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Feature Article on Anna church. Topic: PIONEERS
Written by Lew and Pat Diehl in July, 2000

GONE, BUT NOT ENTIRELY

The Lutheran church that served the Anna community 100 years ago still stands, not as a church, but as a still functioning barn east of the village within sight of Interstate 75.  Below is the old frame church, the St. Jacob Lutheran Church, sometime before June 25, 1906. The window in the gable still exists in Anna. The church stood at the intersection of County Road 25-A and Ohio 119.
Photo courtesy of Paulette Wobus Rapp.

Anna Church.jpg (40667 bytes)

One Church, Two Congregations
In 1832, the first Lutheran pioneers arrived in the territory north of Sidney, Ohio to found their homes. While dealing with the hardships of beginning a new living in the wilderness, they combined efforts with a few of the Reformed faith for establishment of regular congregational work.

The earliest records of these pioneers include names of Bey, Moothart, Altermatt, Schlosser, Gump, Staley, and Schwander. This group with two distinct sections was necessary because of fewness in numbers, and the poverty and difficulties with which they had to contend. It was named the St. Jacob’s Congregation.  The Schwander family moved to the area in 1833 to build their log cabin as "deer and wolves still roved through the forests," according to one writer.

That year found the Lutherans busy at building a parsonage for their pastor. Rev. John Henry Ferdinand Joesting took possession of the one-room rough log house, which was also used as a school and a church. It stood on the east side of what is now County Road 25A, across from the old cemetery that is still identified there. That fall more names were added to the Lutheran ranks, names that in today’s spelling are Hagelberger, Fogt, Finkenbine, Zimpfer, Schafer, and Knasel.

Then in 1835, the Lutherans and Reformed, now numbering about 18 families in each group, joined hands in erecting their first church. It was a 36 by 24-foot dressed log building, situated on a piece of land donated by David Schwander, which is now the old Lutheran cemetery. The confirmation of the first Lutheran class of catechumens took place there in May of 1836.  Descendants of David Schwander, later spelled Swander, still live on the farm that hosted the old Lutheran cemetery.

Rev. Joesting served the congregation for seven years, while clearing land to raise crops, traveling the wilderness on foot, and establishing a second congregation in Auglaize county, to where he eventually moved. He was replaced by Rev. George Klapp, who resided in St. Paris, and from there served a number of scattered congregations.

During the next several years the Lutheran ranks slowly grew, including more new names – Schiff, Stengel, Pfaadt, Beemer, and Stang. When Rev. Klapp died in 1844, and the Lutherans were left without a pastor, the Reformed pastor proposed to absorb them into the Reformed ranks, but the Lutherans were not in the least willing to give up their Lutheran doctrine and identity. In fact, the situation led to their insistence that there be a complete separation from the Reformed section.

Lutherans Build Brick Church
And so the church property was auctioned, with both sections bidding, and it passed into the hands of the Evangelical Lutheran St. Jacob’s Congregation. The log church served for twenty years, but the congregation continued to grow in number and wealth, so that 1854 found the members hauling brick from Sidney for a new one, and its dedication took place in October.

The old log structure was sold and moved twice, finally to the north side of the road two and a half miles west of Anna. The brick church was used for services seventeen years, although it stood considerably longer.

After the C.H.&D. was built through western Ohio in the mid-1850s, the village of Anna sprang up, and it was not long until quite a number of Lutherans lived north of there. It became the center of the growing population. The brick church had become too small, and an addition or a new church was in order. Modern cultivators of the field where the church once stood still find fragments of brick from the long deceased structure.

The decision was made to locate the church in Anna, and the cornerstone of a new 60 by 40-foot frame building with a 70-foot spire was laid in 1870. During its 35-year existence, there were 889 baptisms, 689 confirmations, 262 marriages, and 272 burials.

In 1881, when Rev. John M. Meissner was pastor, two bells were purchased and placed in the steeple, weighing 800 and 400 pounds. The church was extensively remodeled during the summer of 1899, and rededicated December 17. Later the church was finely papered and eight new art glass windows were installed.

The frame church stood until 1906. Once again, the physical plant of St. Jacob’s congregation had become too small, and was frequently overcrowded. The contract was let for the new brick church on June 11 of that year. A farewell service was held June 24, and the following day the work of taking down the old church began, S.F. Fogt having bought it for $150.00.

Of the lumber, Fogt constructed a barn a half mile east of Anna. That was 94 years ago, but traces of the old frame church can still be seen from I-75 and from OH-119, because the barn still stands. It is on what was once the property of Clyde Boyer, which was later purchased by Francis Bertsch, and it has been moved farther back from the highway from where it originally stood.

bertsch barn.jpg (25457 bytes)
semi window of Bertsch barn.jpg (43364 bytes)
The Bertsch barn is pictured above. Over its main door is the semicircular window that once graced the front of the church (left). Another window frame, a side window from the church, is still seen in the east gable of the Bertsch barn (see inset above). Lew Diehl photos.

church beam with rocker and cradle.jpg (57726 bytes)

Cradle and Hobby Horse

Francis used pieces of the walnut beams that were left over to make rockers for a cradle. The cradle belongs to his daughter, Sondra Pence, who used it for her daughter, Lisa, when she was born. He also used some of the walnut to make the head and body for a wooden hobby horse for his granddaughter Stacy, daughter of Susie and Gary Bertsch (members of the Shelby County Historical Society) who now own the farm where the old barn stands.

The finely hewn walnut beams seen overhead in the barn look as strong and straight as ever. Over its main door is the semicircular window that once graced the front of the church. In the east gable is a window that came from the side of the church, in which years of weather have left only one pane of amber colored glass. The amber glass would indicate that it is one of the original, from before 1903, when eight fine art glass windows were installed. At least six of the latter were incorporated into the magnificent windows of the present church. The two bells still are heard ringing in the tower.

Recycling From Our Ancestors
It is good to be able to see and to use things whose existence goes back to our ancestors. In today’s economy, too many things are considered entirely dispensable or disposable. Much of what has been made by hard work and skill, from resources we seem to think are inexhaustible, is committed to the landfill, or goes down to rubble under bulldozer and backhoe.

Frugality is a virtue. And so is reverence for the work and art of our ancestors and the things they created. Past, present, and future – all three are important. Without consideration of and connection to the past, how well can we comprehend or appreciate where we are and where we are headed?

And those who have gone on before would be proud to see their belongings still in use, whether in a utilitarian way or simply as keepsakes, what our German ancestors would call Andenken, to remind us of them.

 

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