Church: St. Peter's Dorchester, Wisconsin (1877 - 2005)



----Source: "Dorchester, Small in Size, BIG in History and Happenings" by Jim Jantsch (Local Historian), pg. 65 - 77; Jantsch Family Photo Album



St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Dorchester, Wisconsin


1877 - Saint Petri Gemeinde Kirchen (The German Name for Saint Peter Congregational Church) was initially founded under the leadership of Missionary W. Christian Schilling of Stevens Point around 1877.


1878 - The first person baptized was Josephine Elizabeth Lindeman born on July 5. 1880 - One Hundred and Twenty Five years ago on September 19, 1880, a small group of German Lutherans met after services to found the Saint Petri Stift Gemeinde of Dorchester, Wisconsin. Missionary Schilling assisted by Pastors Steyer and Erck organized the congregation and thus St. Peter’s Church was officially established. Services were initially conducted in the public school house which at that time was located one block east of the present day St. Peter’s Church. Today Jim and Loretta Jantsch live on the site where the original schoolhouse stood at 231 South Second St. Barely a dozen families belonged to the church at that time and before the congregation was formed, members would meet in each others homes for the Sunday gathering. One of the group’s elders would act as the leader for hymn singing, prayers and Bible readings.


1880 - The first person confirmed was Arthur Baehr.


1881 - The Rev. John Schuette became the first pastor in 1881. After a years stay as pastor of St. Peters, the Rev. John Schuette was replaced by Rev. Theodore Buenger.


1882 - Theodore Buenger was ordained here on July 9, 1882 and he was the first pastor ordained in Dorchester. He held services once a month and during his absence, Carl Habeck conducted readings. His other duties during the early days included providing ministerial services to Colby, Black Creek (Athens), Curtiss, Green Grove, Bruckerville, Mayville and Holton all of which had small populated centers that needed to be served. The first minutes of the congregation were written in German and thanks goes to Elizabeth Gumz who translated those writings into English. Some of those early writings stated; each member should bring a zinkel of ground to place around the parsonage or bring 100 lbs. of hay or pay that amount towards the $60.00 parish house repair bill. The organist was paid 20 cents for each church service.


1882 - The congregation incorporated on December 4, under its German name “St. Petrie Stift Gemeinde U.A.C. (Unaltered Augsberg Confession). Signatures on the document are the Rev. T. Buenger, Franz Baehr, Frederick Laack, Rudolph Naumann, Freiderich Pagel, Karl Otto and Joseph Schroeder. Other early members names include; H. Fitzlaff, J. Graffunder, J. Schroeder and E. Lindemann. There were 25 voting members that year. German was the primary language used at worship for half a century. Most of the founders of the church were German speaking as were most of the people living in Dorchester at the time. German speaking and writing were used at all church functions and new members were required to read the German Constitution and sign their name in a book indicating they had read it and would agree with its bylaws. Naturally this was difficult for the English speaking people to do and it became apparent that changes had to be made if growth was to be obtained. On April 9, 1911, the congregation voted to have an English service once every four weeks in the afternoon. The addition of a regular Sunday morning English service took place on January 2, 1916. English hymnals were ordered and by 1923 constitutions in English were made available. As time went on, more and more of the services were held in English and Reverend Sprengler had the distinction of holding the last German service in 1952. When Reverend Sprengler was interviewed about holding this last service in German; he said by checking his records that the service was conducted on May 18, 1952 at 1:30 P.M. and the attendance was six. Myself, the organist and four others who in daily life never spoke German anymore.


1882 - It was during this time that the members of the church discussed the possibility of purchasing land on which to build a church. In September of 1882 the pastor of the Norwegian Church attended a meeting at St. Peters and mentioned that they would like to join with St. Peters Church. No further discussions regarding a merger with the Norwegian Church took place. In late 1882, a church building fund was established for the likely possibility of new church construction.


