The history of Salem Evangelical Church

This is the earliest known photo of Salem Church we know it today. The photo was taken east of the west facing church sometime after 1877.

The sight of the Salem Church steeple pointing high towards the heavens is well-known to most Quincy natives. The Salem Church and the congregation go back to the early days of Quincy when many German families settled here. Around 1836, the Rev. Johann Christoph Jung, on behalf or the German Mission Society, was appointed pastor for a small local church that had recently been formed in Quincy. He led in harmony for a few years until disputes arose between the conservative and liberal German members. In 1848, the conservative group remained at the “Bergkirche” (Hill Church) and eventually evolved into St. John’s Lutheran Church in Quincy.

The Rev. Christoph Jung and the more liberal members of the former congregation founded Salem Church and held the first meetings in his home at 725 Maine Street. They took the name “Der Deutche Evangelische Salem’s Gemeinde” (The German Evangelical Salem’s Congregation). Later meetings were held in the Center Congregational Church building on the northwest corner of Fifth and Jersey, where the Quincy Herald-Whig offices are today.

In May 1848, the congregation started their first church building on the corner of Ninth and State on a lot purchased from Gov. John Wood. The brick structure was 36 feet wide and 48 feet long, faced south, and had a modest steeple with a bell. Materials for the structure totaled around $3,000 with the congregation providing labor. According to the History of Salem, the church was “simply furnished with an altar, baptismal font, and boards on boxes used as pews.”

A cholera epidemic broke out during the Rev. Jung’s time as pastor, and the rigors of ministering to his congregation took a toll on his health. It was reported that he “spit blood and later his nerves were so affected that he often fainted, as stated by the History of Salem. Eventually, after some encouragement, the Rev. Jung resigned in June 1851.

The congregation was officially organized in 1852 and they adopted their first constitution. In July 1852, the Rev. Simon Liese of St. Louis assumed the duties of Salem’s pastor. In August, Rev. Liese aided in erecting the first school building associated with the church. 1856 was a busy year for Salem with the sanctuary being enlarged, a Sunday school formed, and a live program of Christian education was launched.

Another doctrinal dispute arose among members in 1860, with the Rev. Liese and many members leaving the church. The Rev. Liese was quoted as saying that he was “taking the sheep with him, the goats he was leaving behind,” according to the History of Salem. There were only 47 souls left behind at Salem after the fracture. The Rev. Liese and his group formed St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. In August 1860, the Rev. Simon Kuhlenholter came from Cumberland, Indiana to serve the remaining 47 members. This started his 22-year ministry at Salem Church, which would grow and prosper under his care. During the Rev. Kuhlenholdter’s time, a two-story parsonage was erected, an additional 20 feet added to the sanctuary, a pipe organ was installed, a Benevolence Society was formed, and a new school building was erected for 200 pupils, all within a few years. The congregation joined the Evangelical Synod of North America and hosted the national Synod of the Evangelical Church in 1871. In 1875, Salem Church established the Greenmount Cemetery Association, which was incorporated separately from the church in 1903.

The building we see today started on January 31, 1875, when plans for a larger church structure were approved. As the church was built, members worshiped in a special “boards” church at 11th and State. The cornerstone for the current building was laid on June 25, 1876 in the pouring rain. The building was designed in the Late Gothic Revival style and designed by architect John S. McKeen. The original area of the building was 110 feet long and 55 feet wide with a spire 237 feet high. It was dedicated on September 23, 1877.

Salem Church has a set of three bells in the tower that ring out music throughout the neighborhood. The smallest bell, named James, weighs 1,000 pounds and is the original bell taken from the previous building. The second bell, Bertha, weighs 1,500 pounds and Peter, the largest, weighs 3,000 pounds. The bells were rung by hand when they were first installed. The four-faced clock and chime mechanism was donated by the Bredeweg family in 1894. Each clock face is six feet in diameter and it had to be wound by hand twice a week, with the mechanism being 120 steps above the balcony level.

On Sunday, June 24, 1894, the worship services drew a large crowd as the church had been closed for six weeks for repairs. The June 25, 1894 Quincy Daily Herald reported that at a cost of $3,000, the sanctuary had been “frescoed and painted in the latest Romancesque terra cotta style, commencing in the auditorium, and gradually changing in shade until the ceiling is reached, which is a light sky blue. [At the] back of the altar are three panels which are very finely executed with the ascension of Christ in the center and appropriate inscriptions on each side with a large blue band blending the colors.” It was reported that The Young Ladies’ Society raised $1,500 and the Ladies’ Society $400, which paid for the carpets, gas fixtures, and altar covers. The Daily Herald also stated that, “the Salem congregation have one of the handsomest churches in the city.” The morning services were in German and led by Rev. Fred Baltzer of Pittsburg. Evening services were cut short by a severe storm blowing in one of the church windows, nearly causing a stampede. The organist started to play early, calming the crowd and averting the disaster, though several ladies in the gallery fainted.

Salem Church stands today on the corner of Ninth and State, with the steeple towering over the city and calling all to come inside for fellowship.

Sources

“125th Anniversary, 1848-1973.” Salem Evangelical Church United Church of Christ.

“150 Years: Forward Through the Ages.” Salem Evangelical Church United Church of Christ.

“A Church Stampede.” The Quincy Daily Herald, June 25, 1894, p. 1.

“Centennial: Salem 1848-1948.” Salem Evangelical Church United Church of Christ.

“Dedication of New Four-Manual Pipe Organ.” Salem Evangelical Church, May 15, 1927.

Linnemann, Steven M. “A History of Salem Evangelical Lutheran and Reformed Church, 1835-1963.” Quincy, IL, 1995.

Salem Evangelical Church: A United Church of Christ Directory, 1965.

United Church of Christ. History – Salem Evangelical United Church of Christ (salemquincy.org)

Melissa DeVerger is a librarian and a Quincy native with an interest in history.

The Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving local history.  This column’s authors are society members and historians. The Herald-Whig’s website, whig.com, carries each column and includes sources. For information visit hsqac.org or call 217-222-1835.

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