St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
Parish Register, Book I
The earliest settlers of the Ridgeville area of Monroe County, formerly called “Dividing Ridge,” were Lutheran immigrants from Preussen (Prussia) who had first settled in Jefferson County, WI. In 1855 Gottlieb Gnewikow, Wilhelm Albrecht, Ferdinand Vincenz, Karl Fuerbringer and Heinrich Vieth arrived. Daniel Zellmer, Gottfried Jaskiewicz (later, Kewit), Michael Zielke, and Daniel Raedel followed during the next year. But it was not until the arrival of Mr. Wilhelm Waegner in September 1860 that efforts were made to gather the scattered Lutherans into a congregation.
They initially met in a one-room country schoolhouse on April 1, 1862. Representatives from 18 families gathered together to officially organize the German Evangelical Lutheran St. Johannes Church of Ridgeville.
Before that organizational meeting in 1862, a group of Lutherans had been meeting for reading services that were led by Wilhelm Waegner. He had moved to Ridgeville with his wife, Sarah (Huth), and was instrumental in bringing German Lutherans together. As a lay leader, he conducted reading services, substituted when no pastor was available and instructed young people in Catechism. He served on the church’s first board of trustees and was elected its first president.
Waegner lived long enough to see the building of three churches, including the current one. The first was a log cabin, built in 1863 on the present lot. Early services were conducted by the Rev. Michael Evert, Burr Oak Valley, Jackson County, who made the 60-mile round trip by horseback every eight weeks and was paid $8 a service. The first resident pastor was John A. Hoyer. He, his wife and six children lived in the new parsonage, a modest log cabin, for the two years he was at St. John’s.
By 1872, 70 families were members. To accommodate the growing church, the congregation built a bigger church, a frame building on the same lot with the congregation furnishing and delivering necessary stone for the foundation.
After the congregation outgrew this place of worship, plans were made to build a new church of brick. According to an article in the Tomah Herald, 150,000 bricks were hauled from the Tomah railroad depot to Ridgeville for the project. Ground was broken for the foundation walls on May 14, 1900, by Friedrich Zellmer of Ridgeville, using horse-drawn equipment.
Helping him and carpenter William Matthews were several volunteers. The church was officially dedicated on Jan. 20, 1901, and three services — two in German and an evening one in English — took place.
Services continued in German until 1920, when, after some controversy, services in English were conducted once a month. The last class to be confirmed in German was in 1926. By the early-1940s, with only four families attending a monthly German service, German was discontinued.
A Christian Day School for seventh- and eighth-graders opened in 1920 and closed in 1933 amid the Great Depression. A Sunday school was organized in 1939 and continues to this day. The Ladies Aid Society organized in 1898 is still going, as is an Altar Guild that was formed in 1975.
A focal point of the church’s interior is a crystal and brass chandelier with eight lamps. The church organ, located on the balcony in the rear of the church, is a pipe organ that was built by Mann-Wangerin-Weickhardt Co. of Milwaukee and installed in 1911. This is one of the first ones of this type that was made and only one of two or three still in use today.
This church became a landmark in the area partly because of the towering, 105-foot steeple. The new church bells could be heard throughout the countryside, especially on Saturday evenings. Irreparably damaged by the weather, the steeple was replaced with a cap tower in 1948.
St. John’s has been served by 21 pastors during its more than 150 years. The Rev. Carl E. Berg held the longest tenure, serving St. John’s for 25 years from 1924 until he retired in 1949 at the age of 72. The pastor at St. John’s also serves St. Jacob Lutheran Church in Norwalk.
St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church was the first Lutheran church in Monroe County and is the mother church to several Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) churches, including St. Peter’s in Indian Creek; St. Matthew’s in South Ridge; St. Matthew’s in Kirby; St. Jacob in Norwalk and St. Paul in Tomah.
· Ms. Lyda Lanier, member, St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church.
· The History of Monroe County, dated 1912, Page 543ff
When St. John’s was founded in 1862, entries began to be recorded in Book I of the Parish Register of the church’s first 851 baptisms, 362 confirmations, 139 marriages and 193 burials. The records in Book I were written in German, but an English translation was made many years ago. That is the source of the information in this database. Book II was started in 1889 and those records have not yet been included in the database used for this website.
The contents of the Book I entries are contained in the following reports:
For consistency and ease of searching, it has been necessary to standardize some of the names in the register. For example, a person may be listed with his or her full name in the Baptism section, but with their commonly-used middle name or nickname in the Confirmation, Marriage or Burial section. An attempt has been made to standardize the entries for a particular person to his or her formal name.
I hope that you find this information to be interesting and helpful to you in your research of your family’s history.
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