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History - St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church

(as of 4/18/93)
by Mr. AL PREM, current Financial Chairman of
Brighton Heights Lutheran Church

1837 -- Rev. Friederick HEYER started 3 Lutheran Churches. Two were started in what is now downtown Pittsburgh. One of these was English, which I believe is FIRST LUTHERAN CHURCH, Grant St., and another one was German. The 3rd one was started in what was known as "Old Allegheny", now the North Side. This one had a very long name and was called "1st German Evangelical Lutheran St. Johns Congregation of North Side". This was the start of Lutheran activity on the North Side of Pittsburgh.

Jan. 1, 1839 -- 1st church built. It was a small frame building 45' X 25' (about the size of a small house). It was built on Main St. (now Progress St.) & Beach Alley. It cost $450 for building and $1,100 for the 2 lots). Services were in German. Beside the Church was their cemetery. The church grew so quickly that in 8 years it was too small and the cemetery also was full.

1841 - 42 -- Pastor W. BAUERMEISTER, who came from Berlin, Germany, started teaching school in German in the basement of the 1st church. His salary was $200 a year. He was a good preacher and pastor.

1843 -- Pastor F. SCHMIDT established a Parish School with German teachers. Later English was used to teach all subjects except religion, which was taught in German.

March 27, 1843 -- Charter received.

September, 1847 -- (2nd building dedicated) -- The first building was sold to Methodists who apparently moved it so that a new brick building could be built on the same site.

1848 -- The name was shortened & changed to 1st St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church of North side, Pittsburgh.

1850 -- Since the cemetery next to the church was filled, a new cemetery was started on Troy Hill. This cemetery became full during the next 12 years.

1856 -- The membership kept growing quite large. The records indicated that they baptized 132 that year (that's an average of 11 per month).

1862 -- A schoolhouse was built at Middle & Third St. on leased lots.

October, 1862 -- 11 acres of ground were bought on top of Spring Hill to be used for a new cemetery as the one on Troy Hill was now full. This new cemetery was known as St. John's Lutheran Cemetery and was consecrated for burials on August 6, 1863.

1863 - 64 -- Around time of Civil War, quite a few German's immigrated to the North Side. The 2nd church building couldn't handle all those who came to services. They even had a long waiting list to become members. Wouldn't that be nice if our chruches today had that problem?

1866 -- Since the 2nd building was too small, a new lot was bought for $6,800 and plans made to build another church.

1868 (dedicated Sept. 11, 1870) -- Construction started on the last building. It was of red brick and took 2 years to build. It was the largest Protestant church in Allegheny and had the highest tower in the city. I think I read once that it was the highest building on the North Side until Allegheny General Hospital was built. The steeple was very high and on top of it was a rooster. I think that it was put on top to remind the people not to deny Christ like Peter did. Many years later (probably around World War I), this high steeple was removed as people were afraid that it might get struck by lightning or fall over. However, the high bell tower still was left in place. The building cost $50,000 and they had some members who were very good contributors to it's cost. The architecture design was French Gothic outside and inside. It was quite beautiful. I remember some of the following features. It had many large stained glass windows with pictures of Jesus being baptized, walking with the Emmaus desciples and similar ones. The altar and statues were made in Germany of wood and were all painted white. Jesus was in the center in sort of a teaching position. Old St. Peter was on the left holding the keys of the church and he was the disciple the Christ said to feed his Church. Young St. John was on the right side of the altar. He had a very fair face and very long hair and when I was little I thought that he was Mary. John was the one who wrote so much about Christ's teachings to love one another, so that's probably why they picked his name for St. Johns. These statues are now in St. Mark's Lutheran Church, Covent Station, NJ. The bell was paid by the young people. Later, other bells were installed. You could hear them loudly on the North Side calling people to church and I remember they rung softly and slowly as we said the Lord's prayer during the Sunday services. The pulpit was white painted wood with a fancy canopy. The preacher would come out of a door high up on the wall so he could stand in it when he gave his sermon. This was a mystery to the children until they found out that a pair of stairs from the sacristy led up to the pulpit. The new pipe organ was paid for mostly by the ladies and later another larger pipe organ was installed in the church rear balcony. It was later electrified and the console moved downstairs to the left of the altar. On either side of the altar were 2 very large pictures painted on the walls. One was of Jesus prayer on the rocks in the Garden of Geseme and the other of the Christmas shepherds. The walls were maroon with white trimming. There were 2 large candlelabres on gold stands, one on either side of the altar. Our communion trays were varnished dark wood (these are now used by our church). The balcony extended from the rear about 1/2 way around each side of the church. Some of the pews were owned by members. I estimate that probably 600 people could be seated in the church. When the church was torn down, a few of the pews were given to the Post Office Museum on the North Side.

