeed Rev. von Strohe. In 1907 the congregation enlarged and remodeled its church. The church at present has a membership of four hundred and twenty-six souls, two hundred and forty communicants and fifty-four voting members. Its present officers are the Messrs. Henry Balster, R. Gerdes, Fred Plueger. Miss Eliza Balster is organist.

Of the original ten founders of the congregation, only one survives, viz., Mr. John Jacobs, now a resident of Santa Ana, California.

The complete list of pastors who have ministered over St. John's church, together with the time they have held office, is as follows: Rev. Altmeyer, no record of exact date; Robert Oswald, January, 1861 to October, 1861; George Reinsch, December 25, 1862, to fall of 1863; Herman Rehwoldt, July, 1864, to August 12, 1865; G. H. Brecht, December 1, 1865 to March 28, 1869; Franz B Cunz, July 25, 1869, to the summer of 1870; L. Osterhus, several months during vacancy; Lorenz Fraub. June 18, 1871 to October 6, 1872; J. J. Oetjen, April, 1873, to July, 1879; Fritz von Strohe, September, 1879 to June 10, 1900; Wm. H. L. Schultz, since August 19, 1900. Rev. Schultz is the present pastor, a man of broad intelligence and a favorite with his congregation. We are indebted to him for his valuable assistance with this excellent history of this church.