Our Legacy

History of Zionarticle taken from the publication “More Than A Century”.  Permission to reprint this article was given by Ronald Wettlaufer, son of the Late Molna E. Wettlaufer who researched and compiled this writing in 1967.

“Thirty-four years before Confederation, when the sailboat was the only means of crossing  the ocean, German Lutheran settlers in the Philipsburg area began holding services in a little log schoolhouse on Lot 15, Concession 1, Block B, in Wilmot township. The year was
1834. The settlers had just arrived from the German provinces of Alsace, Lorraine, Hessen, Bavaria, Prussia, and Baden and from the United States.

Some of the settlers were from the Palatinate, a district in southern Germany, where Lutherans were suffering religious persecution. Others of the settlers were Mennonites. Originally from Switzerland, Alsace, and Lorraine, they took up land in the school section’s eastern end.

Zion Lutheran Church

The Zion Lutheran Church has records dating back to 1843. These indicate that the greatest influx of pioneers occurred from 1840 to 1850. In the winter, religious services were conducted in log homes and log barns; in the summer, weather permitting, services were held in the open air.

The first known baptism was that of Maria Lienhardt, daughter of Philip Lienhardt after whom Philipsburg is named.

At first the church was served by itinerant preachers. The congregation on October 29, 1843, called Franz Adam Peifer to be its first pastor. Andreas Doering and Andreas Oetzel were the church’s first councilmen.

Names of families in 1844 included: Berg, Doering, Doerr, Eidt, Forler, Gies, Glasser, Hieronymous, Hoerle, Kalbfleisch, Killer, Koch, Klein, Klemmer, Lantz, Leuszler, Lienhardt, Niebergal, Oetzel, Schmidt, Schneider, Sedelmeier, Seip, Wagner, Wettlaufer, and Wilhelm.

By 1867 these names were added: Diebel, Hoffman, Stibling, Knapp, Faulhafer, Robizsch, Gerth, Kaercher, Zimmer, Taub, Wenzel, Erb, Metzger, Heit, Hammer, Handstein, Liezmer, Holzmann, Diehl, Gunder, and Heinbuch.

And by 1900 these names joined the list: Guenther, Pfanner, Hartung, Heldmann, Heipel, Kaufmann, Kraehling, Reibling, Wegfahrt, Seyler and Kneisel.

The first recorded burials took place in 1844. Three children – Catherina and Anna Hoerle and Heinrich Killer – died of “Boesser Hals” (bad throat) caused by diphtheria.

Old records show an extremely high mortality rate among children. Of twenty burials in Zion’s cemetery in 1878, six were adults and the others were children. An epidemic of “Halsbraeune” (diphtheria) and “Scharlach Fieber” (scarlet fever) took a toll of eleven young lives. The John Schmidt family lost four children in less than a month. In the same year one child and one adult died of “unterleibsentzuendung” (appendicitis), one child of “Wassersucht” (dropsy), and one of “Kraemffen” (convulsions). Cancer, strokes, and heart diseases accounted for the other deaths. People over sixty were commonly recorded as having died of “Alterschweche” (old age).

In 1850 a church of frame structure was built on the south side of Erb Street. Original and later donations of land came from Heinrich C. Eidt. It is believed the contractors were Heinrich Doering and Jacob Forler. Their names were found carved on the beams when the church was torn down.

The bell which had been ordered from a U.S. firm arrived late for the church dedication because of poor transportation facilities. It was shipped by boat to Hamilton and then hauled to Philipsburg by horses. The bell that tolled its invitation to worship so long ago still peals forth today from the belfry of the present church located on the original site.

Early settlers brought from Germany the custom of ringing the bell on “Sonnabend” (Saturday evening) as a reminder to attend worship services on Sunday. This custom has been retained.

The pioneer-worshippers frequently walked to church. Those who came barefoot washed their feet in the stream that flows by the foot of the hill on which Zion Church still stands. Some walked as far as 14 miles to hear the Word of God preached and to partake of the sacraments.

In front of the church, on both sides of the street, were hitching posts and rails to accommodate carriages, buggies, wagons, sleighs and cutters as the season required. The men’s “Sunday clothes” in all probability were woven at the Gies weaving shop on the west bank of the Nith, east of Philipsburg. The long, full dresses worn by the women swept the ground and were covered partially by fancy white aprons.

The church celebrated the 78th anniversary of the church building on September 9, 1928. Tables were set up in the church sheds and 1,000 meals were served that day.

The present brick edifice was constructed in 1929 by Conrad Forler, assisted by members of the congregation, at a cost of $15,000. The pipe organ, installed in the original church in 1887 at a cost of $800, was moved over into the new church. Mrs. Eva Ehrat, the contractor’s daughter, is the church organist, a position she has held for the past 37 years.”

In 1993, in celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the founding of the congregation, a 72 page book was created documenting the history of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church of Philipsburg.

2018 marks our 175th Anniversary. We look forward to celebrating this milestone. Watch the website for more details.