1871 -- Two homes bought on Avery St. for $9,000 and one was used as a parsonage.

1874 -- A new large school was build on Lockart St. & Avery Ave. next to the Church. It was 2 stories high and red brick. The cost was $13,000. It could handle 200 students. It was last used as parish school on June 1918 and thereafter only used as a Sunday School and for meetings and affairs of the congregation.

Approx. 1886 -- Due to dissension created by secret lodge membership, 70 members left and started another church with a Lutheran name but without Lutheran platform.

1890 -- Started to lose some members to other churches. Also, members were starting to move into the suburbs and went to churches there. A lot of these were the wealthy contributors.

1892 -- St. John's & several sister congregations started the Old Folks home at Mars, Pa. for the elderly and orphans. I believe that this is now known as St. John's Lutheran Home, Mars, Pa.

1899 -- Prior to 1899 all services were in German. But in 1899, a English service was held one Sunday evening each month. Eventually services were held in both the German and the English language.

1905 -- Church was free of debt due to contributions from 3 of it's wealthy members, J. H. HESPENHEIDE, Henry AHLERS and Christian ZIES. Christian ZIES also left the church $5,000 for use in paying hospital bills for needy members.

1940 -- During World War II and the Germans weren't too well liked in our country, St. Johns discontinued it's early Sunday morning German service and all services were then held in English.

March 11, 1955 -- A fierce hurricane like storm tore off the roof over the altar area and caused severe damage to the interior. The church was then repaired and completely renovated and was quite beautiful again.

1962 -- Records indicated that we still had 500 baptized members. In 1966 records indicated that we had 327 confirmed members. During the 60's, the young people that were married after World War II kept moving to the suburbs. Also, the state was tearing down buildings along East St. to make way for the new 279 Highway. Then they started to buy up and demolish the buildings all around our church. Finally, St. John's stood alone. But God must of loved it, because with all the bricks laying around from the buildings that were torn down, none of our beautiful stained glass windows were broken. But, all this forced people to move away and our membership dropped considerably.

1971 -- The state forced us to sell our property to them so that they could make room for the big interchange that they were planning to connect the new highway to other roads. Previously, we were considering rebuilding, but since other churches were losing members also, we decided to merge with another church. After meeting with several churches, we decided to merge with Faith Lutheran Church. St. John's served the Lord 135 years.

May 11, 1972 -- 1st St. John's Ev. Lutheran Church of North Side and Faith Lutheran Church of North Side merged and became Brighton Heights Lutheran Church.

During it's life, 1st St. John's had 17 pastors, most of whom were faithful servants of the Lord. However, we had a few bad apples. One, who only lasted a year, used to get drunk a lot. The one I remember best was Leonard HESS. He served very long, from after World War I to after World War II (1917 to 1950--33 years). He baptized me when I was a baby, he taught me the catechism and confirmed me. He also gave me my first bible which I used until it was all wore out. He truly was a minister after God's heart. He preached good sermons in both German and English and he loved the people, as he visited all his members, mostly by walking to their homes.

1st St. John's also had 16 of it's young people become pastors and ministers for Christ. Thru the aid of the John HERMANN Jr. Charity Fund, we are still able to help anyone who wants to study for the ministry. St. Johns also started the Good Samaritan aid program by which we give anyone in need financial aid.

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