Historical Sketch: St. John’s Reformed Church in Germantown, Ohio

The village of Germantown, Ohio, was founded in 1804, when several German families from Pennsylvania settled there. These families were members of the Reformed and Lutheran churches. In 1809, the settlers built a single church to be shared by both congregations. This church, built of logs, was located near the present site of Emmanuel’s Evangelical Lutheran Church on Warren Street.

Initially these services were conducted by traveling ministers, but after a few years, both congregations had pastors in residence: Rev. Thomas Winters[1] for the Reformeds and Rev. John Caspar Dill for the Lutherans. The congregations shared the log church for 20 years, alternating Sunday services every other week—a Lutheran service one week, a Reformed service the next—although families of both denominations attended services every week.

In 1818, Philip Gunckel, the town proprietor, began building a large new brick church at the corner of Market and Walnut streets, on the property where St. John’s Reformed Church currently stands. He sold half of the church building to Reformed congregation and the other half to the Lutherans, for $600 each. The new church building was finally completed in 1828, and the two congregations worshiped together happily for two years in the new building. However, in 1830, a dispute arose between the Lutherans and Mr. Gunckel (a member of the Reformed church), and the Lutheran congregation returned to the log church. Thenceforth, the two congregations worshiped separately, although they shared a common burial ground until 1879.

Rev. Thomas Winters served the Reformed Church at Germantown for about 25 years before retiring in 1840, due to old age. He was succeeded by Rev. George Long, whose pastorate was rather tumultuous. Rev. Long wished to introduce new measures into the Reformed church, such as prayer meetings, and when this met with resistance, he was ousted. The Reformed congregation was then split between those who followed the Old Measures (and remained at the old church) and those who followed the New Measures (and worshiped in a new congregation led by Rev. Long).

The New Measures church was short-lived, however. About 1845, their church building burnt down a few years later and then Rev. Long departed. Rev. Thomas H. Winters led the New Measures from 1846 to 1848, and a new church was built. However, when the congregation could not pay for the new church, it was sold at auction. The New Measures congregation disbanded, with most of its members joining the Methodist or United Brethren churches.

The Old Measures congregation—which, after the dissolution of the New Measures congregation around 1848, could be simply known as the Reformed congregation again—had continued to worship at the brick church on the corner of Market and Walnut streets. They continued to use this building, which had been finished in 1828, until the year 1866. At that time, the old building was dismantled, primarily by the work of the men of the congregation, so that a new church could be built, partially on the same site and partially on new ground.

The new church took 13 years to complete, partially due to financial problems. After the first floor was completed, the project ran out of money. The congregation worshiped in this basement room in the meantime, still waiting the completion of the second floor audience room. After Rev. P. C. Prugh became the congregation’s pastor in 1876, he and church trustee Henry Hildabolt set out to solicit subscriptions for the remaining funds ($3,000) required to finish the church. In a short time, they received the necessary pledges, and construction continued. The new church was completed in 1879.

St. John's Church completed 1879

St. John’s Reformed Church completed in 1879 (From a postcard in the collection of the Germantown Historical Society. Used with permission.)

In 1891, the church trustees purchased a property on the southwest corner of Main and Gunckel streets to be used as the first parsonage. This was used until 1899, when a new parsonage property on the northwest corner of Gunckel and Walnut streets (the lot behind the church) was purchased.

Hildabolt donations, 1897

Records showing donations by church members, including Henry Hildabolt, to St. John’s Reformed Church in 1897 (St. John’s Reformed Church Records, MS-042, Dayton Metro Library)

On Sunday, April 7, 1907, a tornado struck, and the Reformed Church sustained serious damage, including being partially unroofed. The damage was so severe that the congregation decided it would be best to demolish the building and construct a new one on the same site.

St. Johns Church unroofed 1907

St. John’s Reformed Church, which was unroofed in the 1907 tornado (From a postcard in the collection of the Germantown Historical Society. Used with permission.)