1882 - The first funeral was for Marie Brandes who died in Dec. 1882 at the age of 26. 1883 - The First Church was constructed in late 1883 on Lot 7, Block 13 Village of Dorchester. Lot 7 was purchased for $1.00 from the Wisconsin Central Railroad Company on August 27, 1883 and previously Lots 8 - 9 and 10 were purchased for $55.00 on December 6, 1882. The church was 36 feet long - 26 feet wide by 16 feet high and constructed of logs which the church members brought from their own woods. Most of the work was also performed by the church members. Total cost was $537.48 of which $25.00 was spent on a altar. This small church served the congregation for 20 years until the present brick church was built in 1903.


1883 - The first wedding was performed in 1883 and was that of John Bachman and Dorothea Roschinsky.


1884 - The first parsonage of St. Peter Church still stands today and is located at 220 South Second Street. It is the second house south from the old fire hall. A horse barn was also constructed for the pastor’s horse and each member was asked to contribute one dollar towards the cost of the structure. The trustees of the Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of St. Peters Stifts Gemeinde of Dorchester purchased Lot 18 Block 3 from Eva and Edgar Foster. The house was standing on the property at the time of purchase which was January 25, 1884 and the cost was $500. This first parsonage was sold to the LeClaire Family on October 20, 1910 for $700.


1884 - Rules of the church were becoming more strict with a stern code of behavior. The first excommunication took place in 1884 and from that point on, people were excommunicated for non-payment of church dues and for failure to attend Sunday Services. Trespassers were admonished by the pastor and they had to confess their sins and ask for forgiveness for their wrong doing in front of the congregation. A large number of members were excommunicated in 1897 for joining The Farmer’s Grange (a cooperative agricultural movement for social and educational purposes and for redress of economic abuses). Also a new reform church started up and since a number of parish members had belonged to the Reform Church in Germany, they left St. Peters and joined the new congregation. Voting membership dropped from 100 to 59 and it wasn’t until 1903 that twelve new members were accepted into the congregation that the total was increased in a positive way to 73.


1888 - The 1880s were nearing an end and the congregation had pledged by this time $1,510 toward the construction of a new church.


1889 - A building committee consisting of William Beisner, Schauss, Kalepp, Henry Kuenzel, Art Baehr and August Page were selected to make plans to build a new and larger church. Much controversy followed for the next three years regarding where the church should be built. Two sites were being considered; one on the north edge of town which was being donated and the other site on the lots the church already owned and where St. Peter is located today. In 1902, the Reverend F.H. Moecker consented to serve the St. Peter congregation and he is given much credit for bringing harmony back to this German flock of God’s people. The building project was placed on hold until a consensus could be obtained.


1889 - Cemetery - It was customary for each church to own and maintain their own cemetery. It was no different for St. Peter’s Lutheran Church and it was located onehalf mile south of the village along Fourth Street (Hi-Line Avenue). The narrow strip of land was bordered by South Fourth Street on the east and was south of the current north driveway. This burial ground today is known as the South Cemetery and was originally divided into sections or strips of land. One section was purchased in 1882 by the First Scandinavian Church from John J. Lansworth and was later bought by the Norwegian Baptist Church. St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church purchased their section of land in 1889 from John J. Lansworth. Another section was donated to St. Louis Catholic Church in 1902 by the Duchine Family.


Walking today through the northeast corner of the South Cemetery which was once St. Peter’s Cemetery, one will find tombstones dated prior to the purchase of the land by St. Peter’s Church. During the early days, it was customary for farmers to bury family members on the farm and once the central cemetery was established, the bodies were moved to their permanent location. Small isolated cemeteries were established early on to bury those who were not farmers and later they were moved to the central cemetery as well.


St. Peter’s Church operated their own cemetery for 38 years until 1927 when a cemetery organization was established and all the churches eventually became a part of the organization. St. Peter’s established rules in 1889 for their new cemetery such as: Every member in good standing should have a cemetery lot. Free burial would be provided to paid-up members and non-paid members were to pay $2.00 for an adult and $1.00 for a child’s burial. Only Lutherans may be buried on Lutheran Lots, no lodge members. Gravestones were to be arranged in a row and rows must be in order with one row of large graves and one row of small graves in order to save space. A clean-up day was set and members were to donate one day each year to get the cemetery in neat order and Mr. Gutwasser and Mr. Seidler were put in charge. Meeting minutes indicate that the foot bridge needed to be repaired and that Mr. Beisner should bring two logs and the pastor should bring planks so the repair work could be completed. In 1907, it was decided to put a fence around the cemetery and David Seidler should plant grass on the cemetery so that hay could be made for the pastor’s horse. In 1911, new regulations required graves to be six feet deep. In 1925, the cost for whole graves would be $25.00 and singles would be $15.00.


