A History of St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church

A Summary of the First 125 Years

The 1800s saw a period of rather large scale immigration from Europe to America. The causes of transition were many and included a shortage of farmland in Europe for their growing populations, a shortage of jobs and food, famines, forced consciptions of young and middle-aged males for numerous small-scale wars, and religious intolerance. the "New Wold" of America provided a solution to many of these problems. 

In the early 1800s the Jefferson area was frontier country. Land was cheap and plentiful. Wood was abundantly available. The gently rolling landscape was dotted with lakes. These features, together with a climate similar to their homeland, attracted many German Settlers to this area, mostly from northern Bavaria (or Oberfranken, as they called it) and Pomerania. The jouney from Europe to Jefferson was long and difficult, often lasting six to ten weeks.  Once here, however, only hard work separated these early pioneers from beginning new and successful lives in the Jefferson area of southeastern Wisconsin. 

Many of the new arrivals had Lutheran (or perhaps more correclty, "Protestant") background. They had come from well-organized parishes, often with large church bildings. In this new land there was no organized worship of any kind, so initial worship here was at the family level, with the man of the house reading from books of sermons carefully brought with the family from the old country. Soon individual families joined with friends and neighbors for such reading services. 

Already in 1849 a group of such people began meeting to plan the formation of a Lutheran congregation near Jefferson. In the spring of 1851 sixty-four families joined together to organize "The Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. John". Two acres of land were donated to this group by Karl Layritz, on which was built the first small church at what we today call Christberg, located about two miles east of Jefferson on Highway 18. For seven years the immigrant families woshiped at Christberg with reading services sometimes supplemented by visiting pastors from neighboring Helenville and Watertown. 

Finally, in 1858, E. Ruppnow, a teacher by profession, was hired on an annual basis to serve as pastor of this little flock. Though he lacked formal theological training, he showed great missionary zeal and soon had gathered a much larger flock of believers, which overwhelmed the small facility at Christberg. By this time it was also recognized that the center of population for this group had shifted westward to the village of Jefferson. By 1857 property was qcquired in Jefferson, and, in 1860, efforts were begun to erect a church building there. April 1, 1861, saw the beginning of services held in the first church building to occupy our present location. For the first few years, worship was held alternately at the Jefferson Location and at Christberg. 

The first ordained pastor to serve St. John's was Pastor C. Goldammer (1863-1870). Under his leadership, St. John's became a truly Lutheran congregation. A parsonage was acquired and additional land for a future school was purchased. Pastor Goldammer was succeeded by Pastor Ungrodt (1870-1881). In 1870 a Christian school was opened with Mr. Obertstorsten as the first full-time teacher. Such a Christian school has been part of the congregation's outreach ever since. 

In 1895 our present church building was erected at a cost of about $25,000. That building, with renovations in 1955, a new organ in 1969, redecorating in 1971, a basement project in 1973, and another redecorating project in 1984, together with a major removation project completed in the year 2000, serves the congregation to this present time. 

Christian training of the young has been an important feature of the congregation's work since early times. Already before 1870, the pastor often taught more than 100 children in very elementary education. The first one-room school, began in 1870, became a two-room school about 1910, and a second story was added to become a three-room school by the early 1920's. In 1951 the original part of our present school facility was built. In 1964/65 an eight classroom addition was completed. In 1999 a preschool was began, and in 2009 child care was added to the ministry of our school.