The cornerstone for the new church was laid on November 3, 1907. Within the cornerstone were placed several items, including a list of church members (including 261 names), as well as several other lists and documents.[2] The grand opening of the new church was held in the Fall of 1908. The formal dedication was held on June 1, 1913, after all the construction costs were either paid or pledged. The mortgage burning was held on April 17, 1921, after the total construction costs ($37,000) were paid off.

St Johns 1908 church

The St. Johns Reformed Church built in 1908 (From a postcard in the collection of the Germantown Historical Society. Used with permission.)

The 1908 church building is still used by St. John’s congregation today, although the denomination itself has gone through some changes. In 1934, the Reformed and Evangelical churches merged nationally and became known as the Evangelical and Reformed Church. In 1957, the Evangelical & Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Church merged nationally and became known as the United Church of Christ.

St John's United Church of Christ Germantown

St John’s United Church of Christ in Germantown (Photo by the author, 4 Aug. 2012)

Therefore, the former St. John’s Reformed Church is now the St. John’s United Church of Christ. This congregation, over 200 years old, has worshiped at the southwest corner of Market and Walnut streets since 1828.


[1] Rev. Thomas Winters was the father of Valentine Winters, a prominent Dayton banker. Two of Rev. Thomas’s other sons, Thomas H. and David, also became ministers.

[2] For a more complete list of the contents of the 1907 cornerstone, see Annie Hildabolt’s Centennial History.

Bibliography

Becker, Carl M. The Village: A History of Germantown, Ohio, 1804-1976. Germantown, OH: Germantown Historical Society, 1981. Dayton Local History 977.172 B395V.

Hentz, John P. History of the Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of Germantown, Ohio, and Biographies of its Pastors and Founders. Dayton, OH: Christian Publishing House, 1882. Dayton Local History 284.1 H52.

Hildabolt, Annie. “Centennial History of St. John’s Reformed Church at Germantown, Ohio” (1914). St. John’s Reform Church, Germantown, Ohio, Records, 1843-1914 (MSS 25), Ohio Historical Society (Columbus, Ohio).

History of Montgomery County, Ohio. Chicago: W. H. Beers & Co., 1882. Dayton Local History 977.172 H673A.

Kerne, Charme. History of Germantown [1804-1954]. [Germantown, OH?]: [Germantown Sesquicentennial Historical Committee?], 1954. Dayton Local History 977.172 K39H.

Montgomery County, Ohio, 1990: A History Written by the People of Montgomery County, Ohio. Dallas, TX: Taylor Publishing Co., 1990. Dayton Local History 977.172 M78813.

St. John’s United Church of Christ. “About Us.” 21 Oct. 2008. Accessed 28 Aug. 2012. http://www.stjohnsuccgermantownohio.org/page2.html.

*****

This biographical sketch was originally written by Lisa P. Rickey in August 2012 for the St. John’s Reformed Church (Germantown, Ohio) Records (MS-042) finding aid at the Dayton Metro Library, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, Ohio, 45402; phone (937) 496-8654.

Additional information about the sketch’s subject can be found in that collection. For more information about the manuscript collection’s contents, please see the original finding aid (which includes a name index), available in the Local History Room of the Dayton Metro Library or the OhioLINK EAD Repository entry.

Please contact the Dayton Metro Library or this blog’s author for more information about how to access the original finding aid or the manuscript collection.

2 responses to “Historical Sketch: St. John’s Reformed Church in Germantown, Ohio

  1. Melissa Van Wey

    Are there any membership lists for this congregation?

    • The Dayton Metro Library’s Local History Room has a manuscript collection of materials (MS-042) pertaining to the St. John’s Reformed Church. I recall that a couple of those ledgers contain lists of church members’ donations, but I don’t remember whether they are lists of all members or only those who made collection plate donations. I am CC’ing the Local History Reference desk at the Dayton Metro Library — where I used to work but no longer do — and hopefully they can give you more information about what the collection contains.

      You might also be interested to know that the Ohio Historical Society has some of the St. John’s Church records as well, in collection #025 (http://ww2.ohiohistory.org/resource/archlib/collections/msscoll/1to250.html).

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