On April 5, 1927, the congregation voted to sell the cemetery to the Cemetery Association which had just recently been formed. All of the three sections previously owned by the different churches are all now owned by the Cemetery association and perpetual care is provided to all the grave sites. The Cemetery Association does an excellent job in maintaining the cemetery and the Dorchester Community can be proud that their loved ones are resting in a well groomed environment.


1902 - The small church constructed in 1883 was no longer suitable to accommodate the growing congregation and in October 1902, a new building committee consisting of Olaf Lundahl, Fred Fierke, Art Baehr, C. Yanke, Fred Gutwasser, H. Martens and C. Woempner was selected and $3000 was pledged to begin construction of a new church in the next year. Conrad Frank of Dorchester was hired to draw the plans and the Ladies Aid Society paid the $36 bill.


1903 - During the winter, supplies such as sand, gravel and 50,000 bricks were stockpiled and with an early spring, the foundation was laid beginning on April 6, 1903. The men were kept busy getting brick from the kiln in Whittlesey, using horses and sleights to make the job a bit easier. Conrad Frank of Dorchester was hired as the Master Builder and the architecture was of Gothic Style built in the form of a cross. His bid of $1,950 was accepted for his work. The length of the new church was 91 feet; the width 41 feet and the height 20 feet. The steeple which includes the cross rises upward 100 feet. Fifty Seven young people each donated $5.00 for a new bell and the inscription on the bell reads; When I Swing - God’s Praises Sing; When I toll - Pray, Heart And Soul. The altar also of Gothic Design is 7 ½ feet wide and 18 feet high. Elsie Bremer remembering the old days; tells how the youth society back in the 1920s would have a party at St. Peter’s Church on New Year’s Eve. When midnight arrived, each one got a chance to ring the bell one time. Other interesting features of the church are the stained glass windows. These beautiful windows are made of Cathedral Stained Glass. The windows near the altar depict the Lord’s Supper, the Ten Commandments, the Holy Scriptures and the Lamb of God.


Dedication of St. Peter's Church, Dorchester, Wis., 22 Nov 1903


1903 - November 22, was a day of rejoicing as the congregation consecrated their newly completed church to the service of the Lord. Many of the original articles within the building are still in use today, including the altar, pulpit, hymn board, the two pictures that hang on the back of the wall of the worship area and the white marble baptismal font.


Altar of St. Peter's Church, Dorchester, Wis., 1903


1906 - St. Peters would be officially recognized by the Missouri Synod as a full fledged member of that religious organization.


1910 - A newspaper ad from April 15, 1910 stated that Reverend Moecker requested bids for a new parsonage and stable.


1910 - The second parsonage construction project began in 1910 and was completed before the end of the next year. The parsonage was 37 feet by 37 feet, a full two stories and the exterior consisted of a hard fired brick. The residence was located 29 feet south of the church and served every pastor from 1911 until the third and present day residence was completed in 1985.



St. Peter's Lutheran Church & Parsonage
Dorchester, Wisconsin, 1912


1916 - On January 30 1916; St. Peters Church was officially rededicated after a major interior painting and decorating project was completed.




Three Buildings of the St. Peter's Congregation
Dorchester, Clark Co., Wisconsin, 1920


1923 - St. Peter’s School was officially started in 1923. Prior to that, it was a requirement that when children completed the sixth grade, they would drop out of public school and attend two years of religious instruction. This instruction was provided from 1883 to 1904 in the original church building and from 1904 to 1923 in the original public school building which was constructed in 1874 and purchased from the public school district. It was moved to the south end of the property owned by St. Peters (Lot 10) in 1904 and functioned as a full eight grades of schooling from 1923 to 1956. Enrollment at that time had reached 13 and so it was decided to close the school as it could no longer be justified to operate the school with such few students. The building was used for many years and until 1965 for Church Meetings, Choir Practice, Music Lessons, Sunday School, and Vacation Bible School. In 1965, the building was sold to John Busse who dismantled it and used the materials to erect a garage on his farm located just south of Dorchester on Highway 13. The Busses no longer own the farm but the garage is still there and can be viewed as one drives by.


1927 - A February 1, 1927 newspaper article states that St. Peter’s Parsonage is installing a new modern heating plant consisting of a Hot Water Heating System complete with radiators.


St. Peter's Church Celebration, Dorchester, 1933


1935 - On November 22, 1935 a new organ was played for the first time and the sounds that came from the organ were like sounds from heaven.


St. Peter Lutheran Church, Dorchester, 1945


1955 - St. Peter’s celebrated their 75th anniversary of being a parish on September 18. A large crowd of 700 souls were there to say thank you to the Lord.


1980 - St. Peter Congregation celebrated its 100th birthday since its founding. Many special events were held with former members returning to participate in the celebration. The theme chosen for the celebration was “Remembering - Rejoicing - Renewing” with Reverend Golz leading the way as he was pastor at the time. St. Peter Lutheran Church received an award of commendation the following year for its 1880 - 1980 historical manuscript which was written by co-historians Marietta Stevens and Beulah Fischer. The award was granted by the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod and it stated :This award was made on the basis of the most stringent criteria: and it was the only one given in this category for the year of 1980. 1984 - On June 26, 1984, St. Peter’s Church purchased Lot 6 North of the Church for the purpose of expanding parking at the now growing congregation.


1984 - Construction started on the third parsonage in 1984 and was completed the following year. It is a modern two story home located across the street from St. Peter’s Church. It is located on the old playground and ball diamond which was used for many years in the 1940s and early 1950s by the children who lived nearby, this writer being one of them. In later years , it was used as a parking lot. Dedication of the new parsonage took place in February, 1985.


1985 - The parsonage which had been constructed in 1911 had served its purpose and so it was razed to provide space south of the church and the entire area became a asphalt paved parking lot suited to accommodate a large number of automobiles and to provide space for the new church addition. The total cost to demolish the large two story brick parsonage and create a much needed large parking lot came to $7,598. Also, a new pulse heating system was installed in the church by Hutman Heating. Two units were installed for the main part of the church and one for the basement.

1986 - A project to redecorate the church was undertaken. Carpeting was installed in the balcony, sanctuary, entry steps and along the former coffee room.


1987 - The parsonage mortgage was burned in June with the last payment being made.


1988 - The room behind the kitchen was renovated, converting it into a Sunday School room. The walls of the inside of the church were painted and gold trim woodwork was added to the lectern. Melvin Fischer constructed five new chandeliers for the church.


1989 - A building committee was appointed for the purpose of constructing an addition to St. Peter’s Church. This addition would create space for a large fellowship area, a library/meeting room, two rest rooms, two offices, six classrooms, a janitor’s room, room for storing miscellaneous materials and a covered drive-up entrance. The extra space would also provide for an elevator to be installed in the southeast corner of the original building. The elevator would give access from the basement to the fellowship area and onto the main floor of the church. The basement kitchen was also renovated to accommodate the latest in cooking technology and it is said that some of the best tasting meals served anywhere are produced in that underground chamber.


1992 - On April 26, groundbreaking for the new addition to St. Peter’s Church was held.


1993 - After several snags and delays, construction started in June. Drain tile was installed around the perimeter of the church to prevent water backup in the basement during the spring thaw and rains. Glen Goessel prepared the site and poured the slab for the addition. Laborers for Christ assisted with the project and their help was greatly appreciated. Church members as well donated many hours of their time toward the project and their efforts helped to save thousands of dollars for the congregation. Monies that could be spent on other phases of the project. October 17 came and now was the time for rejoicing as the church addition had been completed. This day was set aside so that God’s new addition could be properly dedicated toward his good works in providing Christian educations and outreach ministries to those in need. Approximately $245,000 was spent on the project, a tremendous effort and commitment for any congregation located in a small town.


1997 - A new sound system was installed and the loudspeaker system was replaced. Importantly, the mortgage for the loan on the new addition was burned in April.


1997 - In July, the new Ahlborn Galanti II electric pipe organ was purchased from Butler-Stevens, Inc. at a cost of $22,000. The company also donated an electronic keyboard. The new organ is computerized with an interactive programmer which allows music to be sequenced and recorded to disk so it can be played at a later time. It utilizes digital sound wave technology to mimic the sound of the great pipe organs of Germany. The organ was dedicated on November 9, 1997.


1997 - A new guaranteed for life steel roof was applied to the main church building in August at a cost of $26,000.


1998 - During the fall, windows in the church basement were replaced with barn glass blocks which a member of the congregation had salvaged throughout the years.


1999 - In July, the parking lot which encircles the church was black topped and stripped by the American Asphalt Company at a cost of $13,300. Also, beginning in September and completing in April 2000 was the re-shingling of the church steeple along with placing copper along the base of the steeple. The copper reflections in the sunshine produces a star light presence, much like Christmas Eve two thousand and five years ago.


2000 - Renovation began in the church basement in February with the demolition of the existing walls and concrete floor under the kitchen area. The two furnace rooms were reduced to one to accommodate a new kitchen area and the back classroom was eliminated for a storage/pantry area. Congregational members provided the labor thus making it possible to keep the renovation costs under the $75,000 limit. Air conditioning was installed during the summer in the sanctuary.


2001 - During the fall, construction of a new garage and storage bay was started and the former garage was remodeled into a handicapped accessible bedroom. St. Peter’s Congregation can be very proud of the fine looking buildings they have at the south end of 3rd street.


2005 - This year begins the 125th anniversary of St. Peter’s Church and the congregation has planned events throughout the year to celebrate this special occasion. In January, ice skating and sleight rides were the order of the day and on May 15, a mother daughter dinner was put on by the men of the congregation. A special community and patriotic picnic was put on at the Dorchester Park. Games and all kinds of food were available along with Reverend Freimuth conducting a special patriotic church service and everything was topped off with a huge and long lasting fireworks display. The final activity will be on September 18 and will consist of a dinner served at the church and a guest speaker will provide insight on the topic he chooses. This year in early April, a most wonderful sound began to be heard throughout the community but especially in the neighborhood surrounding St. Peters Church. This writer has the good fortune of residing immediately to the east of the church 350 feet away. New Angelus Chimes were heard for the first time and let me tell you; I have never heard anything so beautiful in all my life and the best part is; I get to listen to them each and every day, twice - at noon and again at 6:00 P.M.


Missionaries and pastors who served St’ Peter’s Church since the early days are listed so as to identify those who gave so much to others.


Rev. W. C. Schilling - Missionary from 1879 to 1880

Rev. H. Erck - Missionary during the year 1879

Rev. Frank Steyer - Missionary during the year 1879

Rev. John Schuette - Served as pastor from 1880 to 1882

Rev. Theodore Buenger - Served as pastor from 1882 to 1883

Rev. Henry C.F. Otte - Served as pastor from 1883 to 1888

Rev. Wm. C. Brink - Served as pastor from 1888 to 1891

Rev. D.H. Steffens - Served as pastor from 1891 to 1895

Rev. William Georgi - Served as pastor from 1896 to 1902

Rev. F. H. Moecker - Served as pastor from 1902 to 1922

Rev. Valentin M. Keiper - Served as pastor from 1923 to 1927

Rev. John Brandt - Served as pastor from 1927 to 1945

Rev. F.H. Sprengler - Served as pastor from 1946 to 1973

Rev. Roland M. Golz - Served as pastor from 1973 to 1981

Rev. David Maki - Served as pastor from 1982 to 1989

Rev. Freimuth - Served as pastor from 1990 to present  



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